Jantelov, or Law of Jante

Photo by Ryan McGuire.
Photo by Ryan McGuire.

There’s a certain bar in Utrecht that gets busier the closer it is to sunrise. It’s not the most savory spot. The lighting is dark in a shady way, and it’s a bit sketchy in that I was generously offered hash within three seconds of walking in. But the bartender (and presumably owner) said that he’s been working there for over thirty years, so there must be something redeeming about this place. When all the other bars close, this one spurs to life.

I was inside with a Danish friend, Marcus, who wears a pencil as an earring. In we went at 3 AM, and out we went smelling like cigarettes at 6 AM. We don’t even smoke.


Marcus would tell me stories about how he grew up between two lakes and the ocean — how grateful he is for his family, his friends back home, and how he’s changed over the years. It’s one of his last weeks here in Utrecht, so naturally he’s in a reflective mood.

But one thing in particular stuck out to me — every time he finished a story, he would say:

“Well, enough about me. I want to hear more about you.”

And that’s when he told me about Jantelov, or the Law of Jante.


Jantelov is tenfold.

  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.

[It’s not an actual law, just an idea expressed by the Danish-Norwegian novelist Aksel Sandemose.]

Jantelov sounds harsh to American audiences, if only because American culture yearns and screams for individuality and gargantuan proportions at every opportunity. From an extremist point of view, it almost seems that Jantelov encourages you tear out the lone tulip in the poppy field.

But that’s not the case here. Ideally, it’s more like a desire for egalitarianism, with everyone being treated equally and held in equal esteem.

And that night, to Marcus, it meant being conscious of how much he was speaking about himself.

“Enough about me; I want to hear more about you.


I like that statement. It’s a friendly invitation to speak and share more, and can encourage even the quietest conversation partners to express themselves (but only after you’ve opened up first).

Conversations need two people contributing — equal parts listening, and equal parts sharing. Have only one person speak the entire night and it’s just another interview, regardless of how well the other person “listens”.



Further reading:
Crystal Lee Möller writes an interesting blurb about Jantelov here, and how American and Scandinavian work cultures may clash due to differing interpretations on individualism and egalitarianism.

Hellas Atletiek, 10K

“It’s someone’s 60th birthday today!”

I went with some rowing team lads to Hellas, the local athletic and triathlon club. Someone in the club decided to celebrate their special day with a 10+ km race, so the first thing everyone did was sing the happy birthday song on the track. Only then would the race start.

The Dutch as a whole are quite active when it comes to sports and exercise. The weather isn’t enough of a deterrent to have everyone hole up in their homes, although that wasn’t an issue today. Utrecht had good sunshine for once, and I learned a few new routes around the forest to run around later.


There were kids half my height and seniors three times my age running the same race I was — and beating me, too. Should I feel embarrassed or inspired? Perhaps a bit of both.

The 3-in-1

Described by my roommate as the “pinnacle of Irish-Chinese cuisine” (it’s hard for me to distinguish Irish sarcasm), the 3-in-1 can be found in any chipper or Chinese takeaway. And by chipper, I mean any place that serves fried delights late into the night.

The 3-in-1 is straight and to the point. You’ll get a plastic or aluminum tin filled with:

  1. A bed of white rice, followed by
  2. A layer of fries (the Irish seem to like their fries cut thick), topped off with
  3. Sate or curry sauce.

It looks like a big blob of goop, and its texture certainly is like that — but trust me, this tastes great when you have a few beers inside of you. Add breaded chicken balls to this concoction and it turns into a 4-in-1.


Sometimes people ask me what I did in Ireland, and I always make it a point to say something about the 3-in-1. Is it really that good? Students usually laugh when I mention it.

Perhaps it’s because of the sheer absurdity of the thing. Rice + french fries? Who would have thought? It may not be the most refined dish out there, but it’s prevalent enough that every Irish student has an opinion of it.

And so, the 3-in-1 has a place in my heart. Or my arteries.

Christmas in Trim, Ireland

The Christmas season is for family, friends, and food. Things like praising 6-pound 5-ounce baby Jesus if you’re a devout Christian, getting Chinese take-out if you’re Jewish, or lamenting the present state of humanity if you’re disillusioned. Or just another day if you’re Dutch. But what happens when your family is nine odd time zones away from where you live, and you have no (practical) way of reaching them without collapsing the piggy bank? Lucky for me, I have Brian as a roommate.

He took me under his wing during the holiday season. So away we went to his hometown in Trim, where he showed me what the cool kids do for fun.  And the actual Ireland — not the dopey touristy kind where everybody wears green and leprechauns come out of people’s arses with pots of gold.

Where’s Trim?
Trim Castle.
Trim Castle at sunset. Picture by Andrew Parnell.

Some of the students in Dublin ask me: “What are you doing in Trim?” as though I was dragged there by unseen forces. CNN ranked it as one of the top ten places to change your child’s life, but my roommate is puzzled as to why that is so.

Trim is in county Meadth (called the “heritage capital” of Ireland by the tourism industry), about forty minutes away from Dublin. The water there has natural limestone in it, so if you put on a warm kettle and let the water sit, you can see sediment start to clump at the bottom. It’s healthier for you and gives the water an interesting taste.

There are twelve or so pubs to serve the 10,000 people that live here.  And when it comes to touristy things to do, there’s a spot where you can shout obscenities at some ancient ruins, and the ancient ruins will echo and shout the same obscenities back to you.

Trim is also the hometown of authors like Jonathan Swift (he wrote Gulliver’s Travels) and the Duke of Wellington, and The Castle chipper, which sells garlic fries and other tasty foods, with pubs and stuff all within walking distance. You won’t find the last one in a travel booklet, but everybody in town knows what it is.

What were the holidays like in Trim? 

There’s a man in the neighborhood called “The Dub” (because he’s from Dublin), and he has the best Christmas lights in town. Families make it a tradition to go to his house every year. He’ll even pop outside sometimes to give the children sweets.

It was nice to have a real fireplace warm up the house. We had cozy movie nights in and played board games like Articulate! and Cranium with the family and the neighbors (which get louder and louder as the game progresses). The days leading up to the secret gift exchange are probably the most confusing part — what on earth do you give someone you’ve known your entire life?

I stayed with Brian and his family for about eight days and almost every day for breakfast they served a “fry-up” — that is, with eggs, toasted brown bread, grilled tomatoes, black pudding, white pudding, rashers (kind of like bacon), and sausages. Brian’s mother even put a fry-up on after Christmas Mass. Brian tells me she’s never done that before, or even have fry-ups that often — probably only because guests are over. I dunno, I enjoyed being spoiled with great food and company.


On another note, it’s funny to see my roommate back in his hometown, and how he interacts with his old friends and family. Listen enough and you can hear stories about him that were never mentioned before. They’ve known him longer than I have after all.

warm winters

“Did you watch the news tonight? There are Dutch speedskaters practicing in the Yellow River!”

One month into winter and there’s still no snow on the ground, much to the dismay of international students who have only experienced one season their entire lives. It’s unusually warm this year, even if it’s still hat-and-scarf weather. The only ice you’ll see in Utrecht comes from the occasional hailstorm, and even that doesn’t last too long. Some Dutch people have to go abroad to get their skating fix on natural ice.

I’m still crossing my fingers though. Perhaps February will be the month that the canals and lakes freeze over.

Gelukkig Nieuwjaar! (2014)

That’s what the cute animals on the Dutch Hallmark greeting cards say to welcome the new year.

Deciding to change your life for the better during the New Year is like deciding to finally love on Valentine’s Day. It’s still a tradition worth taking seriously though. Yes, even if people set themselves up for disappointment by setting unrealistic goals. And yes, even if the failure rate for the typical resolution is 90%+ within the first month. Because who knows, someone might actually make it.

Plus, it wouldn’t be fair of me to bash New Years Resolutions if I regularly use it as a conversation starter.


Some concerns at the start of the new year — or at least the first ones that come to mind:

    • Cooking: I’ve eaten the Dutch food, but what about properly making it? I think it would be nice to learn how to make some dishes to show the folks back in California. It’d also be a nice change of pace when I don’t feel like having pasta at night again. And why stop at Dutch food?
    • Correspondence: Why am I slow when it comes to responding to people, whether through  e-mail or handwritten letters? It’s not because I’m overwhelmed by an unending pile of messages. I like to give letters proper care and time, but there’s a difference between procrastination and thoughtfulness.
    • Speed skating: Learn how to make that criss-cross motion with the legs while turning.
    • Communicating: How can I connect with people? How can I make other people feel understood, and make myself understood? And how can I use the insights from the first two questions to improve my current relationships?
    • Learning Dutch: I’ve hit a plateau. How can I improve at this point? Do I want to improve? If I stop now, I’ll still be ahead of most other international students (as if comparing myself to other people was ever a reliable measurement). If I continue, I risk investing valuable time and energy towards learning a language I will just as easily forget within a few months of leaving the country. So the question for me is — is learning Dutch worth that risk? Hint: I still think so.
    • And in general, just to hammer the point in: Am I taking enough risks?


Most resolutions tend to have a common theme. Explore more, do more. Be more. Living in a foreign country (which feels less and less foreign every day) almost takes care of the first two by default.

And the last? That’s up to the person asking.