Catching Up (part 1): Hope & Layoffs

January 29, 2009

After the big blowout of New Year’s, the girls headed back to school & I headed back to work. My boss is returning to the U.S., so I’m taking over responsibility for the group. It should be a fun challenge.

We ordered pizza and invited friends over to celebrate the end of an error on January 20th. We get CNN International on cable, so we were able to watch the Inauguration live. (What a relief to be done with the crook. No one we talk to in Denmark understands how we put up with the guy. And, his exuberant spirit has infected this country too. On a street corner near us we saw this billboard outside an eyeglass shop. The small print reads “The American way – now in Denmark”.)

"Yes We Can" Sells Glasses in Denmark

"Yes We Can" Sells Glasses in Denmark

The pictures of the crowds were astounding. But what was with that poem? It felt like forty minutes of mind-numbing agony that I’ll never get back. I’m afraid she’s scared America away from poetry for a generation.

Viewing the first Obama Inauguration in Copenhagen

Viewing the first Obama Inauguration in Copenhagen. Even Sammy is interested (that's him in the lower right).

For a brief time I thought I was going to present at a conference in New Orleans in March, which would have let me visit our good friend Jen Lemen in D.C. on the flight out and my parents in Chicago on the flight back (SAS flies nonstop from CPH to both), but with a round of layoffs and budget cuts at Microsoft I’m not going. Here in Denmark, Microsoft laid off 75 people, which is about 8% of the people (or, 22% of the 3 groups here who were actually affected).

We found out about the layoffs late afternoon on January 22 (about 7am Seattle time) when company-wide email from the CEO went out. We got invitations to an all-hands meeting first thing Friday morning where we were told that there were going to be layoffs . . . a week later. Employment regulations here in Denmark are such that any layoffs at a company need to be discussed with Employee Representatives in advance. Apparently, most Danish companies have a standing group of Employee Representatives to handle relations between employees and management; Microsoft doesn’t. So, we had to elect representatives, who then had hours and hours of meetings with us, with each other, and with the top management to discuss the layoffs. Meanwhile few people are working much, everyone’s worried, etc.

On January 29 the layoffs finally were made. It was a bit of an unusual time. In Seattle, the layoffs there (about 2%) sounded brutal. People found out about the layoffs only minutes before coming in to work. Upper managers would come by to an office & pull people out. Everyone was in shock, and jumping every time someone walked by their office. But, they were done same day. For us, the week of agony was hard, but in some ways seemed more humane. We knew in advance. We had a week to commiserate, accept, plan. And negotiate. The package that our Employee Reps negotiated was astounding. So good in fact that many of us were a little wistful that we weren’t laid off! (For me: more than a year paid + return relocation + all stock granted.) It’s the closest experience I’ve had with a union, and I tell you, they seem like a good idea.

However, it’s good to still be employed, to not have to look for work in this horrible economy. Rachelle is probably also glad that I’m not at home full time driving her crazy. Unfortunately, one of my co-workers Michelle was laid off. We’ve become friends with her family, and we’ll miss them when they leave Denmark in May.

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Welcoming in 2009

January 1, 2009

We had been warned, but nothing prepared us for the insanity that is Copenhagen on New Year’s Eve. The girls’ teachers warned all the kids multiple times: Do not go outside on New Year’s Eve without goggles. And if the Danes are warning you about the danger–this is the land of open fire pits for warmth in amusement parks–you know you should listen.

Our friend Josh would have thought he had died and gone to heaven. The grocery stores carry fireworks here. We’re not talking about packs of sparklers and poppers. We’re talking about 200-feet-high rockets that cascade multi-colored lights. Stuff that you can buy only at semi-legal stands on Indian reservations in Washington.

The fireworks started at about 6pm. By 8pm there was a constant stacatto of explosions around the city. By 11:45 it was nearly constant, and then at midnight everywhere you looked there was fireworks. The street lights were obscured from the smoke. A haze crept over the city. For about an hour the pandemonium reigned.

Even now, at about 3am fireworks are echoing around the city.

I shot some video. It’s 9 minutes of fireworks, but these were exploding barely above eye level!