Sometimes it’s not a switch, it’s a dial

Imagine living in a place where everyone is cared for. A place where kids as young as 6 or 7 are safe to walk to school without supervision. A place where kindergarteners are outside most of the time climbing trees or baking bread over an open fire.

How about everyone being educated for free (including university education, where students are also paid a subsidy to study). On top of that, there’s free healthcare for all, no matter what a person’s income

I should also mention a drive of fewer than 20 minutes from the capital city takes you to an abundance of lakes and woodland as well as beaches. Places resembling Hundred Acre Wood from the Winnie the Pooh stories, where you can live and then walk your dog each day in beautiful scenic countryside, with no noise pollution from traffic or motorways.

Let’s throw in a living wage for all and public transport so connected, people have buses and trains every 10 minutes to almost anywhere within 20 miles of the city centre.

Sound too good to be true? It does exist as it’s where I’m living right now. What I’ve just described is the greater Copenhagen area in Denmark.

When something looks too good to be true, it usually is

Let me describe it again.

Imagine living in a place with some of the highest direct and indirect taxes in the world, where the average person pays over 40% income tax, goods have 25% value-added tax, car registration tax is up to 150% and there’s a media tax if you want to use the internet, own a smartphone or watch any kind of television

This is a place where entrepreneurship exists, yet the risk-averse culture holds back investment for many.

A place where everyone over the age of 15 is required to have a government digital postbox to receive post from public authorities. The login for this is also needed for online banking & paying of bills.

It’s a part of the world where people can often be seen drinking cans of beer in public places and 16-year-olds can legally buy beer and wine for consumption, of which 32% of them are reportedly drunk at least once in a 30 day period (the European average is 13%).

Still sound too good to be true?

In life, there is always balance

I’m neither a Socialist or Capitalist, a Labour or Conservative, a Republican or Democrat.

Life just isn’t that binary and issues are not as simple as black or white or yes or no.

Yet many of us live that way (think Brexit with leave or remain).

Democratic socialists in the USA have been describing Denmark as some kind of utopian society, one that Americans can look to for the ideal future. But is it really that great?

Funnily enough, the answer is not black or white.

Is it ’Nothing in life is free’ or ’The best things in life are free’?

The utopia of Denmark comes at a price. One I’ve personally struggled to come to terms with (I come from the UK where trust in government and the idea that high taxes yield any kind of benefit is extremely low).

The terrific kindergarten experiences, the open space and woodland, the clean beaches, free education and healthcare, it can only exist due to high tax and high trust.

I’m not sure the Danish system could ever work in countries like the UK or USA. The first requirement is trust in government. This is where it breaks down in countries like the UK, where government officials have slowly eroded trust over many decades.

Trust in government is the glue that helps citizens pay the high taxes needed.

“Government is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees. And both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the people.” – Henry Clay

You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else

Denmark as a nation understands the rules of life. It’s not perfect (32% of 16-year-olds getting drunk each month is a problem it’s trying to tackle), yet as a society, the Danes appear to understand life isn’t binary, rather it’s a rollercoaster of decisions and sacrifice.

Decisions and sacrifice that result in happiness (Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world).

If we all embraced the detail, the idea that yes or no isn’t the only answer and those that challenge our way of thinking might just be worth listening too, I wonder what that would mean?

I’m betting it would result in more happiness.

And happiness is the ultimate currency.

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I hope you enjoyed this episode of Notes from a Small Country? Please give me feedback directly or in the comments. Which part was your favourite? What do you want to see more or less of? Other suggestions? Let me know!

I’d love it if you’d subscribe to this article by signing up on this page, using your email. That way you’ll get a notification each week when the latest one appears.

See you next time for Episode 12.

You can follow me on Linkedin for daily notes on life and my 5 Share Friday – 5 interesting reads, life hacks or lessons, tried & tested by me.

Originally published as part of LinkedIn newsletters here: Marcus Purvis Newsletters

Trusting you is my decision. Proving me right is your choice

“Deep Throat said “trust no one.” And that’s hard, Scully. Suspecting everyone, everything, it wears you down. You even begin to doubt what you know is the truth. Before, I could only trust myself. Now, I can only trust you…” – Fox Mulder from The X Files TV show

Learning to trust is one of life’s most difficult tasks

It’s been a year in Denmark and I’m beginning to be concerned I won’t see danger coming anymore as I’ve actually cracked one of life’s most difficult tasks – learning to trust.

In the UK I was on alert all the time. I didn’t actually know it until I moved to the happiest country in the world. I was on unconscious alert 24/7 until now, it was exhausting.

From never letting my 5-year-old son out of sight in a public place to suspecting someone at work of trying to harm my progress when they offered help, trust for me did not exist unless it had been earned.

As long as you can persuade me to trust you, you have no reason to trust me

Yet the idea of earning trust is a broken one. You either trust or you don’t. Trust doesn’t exist from technique, tools or hacks, it exists in your character.

Much of my childhood was without a father or male figure, so I looked to Batman and Clint Eastwood (Man with no name and Dirty Harry) for mentoring and guidance. Not only were they cool, but they could also get out of any tricky situation.

These characters (like Mulder from the X Files) succeeded for the most part by trusting no one, and who could blame them with bad guys around every corner?

It wasn’t just comic and movie characters that formed my trust compass. The society I grew up in (1980’s UK) didn’t instil trust, it took it away. From politics, journalism, books, movies and TV, I was constantly exposed to a society where people were not to be trusted.

So what’s happened to me in the last 12 months? I’ve been exposed to a different society, one that’s happy to pay high taxes to a government demonstrating they use money wisely (helping everyone). I’m a member of a society that understands they’ll always be a minority of people abusing the benefits, yet that isn’t a reason to cut them for those in need.

It’s a society where at work people’s trust isn’t earned, it’s there from day one. You simply need to make sure you don’t break it.

The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them

“Take the car, you and your family are welcome to use it anytime we’re not.”

Said a person I had met only an hour before.

This wasn’t a conversation in the UK, it was at a dinner in Denmark, dinner with a family we’d met through my son’s kindergarten.

In Denmark trust really is in place from the beginning, it’s not earned as time goes by.

Danes believe that others have good intent. So even if I damaged the car, the trust that I wouldn’t damage it intentionally exists. Also, the trust I’d repair any damage is in play too.

Trust is the bedrock of Danish society. From parents leaving their babies in prams outside of shops and cafes (yes I really do see this) to business deals taking place based on a conversation or simple email transaction, it’s incredible that trust in others is so high.

I’ve actually witnessed a woman walking past a pram outside a cafe where a baby was crying, and then stop to pick up the baby and cuddle it.

Can you imagine this in the UK or USA? Forgetting the fact no parent in either country would leave their baby outside a cafe, if they did, there would be a parent running out of the cafe screaming about a kidnapping.

Not in Denmark, the mother and father came out and thanked the passer-by for helping.

One must be fond of people and trust them if one is not to make a mess of life

Where I live there’s an abundance of general societal trust. That is the ability to trust a person from the moment you meet them. What I’m learning is the assumption people are honest and reliable is the only worthwhile assumption, unless of course, they demonstrate otherwise.

When we look at studies, Denmark tops a list of 86 countries of trust in society. It’s reported up to a quarter of Denmark’s wealth can be attributed to trust (what economists can’t attribute to production, infrastructure, schooling etc.) In fact, it’s widely believed that trust saves a lot of bureaucratic problems, which on the face of it makes perfect sense.

Trust is built when no one is looking

So how can you benefit from lessons in trust if you don’t live in Denmark? I’m wondering this too as I’ll be returning to the UK in the future.

I’ve split trust into 3 activities. It’s these activities I’m practising each day. My hope is they’ll build my character and help me in any society and culture I’m part of.

I’m doing this because I know I won’t be able to blindly trust colleagues embedded into a cutthroat business culture or a person acting suspiciously outside my home. Yet I do know I can trust in myself.

I can trust that I’m trustworthy by default and perhaps that will make those around me trustworthy too.

Here’s what I’m doing, why not try it too and let me know how you get on?

  1. I’m making the time to care – I actually care about other people and instead of just thinking it, I’m demonstrating it through my actions
  2. I’ve put integrity on a pedestal – Being honest with strong moral principles is key in having a trusting relationship, it’s one of my top priorities
  3. I’m checking my intent – I’m asking myself what my intent is all the time. If I’m not acting out of good intent I stop and reset.

Good luck! I’m optimistic we can follow in the footsteps of Denmark and build trusting societies all over the world, the world needs this right now.

“Trust is like the air we breathe – when it’s present, nobody really notices; when it’s absent, everybody notices.” – Warren Buffett

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I hope you enjoyed this episode of Notes from a Small Country? Please give me feedback directly or in the comments. Which part was your favourite? What do you want to see more or less of? Other suggestions? Let me know!

I’d love it if you’d subscribe to this article by signing up on this page, using your email. That way you’ll get a notification each week when the latest one appears.

See you next week for Episode 11.

You can follow me on Linkedin for daily notes on life and my 5 Share Friday – 5 interesting reads, life hacks or lessons, tried & tested by me.

Originally published as part of LinkedIn newsletters here: Marcus Purvis Newsletters

I don’t ride a bike to add days to my life. I ride a bike to add life to my days.

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”
Sherlock Holmes author, Arthur Conan Doyle, Scientific American, 1896

One of the biggest changes while living in Denmark compared to the UK is the ability to not have a car and still function day to day.

Only 4 out of 10 Danes own a car. Whereas in the UK only 4 out of 10 people own a bicycle.

Cyclists see considerably more of this beautiful world than anyone else

Not having a car hasn’t been that difficult. I’ve found I rarely needed the 4 wheeled freedom I use to enjoy to go anywhere at speed and with anything I wanted (as long as it fitted in the boot or roof box).

It’s been over a year now (16 months) and I’ll admit there are times where I want to get behind the wheel still. It would make popping to Ikea and bringing back furniture nice and easy (the delivery costs are criminal), or being able to take all the garden waste to the local compost, or even just not getting wet on the way to anywhere when it’s raining.

(Incredibly, only 21% of Danish cyclists choose not to cycle in bad weather).

Before living in Denmark I’d cycled in the UK quite a bit, though really only for leisure (mountain biking) or getting to the train station for my commute.

Back then I had cars queuing up behind me as cycle lanes were rare or non-existent. The near misses as a result of frustration from drivers trying to get past me was a frequent occurrence.

Not anymore!

The Bike is a Danes best friend

Denmark has cycle lanes almost everywhere, and not just a line painted on the road, it’s a separate sidewalk just for bicycles. So no cars backing up and trying to pass you on a bend (phew).

The other thing that’s striking is the lack of potholes or dips, seriously there are virtually no potholes in the bicycle lanes (or roads). So no buckled wheels here.

Got kids? No problem! Cargo bikes are the answer.

A cargo bike (or family bike) is a kind of oversized tricycle with a large box on the front. The Danish government have estimated a quarter of all Copenhagen families with two or more children own a cargo bike for transporting kids, groceries, and other necessities.

We’ve got one and it’s crazy awesome, here’s a picture

It’s also worth noting that like other Danish products, cargo bikes can be just as stylish with some even winning design awards and many being exported all over the world.

What about punctures? I upgraded my tyres to puncture-resistant ones. They have an extra 3mm of rubber between the tread and the inner tube. I haven’t had a puncture since using them (over 6 months ago).

To bike, or not to bike: that is not a question

Apart from the cost of having a car in Denmark (cars are taxed at over 100%) along with the environmental impact, the health benefits are clear.

There are an estimated 1.1 million fewer sick days due to the number of people cycling here in the land of happiness.

More than 60% of people living in and around Copenhagen go to work or school by bicycle ( 49% of all Danish children 11-15 bike to school).

That’s a lot of healthy people.

What’s interesting is that 26% of all trips below 5km are by bicycle. The environmental benefits to this alone are amazing.

When we look at the UK, 71% of the population never ride a bike, that’s a pretty big difference.

Even just going to the corner shop, or taking the children to school, the car is often the preferred method for many.

Let’s change that!

When in doubt. Pedal it out

Own a bicycle? Next time you’re tempted to jump in the car for a short journey, choose your bike. You don’t even need a bike lane as the safety in numbers rule shows us the more people cycle the safer it becomes.

Happy cycling!

P.S. Don’t forget to wear a helmet (Interestingly only 35% of cyclists wear a helmet in Denmark)

Statistics from the cycling embassy of Denmark

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I hope you enjoyed this episode of Notes from a Small Country? Please give me feedback directly or in the comments. Which part was your favourite? What do you want to see more or less of? Other suggestions? Let me know!

I’d love it if you’d subscribe to this article by signing up on this page, using your email. That way you’ll get a notification each week when the latest one appears.

See you next week for Episode 10.

You can follow me on Linkedin for daily notes on life and my 5 Share Friday – 5 interesting reads, life hacks or lessons, tried & tested by me.

Originally published as part of LinkedIn newsletters here: Marcus Purvis Newsletters