One of the more interesting things about living in a foreign country is that you have an opportunity to gain a new perspective on your environment.  Living outside your comfort zone either drives you nuts, or into a completely new way of looking at things.  That is, you adapt or you run.

In the first few months, you spend so much of your time just trying to get your bearings that you don’t really see past the challenges.  Learning a new language, figuring out how the bank works, dealing with the little details of life.  All of that occupies all of your brain power.

Somewhere along the line, you start to see past the frustrations and start to get into a routine.  You know what to buy at the store, how to take the bus and maybe know a few of the customs – what to say and what not to say to your colleagues.

Eventually, you start to gain an understanding of the people… well, maybe not, but you get a sense of what’s important to them – and you can contrast that with what’s important to you: finally, a sense of perspective.

Most curiously, after all this time, what I find interesting, at this phase of insight, is that Danes don’t share the same sense of progress as North Americans.  The goal of “getting ahead” just doesn’t seem to be a driving force.  In Canada, we spend a lot of time saving up for retirement, planning our future, looking for ways to get ahead in our respective careers and all that jazz.  In Denmark, people are happy with where they are, they look for a comfortable job, a nice (ridiculously expensive) car, and probably 3 kids.

Most likely it’s because income equality is so flat – you’re not going to make a whole lot more by climbing the corporate ladder (unless you’re really high up in the company, I suspect).

And there’s nothing wrong with that – it’s just different. It leads to a workforce that works well together – and has surprisingly few of the “office politics” you see in North America.  Teams really ARE teams.  But when discussing the future, it’s very likely that Danes just don’t understand what it is that’s driving the foreigners. Truly, a case of “lost in translation”.

Then there’s the whole Jante law ( thing, which factors into it… but that’s another discussion for another day.

Anyhow, I’m sure there are many further insights coming.  Being able to work out the local newspaper – and slowly understanding a bit of what my colleagues are saying is helping out a lot in understanding Danes…  but it’s a slow, frustrating process.  A few more months, and maybe I’ll finally understand what makes people here tick.

8 thoughts on “Perspectives

  1. Living a good life is extremely important yes, I find this difference between US and Sweden hard to understand as well. People work their asses of, expect their boss to treat them w/o respect, and know that they will have to give everything to get a good quality of life. I find this a bit absurd – everyone should have a good life. But at the same time it might lead to less incentives and engagement. Pros and cons.

    • Yep – Exactly. There’s a delicate balance between the two. Glad to hear that someone else has seen the same thing though, and it’s not just my imagination.

  2. I can see how that’d be nice for the workplace but for me personally – I need the incentive. “Being happy where I am” would just get me to be mediocre.

    • Yes, it can be really hard to wrap your head around it, some days. But, once you see it, you can see exactly how it influences the dynamics – and thus, if you want to fit in to a group, you have to understand it. Personally, I find that I always have the feeling that I’m “rocking the boat”, just because I see everything in a different light, and I’m always challenging the status quo.

      There may be some significant advantages to being a non-Dane in a Danish world, as long as it doesn’t aggravate those around you.

    • But living a comfortable life: in a house that does not leak in water, with roads that are not filled with potholes, w/o everyone superior to you treating you like crap, w/o having to worry about going bankrupt if one happens to fall seriously ill (etc..) – simply means that the incentive no longer is about getting out of hell, but about (in my case) doing good science, improving stuff because they need improving. Not simply out of a desire to improve your own quality of life. Which means that collaborations, honest and fair such, are easy to construct. There is less of the sharp elbows and more sincere intrest in what you are doing. So clearly, I see this as a Very Good Thing. But I will miss the speed, the incentives when I move back to Sweden. I just wish that they were honest and about the real cause and not a way to get ahead (preferably by cutting corners, taking advantage of others and all that crap).

      • Oh, Absolutely. I agree with you completely – there are definitely good parts to each system, and bad parts as well. I guess that’s really one of the things I’ll be happy to take away with me when I do return to Canada: the insight to see what the balance could be, and the drive to continually aim towards achieving it

        • My comment there was to CF. And might have sounded a bit too rough. I will def take some new ideas with me back to Sweden, but am happy to leave others behind.

          • No worries – that’s how I understood your comment. There is always something you can take away from any experience. (-:

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