Swedish culture is shaped by the concepts of Jantelegen and Lagom. Indeed the global understanding that Swedes are modest, simple, happy, people is the result of these ideas.
But while much of Sweden’s success is tied to these ideas, they can also be very difficult to adjust to. Let’s take a close look at the Swedish ideas of Jante and Lagom to help you better understand this important element of your new culture.
Defining Our Terms
So what exactly do we mean when we talk about the law of Jante or the Swedish idea of lagom?
Well, the law of Jante is actually a literary term that comes from a popular 1940s novel titled “A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks.” The novel describes values of modesty, conformity, and moderation that have become important parts of Swedish culture. Even though the word “law” is used there is no punishment for violating Jante. It is a social code—not a legal one. Nevertheless, most Swedes follow it without complaint.
Swedish lagom, on the other hand, is a commitment to moderation. In English, the word roughly translates to “just the right amount”. Swedes that practice lagom avoid extravagance or excess. With lagom, it is better for some people to have a little than it is for one person to have a lot.
These concepts can be a little bit limiting. However, for the most part, they have helped Sweden become one of the happiest and fairest countries in existence.
In The Workplace
The attitudes of Jante and lagom make up a workplace that focuses on moderation. Swedes take a “slow and steady wins the race” approach to their careers. While the work culture of many countries is to do large quantities of high-quality work even at the cost of personal happiness, Swedes don’t mind settling for good enough.
Lagom in particular requires Swedes to be modest in their efforts. There is no medal for outworking your coworkers. Instead, do your work at a pace that is productive but comfortable, and make sure you are home for dinner!
In your personal life, lagom and Jante will guide many of your decisions. From the car you drive, to the house you live in, and the food you eat, moderation is always key. Of course, this doesn't mean you will never see a luxury car driving down the street. You will, but it won't be considered culturally acceptable. The idea is to make sure that no one feels inferior because of your decisions.
The commitment to moderation also has obvious health and financial benefits that most Swedes appreciate.
Swedish Jante in Practice
There is perhaps a no better example of Swedish Jante and Lagom than the lifestyle of Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad. Despite being one of the wealthiest people to ever live, Kamprad spent most of his life living very modestly. He wore secondhand clothes, flew coach, and drove a used Suburu.
Like most Swedes, Kamprad would have felt embarrassed to present himself in a way that drew excessive attention his way. In most corners of the world, it would be very odd for a wealthy person to live the way that Kamprad did but in Sweden, it is par for the course!
Jante and Lagom are major concepts that you need to understand to successfully navigate the Swedish work environment. Learn more about them by taking our online course FOR FREE on our youtube channel. Peers Bridge