Denmark Why are Danes so patriotic

The Danes' luck - Hygge and Jante

Status: March 25, 2016

The bottom line is that Germany is the richest nation in Europe ... at least in monetary terms. And yet all in all the Danes are the happiest people: not only in Scandinavia, not only in Europe, no, the happiest people in the world - and have been for many years.

That makes me happy for the Danes, but it fights me for us Germans. After all, we only follow in 13th place and in front of us are Great Britain, Ireland, Cyprus (!) - but that was before the German government unpacked the breeding whip in terms of the EURO rescue package - but Israel, Belgium and Spain are also in front of us. At the top are Switzerland, Iceland but first and foremost again Denmark. At least that is the case with the “World Happiness Report” from 2016.

So it cannot be due to monetary wealth. In addition, the Danes have a shorter life expectancy than we Germans, an average of five years. - And Denmark has a higher suicide rate that is hard to explain. - Maybe this has something to do with the winter depression. In winter it is often bad there and gray and dark for a long time. You do not know exactly. In any case, inflation and unemployment are not of great importance in Denmark's dense, social network (although there the hire-and-fire principle is applied far more often than in our country). But nobody really has to fear a deep crash there.

What sounds like a swear word for many Germans and is usually used that way is the ideal in Denmark: the welfare state. The Danes do not make it too easy for the rich to become indecently rich through ruthlessness - but without wanting to prevent wealth. But nobody in Denmark can really become poor for that. Frequent employer changes are normal in Denmark and nobody panics when staff are downsized and the dismissal beckons. - Ergo: Those who don't have to fear tomorrow can enjoy today happier.

The Danes live in an enviable mixture of conscientiousness and informality - and that is what they are proud of. We don't have to talk about the year-round sea of ​​red and white flags. At the sight of the “Dannebrog” in front of a clear, blue (of course Danish) sky, a Dane's heart simply opens. I think the Germans do not have this intimate attitude towards their flag - and hardly anyone dares to have it.

To be Danish, Danes consider it a privilege and they never tire of helping the world to see how wonderful Denmark is (which they are right about). But this is no reason for them to show it. On the contrary: In stark contrast to the Danish self-confidence that they are Danish, they are only too happy to try to put their light “under a bushel”. But be careful! This is pure coquetry. You are imitating the understatement of the British. Then they say against. Smart asses “Yes, we stupid Danes”. But this is not meant seriously, but pure “fishing for compliments”: Of course, you expect us to hurry to postulate the opposite immediately ... and if not, woe!

The Danes are a peaceful people if you ignore the active members of the hostile rocker bands “Hell’s Angels” and “Banditos”. They sometimes treat the Germans with a slight contempt (probably because they neither know nor observe the “Jante Law”, more on that below) and they tend to feel sorry for the Swedes, even if nobody can really say why. Compared to the English. show a true angelic patience. In the face of a drunk Arsenal fan halfway up a lamppost, it only demands a shake of their head. A German might have been arrested for this. So be it.

Danish tolerance has a long tradition. As early as 1967, when it was still very prudish and dusty in Germany, pornography was allowed in Denmark and compared to. One had always been open to homosexuals anyway. They proved this unmistakably in the second Gay Olympics in 2009. Internally, however, Danes can be pretty cheeky to each other: The Copenhageners claim they do not understand the wider, regional dialect of Jutland (OK, hamburgers and Lower Bavaria will feel the same way). They often mock the inhabitants of the peninsula, especially the citizens of Århus, Denmark's second largest metropolis. There are probably at least as many Aarhus jokes as there are East Frisians or Austrian jokes in Germany.

The Jutlanders, on the other hand, see the Copenhageners more as arrogant city dwellers and snobbies. So all in all a completely normal people, with completely normal people, with normal strengths and weaknesses. But does the normal make you happy? - We'll see!

In order to understand the Danish national character, one has to know and more importantly understand the two terms “Hygge” and “Janteloven”.


The German - for me very nice - word "Gemütlichkeit" (the Americans even took it as a loan word for lack of an English equivalent) comes close to the Danish "Hygge", but is not congruent. “Hygge” is more, much more! The German cosiness relates more to the spatial environment, a pub, a warm bed can be cozy. “Hygge” has more to do with people's behavior. It is the art of creating pleasant intimacy, a feeling of friendship, serenity, contentment. “Hygge” usually means to be with family and friends, to eat and drink together and to celebrate the parties as they come. You can hear older Danes scolding when they hear from young people who are all alone on the sofa with a bag of chips, XBOX, iPad or watching videos. "Something like that", then say "Is not hyggelig"!

Friends and acquaintances who meet the next day after a “cozy get-together” (how convulsive does “hyggen” sound in German) say that it was “hyggeligt” yesterday. Or: A nice person can be a "hyggelierter" guy. And “hygge” in Denmark always requires the light of candles. Danes are crazy about candlelight, in the house, in the café, in bars and restaurants, in order to make the smooth, white walls look uncompromisingly softer. I hope to have conveyed in a reasonably understandable way that “hygge” can definitely make you happy.

But there is still something that gives the luck of the Danes a foundation. Something that you might not find so sympathetic at first glance and as a small one. could misunderstand the gray stain on the otherwise perfectly white Danish vest (and I use the subjunctive quite deliberately, because the first appearance is hugely deceptive). There is a phenomenon in Denmark and in Scandinavia in general that does not exist anywhere else - and that is also recorded in writing: What is meant is the so-called “Janteloven”, also known as the “Jante Law”. Have you ever heard of it?


“Janteloven” was written by the Danish writer “Aksel Sandemose”, in his novel "A refugee crosses his trail", from 1933, “invented”. The Jante Law can be admired on a memorial plaque attached to Sandemose's birthplace.
DK-7900 Nykøbing (Mors), Færkenstræde 12
GPS: 56 ° 47 ′ 57.26 ″ N, 8 ° 51 ′ 43.97 ″ E
(Image source: WikiMedia Commons)

About the term “Jante”: A Jante is a small, old piece of money in Danish, comparable to the “Groschen” in German. What is meant is that everyone has to contribute their jante (their penny) to the success of a good society. So, so to speak, the Jante Law is that “Law of those who think right and just”.

Jante, these are the “Ten Commandments of Danish Unity”. Actually, it is more like reminders that, as a Dane in Denmark, it is better to obey if you still want to be called friends. And these rules are tough! They are (initially in Danish):

You shall ikke tro, you noget.
You shall ikke tro, if you lige så meget som os.
You shall ikke tro, when you klogere end os.
You shall ikke form dig ind when you need it end os.
You shall ikke tro, at you ved mere end os.
You shall ikke tro, if you mere end os.
You shall ikke tro, at you dur til noget.
You shall ikke le ad os.
You shall ikke tro, at nogen bryder sig om dig.
You shall ikke tro, at you can lære os noget.

This is what it says on the board at Sandemose's birthplace. Sometimes an eleventh is added by the vernacular to the ten Jante rules in order to emphasize the previous one (it is - as I said - but not part of Sandemose's Jante canon):

You tror måske ikke at any ved noget om dig?

Not everyone understands Danish, so a rough, meaningful translation:

You shouldn't believe that you are something.
You shouldn't believe that you are as much as we are.
You shouldn't believe that you are smarter than us.
You shouldn't pretend that you are better than us.
You shouldn't believe that you know more than we do.
You shouldn't believe that you are more than us.
You shouldn't believe that you are good for anything.
You shouldn't laugh at us.
You shouldn't believe that someone cares about you.
You shouldn't believe that you can teach us anything.

And the eleventh commandment that was invented for this purpose:

Don't think that we don't know a lot about you.

Violent, isn't it? It sounds as if anyone who reads this should first be thoroughly bought the guts. The first impression is that someone should be made really, really small, so that he no longer perks up. And that may seem strange to the inexperienced at first, almost a little unsympathetic, but that's not what it is and what it is not intended (hence my introductory remarks that this is only an appearance).

Rather, the Jante Law describes the socio-cultural “code” of how the Danes interact with one another and this is maintained throughout the country. The Jante Act basically contains a direction and an urgent recommendation that no one should rise above others: the boss not towards his employees, the professor not above his students, the class leader not above his classmates. And that's how the children are brought up from an early age. As ultra-free as they can move and romp around, they attach great importance to fair cooperation from an early age. One wants to be a united people of equals among equals and ultimately Janteloven is something that we in German - again only vaguely - with "Have respect for each other and live" can paraphrase. But that doesn't really apply either.

Jante's Law also idealizes in some ways "the middle", the mediocrity (was one of the exhortations in the temple at Delphi"The middle is the best"). Who strives beyond the mediocrity, yes, who already has the resolution alone against the mediocrity. Wanting to surpass others and show off with them can very quickly find themselves in social ostracism among Danes ... and very consistently!

That doesn’t mean that there cannot be smarter, more productive, more powerful people, that is, of course! Denmark is also a performance society. But personal features have absolutely no meaning in dealing with one another. The least is no less respected than the richest, the worker no less than the head of the company, the soldier no less than the major, etc. So the Jante Law is also an appeal to restraint, to moderation, to moderation and ultimately to the ideal of equality. - Arrogance and presumption have no place in such a climate, whoever wanted to dare would quickly be brought back to the bottom of a reality that would then be bitter for them.

So you will hardly ever find academic or even noble titles on Danish business cards, as our German professors and doctors love to carry in front of them and also understand how to draw all sorts of social advantages from them. No, titles mean nothing in society in Denmark. Therefore, they cannot act as so-called “reputation enhancers” as they do with us. Academic titles in Denmark are only proof that someone has already worked scientifically. This can be a prerequisite for certain professions. In Denmark, these titles are only proof of qualifications, such as the Abitur certificate; - and nobody has that on their business card. That's why nobody in Denmark has to steal such a title as a plagiarist, just to gain more recognition. Even more: Anyone who insisted on being addressed with an academic title would immediately have pinned the label “full asshole” to their lapels and would then have “earned” a title that they would also like to use may.

Only one exception is made, and again with great relish: with Her “Majesty the Queen, Margaret II.”

The Jante rules can be pretty tough if you ignore them. And none other than “Hans-Christian Andersen” was a victim of the Jante law, for example. At first he only made his breakthrough in Germany. As a prophet he was initially considered nothing in his own country. It was not until much later that Andersen's genius was also recognized in Denmark.

Jante is probably also responsible for the very sympathetic tendency to talk to each other very quickly after getting to know each other. However, anyone who disdains the honor of being offered and then insists on the formal salutation would quickly be “through” again. He was rising above the others and also immediately earned the so-called “Papperl” on his lapel. So Jante has a huge influence on society as a whole and also on the political system!

What is almost always denigrated as a “lazy compromise” by thin majorities in Germany has a method in Denmark and is normal there: namely, consensus. It happened relatively often that in Denmark minority governments had to rule with changing majorities (something like this is a very dreaded worst-case scenario in Germany. Minority governments are feared in this country as an "impossible" condition, like holy water from the devil, that's why there was here also never one - unfortunately!).

This is not a problem for the Danes. One approaches one another until a consensus-based solution that is tolerable for the majority is found across the parties.

I'm pretty sure “Janteloven” and “Hygge” are the real secret of the happy Danes.

I imagine that “Jante” would also have a chance in the land of envy and resentment, in the land of rivals and elbows, in other words in Germany. Would that even be conceivable?

Kurt O. Woerl