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.


‘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.

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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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