Having lived in my country now for the past six months I have started to realize again what it means to be Icelandic. If you want to join my tribe you will do the following as soon as your feet touch the ground in Iceland:
- Drink filtered coffee, cappuccino or café latte every chance you get. The filtered coffee you can drink without milk, with milk or with milk and sugar. Drinking espresso or tea will make Icelandic people give you strange glances and the occasional lean back. You might be a crazy person after all.
- Check the weather forecast obsessively, especially if you plan to go outside. We really don’t want to die while going out to the store.
- Likewise, dress warmly according to weather at all times. A few innocent girls might dress in skimpy outfits when going out but it takes an Icelandic winter or two to grow that out of them. In the meantime they might need warm blankets and hot cocoa before sending them on their way. Tourists that come to Iceland foolishly thinking that the weather conditions are the same as in their home country will get a quick lesson in how wrong they are. Really.
- You drink alcohol to get drunk, and it’s okay to mix wine, beer, spirits, shots since THIS IS NOT A DRILL PEOPLE! Getting drunk and having fun is synonymous in Icelandic culture and heaven forbid if you want to be “sensible,” drink water with your booze or not mix drinks. Also, drinking while having dinner is slowly becoming acceptable but then you better be eating grilled food and drinking beer.
- Living paycheck from paycheck is standard practice. If you have savings don’t advertise it as you will be considered as one of the evil people that have money.
- The big thing about Icelandic food is not the lamb, not the fish but the sauce! Eating (very expensive!) beef? We take it with Bearnaise sauce, peppercorn sauce or red wine sauce. Lamb? Mushroom sauce! Hot dogs? I like mine with ketchup, sweet mustard, remoulade, and fried onions (although the best one I’ve had was deep fried with Bearnaise sauce, cheese and french fries!). Hamburger? Cocktail sauce (which is a ketchup/mayonnaise mix) or Bearnaise sauce. We can’t even eat chips without having something to dip them into (sour cream and spices, fyi)!
- We don’t believe in elves – mostly. We have stories about them destroying roadwork, or wanting to have children named in a particular way but most people have put their elf belief on the proverbial shelf. However, every so often you will hear of someone speaking to the elves so it is still there.
- People in other countries might go to the swimming pool to cool off in warm weather. Icelanders go to the swimming pool to keep warm while soaking up the sun since sun being visible in the sky is not equal to it being warm outside.
- Meeting someone new means shaking their hand while saying “Komdu sæl(l), ég heiti….” (meaning “Greetings, my name is….”). Check kissing, hugging or any other forms of physical contact is only done in families or with people that you know.
- Participate in the latest craze. Icelanders are always crazy about something, especially in the wintertime. 30 years ago the most popular Christmas present was the foot bath machine. 10 years ago everybody was drinking mushroom juice and hated MSG. Last Christmas everybody needed to have an Omaggio vase. If you don’t participate in the latest crazze you are “out”.
I am of course still learning what being an Icelander means after spending 5 years away but these things did not change. I would love to hear if anyone else recognizes these cultural elements in their country.
Have a good evening.