It is that time of the year again here in Iceland where the dawn starts to creep across the sky after 7:30am, only managing to light the rain clouds that have been working relentlessly all night keeping everything gray and wet. My nights before getting up are restless since I wake up a few times each night, check that the windows are closed and listen to the incoming wind that seems to swoop in and dance in the parking lot behind me.
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.
I don’t have much to say this week since I have been busy with work and living.
If anyone is out there and wants to contribute on this dark Friday night I would love to hear from you, so post an answer below.
Why did you decide to be on WordPress tonight?
My reason is simple. I felt guilty about not writing for an entire week and I’m starting to care about writing. Even if it is silly, short writing.
Leave a response in the comments.
For the past few days I have been trying to set myself new goals. This has not been easy for me since I am new to this goal-setting thing and there is a part of me that believes that I am not genetically made for it.
If you have come across an Icelander before you know that making plans and sticking to them is difficult for us at best. We will get things done, surely enough, but on our own time. This is not maliciously done, but a fundamental thing that comes with living in a country that has a way of ruining all your plans.
For a thousand years Icelanders have learnt to change their sails according to the wind. We might decide to go into farming, only to have it ruined by a volcanic eruption or sheep determined to eat all our grain. We might decide to go camping in the south only to change our plans at the last minute and go north to chase the sun. When asked how we see ourselves in 5 years most of us will look confused and say “there is no way of knowing where I’ll be”. When I had to do my annual review in Luxembourg I always had a huge issue with the future questions since I naturally assumed that making plans that far in advance was a silly thing to do.
In a similar way, setting a goal for myself and sticking to it has never been something I’ve done. After achieving my summer goal of running 10km and losing a few pounds I find myself dancing about and wondering what to do next since I achieved the goals I wanted. I am currently working at a job that doesn’t offers advancement, and most Icelanders wouldn’t expect it to anyway. I may or may not buy a place for myself in a year or two. When I try to talk to other Icelanders about this their response is usually “Don’t worry, something always comes up.” Even our government doesn’t seem to plan anything beyond 4 years.
So these days I am trying to figure out what I want out of life instead of making a direct plan for it. For some reason, saying that I want an apartment close to my work and a job that challenges me has been specific enough for life to give me just that. My next little thing is a a Leuchtturm 1917 journal to make into a bullet journal, and maybe find a side job in an international company that gives me an extra income and keeps me connected to the world. Let’s see what writing these things here will give me.
Good luck with your goals.
As an avid Reddit reader I always find my way onto the relationship thread to read about people’s relationship problems. I usually am surprised at the number of people on there that experience abuse and don’t seem to know it, until I remember the guy that taught me all about how to spot the red flags of abuse. Here are a few of the things he taught me:
They might rush the relationship
I remember when I first saw him. A friend of mine and I had gone to the local pub after work to relax and he was there, sitting at the bar and drinking away like there was no tomorrow. He was charming and said that he was there to find work. I thought he was fun and didn’t mind accepting his offer for a drink later.
We saw each other for a week and a half before he looked at me and said that he loved me. I felt weird about it and told him I felt rushed. His response was “you know you feel it, you are just not ready to tell me.” A few days later he told me again that he loved me and I hesitantly said it back. I wasn’t ready but gave into the pressure because I didn’t want to lose him over something so little.
They might make you feel stupid
We’d been seeing each other for a few weeks and were sitting at my sister’s dining room table, talking about Star Trek. I got philosophical about something and all of a sudden he turned to me and said: “Nobody wants to hear you say things like that. You sound stupid.” He smiled to himself while I felt hurt about the comment from the guy I had started to think of as my boyfriend. He later said that he had been joking. I still haven’t found the humor in that statement years later.
They might make you feel bad about yourself
One night I woke up while he was trying to get me going to have sex. I don’t get going in the middle of the night and told him so. All of a sudden I found myself in a serious argument about how I was mean bitch and that he was leaving on foot if he had to. It was 3 am in the morning and I convinced him to stay. He didn’t get sex, but he did get me to feel bad about refusing him.
They might tell you the rest of the world is horrible
It started quite early on that he would say things like “they don’t understand us” or “we are best when we are alone”. I didn’t quite believe him but the fact that he kept saying these things gnawed at me. His friends who showed me nothing but kindness were on occasion “total bastards”. My own sister wasn’t great because she didn’t support us. He showed up for a work function because he didn’t want me to be alone with my colleagues. It only dawned on me after that being so often alone together isn’t normal for relationships.
They might show other worrying behaviors
One weekend he was sick and I bought a bottle of bourbon to make hot toddy to help him sleep. I made one cup of hot toddy and then went to bed. The next morning the bottle of bourbon was almost empty and he said he couldn’t fall asleep with me. Another time he offered to cook for me, but I ended up paying for the groceries. A third time we were walking at the carnival and passed a jewelry stand. He pointed to a necklace and said that he wanted to get it for me. I was glad for a minute, until he turned around and asked me to pay for it since he had no money after paying his tab at the bar. I paid for the necklace but I didn’t want to wear it.
They’ll make you think love isn’t that great
We spent four months together and in the end I was ready to tell the world that love sucked. I would watch romantic comedies and think they were a joke. Our relationship by this point was about endless compromises, where I would begrudgingly accept paying for my own gifts and all of our food and he would find it weird that I felt genuinely unhappy. I had tried to break up with him four times and he always fought with me until I caved in again. My head and my heart were a mess since by this point I wanted to leave so badly but I just didn’t know how or if I should. He had called me a bitch for wanting to leave, then his angel that he didn’t want to let go of and I accepted it. All this in four months.
They might not let go easily
Then I went back to my home country for Christmas and the wind back home blew the fog from my eyes. In the space of a day I went from feeling like a torn rag to discovering my steel inside. This wasn’t love, I thought, and I shouldn’t be this miserable. I called him and broke up with him, happy to do it from a distance where he couldn’t show up and argue with me to come back. It didn’t mean that he didn’t try. He sent emails upon emails trying to get me back, the topics ranging from how he missed me to how he couldn’t believe how cruel I was being and calling me names. I ended up blocking him out from all my social media to get away from him.
When I got back I clung to the tiny bit of self respect I had found while at home and did not let him back into my life. A few weeks later he was forced to return to his home country and I started to hear everything I hadn’t realized or heard before. He was a bad drunk, they said, and had been taking drugs. He had told everyone that we were still together, six weeks after I broke up with him, and that we were doing great.
It took me a few more months to realize where we were headed had I stayed with him. I read an article about how domestic abusers rush relationships, isolate their victims and belittle them and I recognized him in the description. As low as I felt during our relationship I felt even lower about having let him into my life. I couldn’t believe that I would allow an abuser into it.
The thing is though that I am one of the lucky ones. We only lasted four months and while he was doing his best at breaking my spirit, he did not succeed. I got away before he got me to move in with him, before he isolated me from my friends and before he hit me or worse. I have no doubt things would have come to that eventually.
A few years later and I am grateful to him for having shown me the red flags we all have to know and look out for. He taught me how I do not want to be treated in a relationship and I wish I could impart that knowledge onto the rest of the world, including Reddit, so that it doesn’t have to experience the same or worse.
Leave comments if you have experienced the same as me.
The days in Iceland have started to become shorter and the night sky, celebrating its return, happily rolls waves of green, orange and purple over itself like a child discovering paint for the first time.
I am always happy to see the northern lights when they come out since they inspire me with awe and wonder. My new apartment, while situated in the bright city center, is on the top floor and so I have a very good view of the light show whenever it comes on. Last night was my first sighting of the year and I felt happy again about having returned home since I missed them during the years I spent in Luxembourg.
It is important to enjoy the sightings when you can because soon the night sky will be filled with the snowy and fluffy grey clouds of winter. Icelanders will stop looking at the sky and cast their eyes downwards in an effort to avoid slipping on ice and snow whereas tourists enjoy both since they have only their long autumns and dark skies to return to.
It makes me a bit sad that not everyone can enjoy the beauty of the Aurora Borealis in their home countries. Then I remind myself that most people still have sunny summers and warmth while we Icelanders start the fast run towards winter, and I think it’s only fair that we have the beauty that we do. At least we get that much.