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Notes from a Small Country

Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads

“Wait a minute, Doc. Ah… Are you telling me that you built a time machine… out of a DeLorean?” – Marty McFly

It was the summer of 1985 and I was in the USA staying with my dad. We watched Back to the Future in the movie theatre and it became a film that stayed with me forever.

In the UK, it was a time when people met up more, a time when consumerism of goods hadn’t become so throw away, and a time when shops closed every Wednesday afternoon.

“If my calculations are correct when this baby hits 88MPH, you’re gonna see some serious s***”

Living in Denmark in 2019 can be like living back in 1985.

A life with one car families. People spending a lot more time outside. Social skills are highly valued, and TV watching well balanced. Oh, and high street shopping is very much alive and kicking too.

Honestly, Ferrero Rocher and Lion Bar are hugely popular as well.

It’s not all white t-shirts and Levi’s however, Denmark is a mix of old and new. It’s a country whose population is made up of tech-savvy people who love early adoption of devices and technology.

The key difference between 2019 in the UK & USA and 2019 in Denmark is mostly a mindset.

Technology compliments Danish life, it doesn’t drive it.

Take me back to the future

Going back in time isn’t all good.

I love the calm, I love simplicity. I don’t love Sunday with not much is open and very little going on outside of the city.

During the week, local shops and post offices close for lunch. They really do! The busiest time in a UK post office (if you’re lucky enough to have a post office) is lunchtime. I honestly don’t know how Danes can do personal chores outside of working hours. It’s increasingly obvious they do it in their workday and employers are sympathetic to it.

Our doctor’s surgery doesn’t even have a website. It’s so old school there’s a piece of paper sellotaped to the front door with the phone number and opening hours (which are 9-5, Mon – Frid btw).

Back to mindset

The 1980s felt like the last decade of calm. Busy lives were left to the bankers, CEO’s and fast-paced white-collar workers. It all started to change towards the end of the decade when Thatcherism pivoted society towards less community and more ‘what’s in it for me’?

Thankfully not so in Denmark, where it’s poor taste to think you’re better than the next person just because you have more money. The villains in Danish movies will often be rich people and it feels like being successful is more about living a happy life than the car you drive and money you make.

White poo all over again…

So I’ll take going back in time, as it comes with calm, simple and unselfish living.

I’m not sure about the white dog poo though? Remember that? It was everywhere in 1985, and it’s all over the place in my local neighbourhood right now in 2019.

Where’s my DeLorean?…

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I hope you enjoyed episode 4 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!

See you next week for Episode 5.

Don’t miss a thing and subscribe using your email below, that way you’ll get a notification each week when I publish my latest adventure.

Marcus Purvis leads software engineering teams at Unity Technologies, the realtime development platform of choice for video games, movies and more. He’s also learning to write inspiring content on LinkedInMedium and here at marcuspurvis.com

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

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Notes from a Small Country

Now that goat is shaved

“Now that goat is shaved!” said one of my colleagues as he glanced towards me, looking over his monitor.

“Er what?!” I replied.

I was exclaiming happiness at the chance a conversation might begin, more than I was about trying to understand what shaving a goat meant.

Culture shock

When I moved from the UK to Denmark, I wasn’t prepared for quite how lonely work would be in the first 6 months.

My wife also wasn’t prepared for how lonely life would be as a stay at home parent.

In the first week in our new home, we had neighbours popping around with flowers and greetings.

Then nothing…just nods from afar and their fully booked calendar for the foreseeable future.

What we hadn’t realised when relocating to Denmark was that Danes are laser-focused on their time in and out of work.

Don’t forget the goat

Hang on, what about that shaved goat? – Turns out it’s a Danish idiom about getting the job done.

All cultures have idioms. In the UK we like to say things like ‘Bob’s your Uncle’, does anyone know what that means? (Congrats to the first person who can explain what that means in the comments).

Back to loneliness…For Danes, it’s not unusual for social time to be booked up weeks or months in advance.

For us, that meant no more ‘Fancy meeting up for lunch tomorrow?’

It’s now more like ‘Let’s meet for lunch, how does next month look?’

Cloudy with some sunshine

In the UK we chat about the weather, what TV shows we’re watching and complain about the traffic jam that made us late for work.

This could be with a person in the elevator, at the coffee machine or a colleague we sit next to.

It doesn’t matter who, what matters is there isn’t an awkward silence.

As a Brit, I don’t do well with awkward silences.

What I’m learning is in Denmark work means work. There’s no time for chinwagging (bonus points again for anyone willing to translate that in the comments).

Outside of work, it’s similar and not uncommon for a closed network of just 5 or 6 close friends, no room for additions.

Binary

‘How’s your week been? I hope the travel went well with no delays like last time? Wanna meet & walk the dogs tomorrow morning?’ – Me

‘Yes’ – my neighbour

‘How is Bertie? Is he ok with the other dogs? Did he eat his food and enjoy his walk?’ – my wife

‘Yes’ – our new dog sitter

Those are real text messages from our first few months in Denmark.

I look back now with a smile, though at the time we were amazed at the lack of response and wondered if we’d somehow upset them.

We hadn’t.

It’s not that Danish culture is rude or unsociable, quite the opposite.

It’s just that unlike the USA or UK, the culture is more exclusive and purposeful.

Machines are productive, people are effective

I used to work to the above statement.

Not anymore.

In Denmark people aren’t just effective, they’re productive too.

I pride myself on focus and the ability to get things done. Yet I’m still learning from my Danish colleagues on how to get more out of my day.

Like anywhere else, not everyone is effective & productive, though the Danes who are can easily fit an 8-hour workday into 6 hours. They do this through focus and cutting out ‘unnecessary’ interaction.

Greg McKeown wrote a book called Essentialism, I wonder if he spent any time in Denmark?

I’ve never seen such essentialism at work by default, by so many people, it’s admirable.

1 year on

I’m still a sociable introvert. The work environment hasn’t changed me, in fact, it feels slightly changed, as in a little more sociable since I started.

I’m silently watching people as they focus, talk and get things done.

I’m seeing things getting done in a way that my UK and US colleagues can only read about in books.

My wife and I have a small group of friends including socialising with a small number of terrific people from in and out of work.

Machine or human?

Have you thought about how productive and effective you are? What do you do in your day that can be cut so that you achieve more?

Achieving more is great at work and it also gets you more time outside of the workplace with friends.

I’m still learning this art, yet I know one thing for sure…

..It’s possible, some of the happiest people on earth have it nailed.

I hope you enjoyed episode 3 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!

See you next week for Episode 4.

Don’t miss a thing and subscribe using your email below, that way you’ll get a notification each week when I publish my latest adventure.

Marcus Purvis leads software engineering teams at Unity Technologies, the realtime development platform of choice for video games, movies and more. He’s also learning to write inspiring content on LinkedInMedium and here at marcuspurvis.com

Originally published as part of LinkedIn newsletters here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/enjoyable-commute-marcus-purvis/

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Notes from a Small Country

Episode 2 – The enjoyable commute

"The key is in not spending time, but in investing it." - Dr Stephen R. Covey

“I love my one hour commute!” Said nobody ever.

That is until podcasts came along, where the choice for free entertainment and learning suddenly became a reality & commuting became more productive than ever.

I remember a few years ago wondering whether I should live further from my workplace, just to fit more listening and thinking into my life.

“But your commute is so long!” say my Danish colleagues…

Not really…

My commute is 40 minutes door to door. Not unusual for someone in the UK, where you can easily spend 40 minutes just waiting for a train to turn up at the station.

The problem I have is the Danish transport system is so efficient (said no Dane ever btw..)

To me (and anyone who’s used public transport regularly in the UK) the Danish transport system is gloriously effective. The terrific problem this causes for me is such little time to get through my podcasts.

I think I need to live further away from the office…

"Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely" - Rodin

There are trains every 10 minutes practically anywhere within the Copenhagen region (and miles beyond).

The buses are new, clean and mostly on 10-minute cycles too, and the taxies are like Uber i.e. minutes away and there’s an app that takes payment when you get to your destination.

It’s terrific!

Yes, it really is…

In Denmark, if a train stops and gets delayed for even 30 to 60 seconds there’s an announcement to all passengers.

In the UK a train can randomly stop somewhere due to a leaf falling on the tracks. Then it’s 10 minutes or never before the driver eventually tells passengers there might be a delay to their destination (with the enthusiasm of Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh).

When a train gets cancelled in the Copenhagen area, it’s a 10-minute wait before hopping onto the next one.

Worth every penny

Getting to work is now the cheapest it’s ever been for me. In fact 30% cheaper than what I paid in the UK for public transport (possibly the only part of Danish life that is cheaper), this is the icing on top of the cake of efficiency.

“Don’t you find it expensive?” Say many of my fellow commuters when I talk with them.

If you’ve paid $6000 for a yearly ticket, only to stand squashed like a sardine all the way to London, you get to say it’s expensive.

Happy to travel

Today I sat next to the window of my train to Copenhagen. As I wrote a post for LinkedIn, I could see the countryside whizzing past out of the corner of my eye. I decided to look up to see my fellow passengers.

Everyone was either smiling or chatting, reading or listening.

What do you do on your commute? Do you invest in that time or let it pass?

"Time is a created thing. To say 'I don't have time,' is like saying, 'I don't want to." - Lao Tzu

On my Danish commute, none of us is crammed in like sardines, none of us is complaining.

Thirsty work

Or…as I’ve recently learned, is it a result of lager in Denmark being drank like Coke or Pepsi is in the USA?

Perhaps Tuborg beer is part of the Danish path to commuting happiness?

I’m unable to find studies that suggest it, but you’d be forgiven for thinking this given how many people drink it on their way home.

If I’m going to do as the Danes do by embrace the culture, I wonder if my liver can cope..

I hope you enjoyed episode 2 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!

See you next week for Episode 3.

Don’t miss a thing and subscribe using your email below, that way you’ll get a notification each week when I publish my latest adventure.

Marcus Purvis leads software engineering teams at Unity Technologies, the realtime development platform of choice for video games, movies and more. He’s also learning to write inspiring content on LinkedInMedium and here at marcuspurvis.com

Originally published as part of LinkedIn newsletters here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/enjoyable-commute-marcus-purvis/

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Notes from a Small Country

No vacationing please, we’re British

“What are you doing for the summer” several colleagues ask me throughout the month of June.

“I’m working” I reply “what are you up to?”

“I’m heading to the summer house for 3 weeks” comes the most common reply. Along with that kind of pity expression you get at times. You know the one, like when passengers see you running up to a train door as it closes, right before leaving the station without you.

It’s not uncommon for Danes to have a family home 2 or 3 hours outside of Copenhagen, where family members meet during the summer for extended vacation.

Yes, I’m British

Being British means I’ve grown up in a culture where a 3 to 6 week summer holiday isn’t dissimilar to handing in notice and leaving a workplace forever. If absent for 3 or more weeks in the UK, you’d return and be told the business survived so long without you, you were no longer needed.

In Denmark that’s a paradigm that doesn’t seem to exist and it’s great. It’s a country where 3 weeks is practically the bare minimum, with many taking 4 or even 6 weeks over the summer due to school holidays.

Closed for the summer

Recently my wife and I took the children for a haircut, and the sign on the hairdressers said they were closed for the summer.

We went to a popular French restaurant a few days ago, one that’s opposite a lake in the picturesque countryside not far from where we live. A note on the door said they were gone for the summer.

I’m starting to forget what some of my Danish colleagues look like, as they’ve been gone for the summer too.

Ingredients for happiness

Perhaps this is one of the reasons Danes are so happy? Not only do they have a national holiday for what seems like every week over Easter / Spring time. They also spend a large portion of July and August relaxing away from home and work. It seems like a very healthy framework to me.

Though, I’m wondering if I should panic about next year? What if we don’t secure a family summer house by the beach for a vacation? Or jet off to the USA to hop a few cities? We could end up breaking some kind of unwritten Danish requirement and receive a heavy fine.. I need to do more research.

One question I haven’t had answered yet, is how do Danish people remember their work passwords after the summer break? After just a 2 week vacation, I get back and my first task is calling IT for a password reset..

“A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in.” – Robert Orben

Becoming unoccupied

How do you view vacation time? Is it fixed by the culture you’re in or defined by your mindset and how you view life?

For me a vacation is linked to the origin of the word. The Oxford English dictionary states..

Vacation – late Middle English from Old French, or from Latin vacatio(n-), from vacare ‘be unoccupied’

So there’s no reason why life can’t include a mini vacation each week. That is, being unoccupied on a regular basis.

A staycation is a vacation

Right now when I’m home, I feel like I’m on a vacation. The Danish work ethic aligns to work life separation rather than work life balance*. That’s where my mindset is too i.e. when I’m working, I’m really working, no distractions. When I’m off work, I’m off work, no blending.

“Time you enjoy wasting was not wasted.” – John Lennon

Merging location with a vacation mindset allows for being truly unoccupied. As an example, over the weekend my family and I went to a beach just a 20 minute bike ride away. We cycled through a deer park and had a picnic and walked through the forest with our dog.

I love Mondays

By the time I returned to work on Monday I was refreshed, happy and productive. I can see this in many of my colleagues too. They just happen to add a huge break in the middle of the year on top of their vacation mindset. It’s like the icing on the cake of happiness. Perhaps we should all try and do that, no matter what country we’re in?

I hope you enjoyed episode 1 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!

See you next week for the Episode 2.

Don’t miss a thing and subscribe using your email below, that way you’ll get a notification each week when I publish my latest adventure.

*I wrote about how I achieved work life separation in a previous job here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/worklife-separation-balance-marcus-purvis/

Marcus Purvis leads software engineering teams at Unity Technologies, the realtime development platform of choice for video games, movies and more. He’s also learning to write inspiring content on LinkedInMedium and here at marcuspurvis.com

Originally published as part of LinkedIn newsletters here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/vacationing-please-were-british-marcus-purvis/