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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

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/

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5 Share Friday

5 Share Friday 28 June 2019

Quote I’m pondering “Every one of you is a super genius if you just focus your common sense.” –  Eliyahu Goldratt

What I’m reading – Staying with Eli Goldratt, I’ve started reading The Goal again, a book an old friend I used to work with recommended to me years ago. Its overall theme is continuous development and Eli was the person who introduced the Theory of Constraints.  It’s a fantastic book I recommend and interestingly it’s written like a novel, so not your usual business book. A great summary can be found at Forbes.com.

Planting seeds of Happiness – My wife watched a TED talk from Malene Rydahl recently and thought I’d like it too, it’s terrific. We’ve been in Denmark for a year now and our children are blossoming more than we imagined. Malene easily explains the 3 human values behind this happiness. They are Trust, Freedom to be you & Finding purpose. I highly recommend watching her 16 minute TED talk, it’s entertaining and mind blowing. If you make the choices suggested, it could change your life and those around you significantly.

Most interesting internet read – According to Inc.com Microsoft studied what was making employees miserable in its Surface and Xbox teams. It found 1 thing that it now coaches all managers on. That thing is the number of people attending a meeting. This wasn’t my experience while at Xbox in the UK, yet it’s still great advice for anyone who manages teams.

Favourite purchase – My family and I live in a wonderful place near a forest. It’s peaceful and only 30 minutes from the centre of Copenhagen by tain. The only downside so far, is that while the sun rises at 3:30am the birds begin to sing and I mean really sing! It’s a wonderful sound, hearing the early bird chorus, yet between the hours of 3:30am and 6am it’s also disturbing and keeps me awake. So when the birds start, I roll over and put in Macks earplugs, they’re amazing. If you’re looking for an earplug solution where you can’t feel them while sleeping (even on your side), then try Macks (I use the pillow soft ones).

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I hope you have a fantastic weekend doing the things you enjoy with the people you love.

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For other blog posts on work and life go here: https://www.marcuspurvis.com/category/posts/