Jantelagen - Trying to be exceptional in a country with a rule against it.

So someone should've told me this lesson way before I had to learn it on my own, having been in the country of Sweden for a few weeks I began to wonder why the locals were mildly turned off by me, being me. Then a polite Swede named Bella, pulled me aside and told me of the "Law of Jante". HOLY EFFING SHIT. It might as well have been the "Chris can't be Chris Law". Read the wiki page on this but I'll just include them below.

  1. You're not to think you are anything special.
  2. You're not to think you are as good as us.
  3. You're not to think you are smarter than us.
  4. You're not to convince yourself that you are better than us.
  5. You're not to think you know more than us.
  6. You're not to think you are more important than us.
  7. You're not to think you are good at anything.
  8. You're not to laugh at us.
  9. You're not to think anyone cares about you.
  10. You're not to think you can teach us anything.

But, but, what am I supposed to... wait, what? THIS CANNOT. WTF? I can't, wait what? 

That's what my brain did in an attempt to process this bit of information.

Hmm, well isn't this gonna be a fun challenge. A lot of the self identification that I do is based on my semi-high perception of self and yet, I have to try and build a startup where that is generally frowned upon.  Startup culture is a fun one, it's about the birth of ideas, the making of real things, and the cycle of taking something from conception to execution.  Speaking executions... I KILL IT BRO (or MAM.. this is an egalitarian culture). Oh wait, I can't say that here. Shit.

So, what is a loud mouthed, semi-self centered, American to do?

Apparently, fail miserably in this country.

But to me failure isn't an option, so I just have to adapt. Being a data minded geek, clearly this is something that other entrepreneurs have had to deal with in this country, clearly the process of pitching, raising capital, or taking products to market has been a process that someone else has managed to figure out. So I went about collecting data on how other people have done it. One of the more successful companies in Sweden is TAT.se. They sold to RIM and the founders are local heroes. So I've meet with the founders for a fika (swedish for a coffee break).

TAT is short for THE ASTONISHING TRIBE.... wait, you called yourself astonishing! That's a violation of rule 1, 3, and 5. Ah, but you also made it an acronym. Well done riding the line of Jante there! That's just one example of the hoops one must hop through.

This forced humility is an interesting one for me. As I've grown more comfortable with Swedish culture, I've started to preface my conversations and actually soften my tone a bit. This has been a VERY interesting process for me. Balancing american my swagger with the intrinsic empathy required is HARD AS HECK. Growing up in Los Angeles, a city where almost everyone goes there to try and be someone else or run away from who they were, the city is just a stage for people to try on their new "character".

Being a LA native, I never thought it strange, it was my normal. Coming to Malmö the new "normal" is very not normal for me.  I've actually heard people here ask me to try and be "less american", what the heck does that even mean? But being an adaptable creature I am figuring it out. The plan is to spend 6 months of the year in Sweden, the other 6 in the states. It's fun as heck to consider that I am going to be building stuff in such a interesting climate. One thing is certain, I'm back to learning how to do things. Wish me luck, but I'm working at it.


The harder you practice, the luckier you get.
— Gary Player