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.

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*I wrote about how I achieved work life separation in a previous job here:

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

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