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How To Become an Icelander in 10 Days?

Iceland – a land of an ice and fire. This description perfectly shows the spectrum of contradictions and surprises, we can’t even begin to imagine when heading this direction. We know nothing. We know nothing about it. I can tell You. Using the same words, Ingrid used reprimanding Jon Snow in a spectacular scene beyond the wall in Game of Thrones filmed (by the way) in the very special, breathtaking Svínafellsjökull glacier on the south of the country.

We were there to learn creative writing, as an empowering and self-development method, from one of the most-written nations around the world. This was a very special time, not only in getting familiar with the empowering and upportive method but also visiting and exploring this beautiful country and its natural heritage.

How to become an Icelander in 10 days? Well, we did it even faster taking this extra fast course. Only in 60 minutes Bjarni Haukur Thorsson shows us the most common culture clusters for Icelanders. All of this in Harpa, near by sea and harbor, one of the most spectacular and most expensive concert halls in the world. This is a perfect example of those Icelandic contradictions. It was built directly after the biggest Iceland breakdown in 2008. Everything Icelanders did, they’re do it all over again. This nation is pretty much a volcano eruption.

Here is my very personal and subjective summary of a great journey to Iceland.

Icelanders are Hyggelig even not knowing or naming it
Their lands are beautiful, majestic but sharp and in a way unfriendly to visitors at the same time. The winter is long and tough. So, one of the ways to make life easier and more pleasant is to adjust the living area and make it as cozy as possible. So, everywhere we go, no mater, private apartment or public area, you’ll find subtle lights, candles, handmade pottery pieces. Everything in a harmony nature colors and this magic glacier shade of blue. Our first home made cake, made by our host, was served on a beautiful azure color ceramic plate.
And the names for this cozy atmosphere are following –
#Lygeglad (not taking things too seriously)
#Hygge (we already know it thanks to Danish excellent PR)
#Mysa (Swedish synonym).

Iceland women are beautiful and fragile at first glance, but strong and resistant at the same time
Iceland is not a pampering place to live in. The nature is wild and conditions are tough. Iceland women were used to take care on their own for centuries. Their men were usually far away in the sea. Moreover, thanks to archeologists, we already know, that among Viking warriors, there were also women as well. So, King of Thrones stops to be only a fairy tale. So, on the one hand we have this Elves’ fragility look and on the other a soul of a tough enough warrior.

Weather in Iceland is always a surprise
Do you like surprises? Then, you’ll be happy enough to enjoy Icelandic weather. You never know, what’s going to happen in next half an hour. There’s even the most famous Icelandic joke – if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. Sun, wind, rain, snow, sun and wind again. Wind, wind, wind again. A lot of wind… If you overreact wind, better don’t go there. I even paid attention that (maybe because for practical reason), elder Icelander women have these short messy haircuts. I assume, it’s comfortable in windy weather – you really don’t need a hairdresser then.

þetta reddast (thetta reddast) – no it’s not swearing, not at all! It means (untranslatable indeed, but the nearest meaning is – We’ll manage somehow)
So, when I’ve met our Icelandic host, she said to me – we and Serbs, we have a lot in common. You know – Austria, Czech Republic, Poland – they are kind of mainstream. And we – we make it always other way around. So let it be. You live once and you’ll manage it somehow.

Let’s take a second to look at language. The structure of Icelandic has not changed much since the time of the settlement. When some old written pieces are discovered all around Scandinavia, Icelanders are ones who can translate those. They language stayed unchanged for ages. And they pay a lot of attention not to spoil it with some foreign phraseologies. Even contemporary devices are named have their equivalent names in Icelandic, i.e. computer (tölva) means the one who can predict numbers. How poetic?

If someone gets breathless while talking to You, don’t panic. It’s just the Icelandic habit of talking and underlying their words. Don’t rescue them. Just listen carefully and continue conversation. I was surprised for the first few times. But then, I was enlightened during the mentioned above one man show. It’s a normal way of Icelandic women’s expression. There was a medieval traveler who misinterpret this phenomenon as common asthma disease.

Stay calm and enjoy the peace.
I’ve been to several countries. And I haven’t experienced so much peace nowhere else, even on Jordan desert Wadi Rum. This is incredible feeling and for sure worth going up north, even for warm beaches lovers. There are no billboards and ubiquitous advertisements. And the sirens I’ve barely heard once by coincidence in the middle of Reykjavik.

Be careful with the myths about Iceland. You’ve probably heard you can camp everywhere You’d like to. It’s only the half the truth. More than 60% of country is a private property. So, you need permission to stay there. A little more than 40 % of Iceland is pristine vastness and it’s forbidden to stay there. It doesn’t surprise me. If I had such a natural heritage, I’d also take care of it as much. During our stay, when I hear that a student is going to have seasonal summer work in the highlands, watching out for what the tourists are doing there, I almost high-fived him.

Maybe I should start with this. But well, this text is full of contradictions. And I am obviously influenced by Iceland culture. Writing… This was the aim of our expedition. It’s so obvious. Whom better to learn writing from than the most written nation in the world. They say, you don’t exist if You don’t have profile in social media now a days. It doesn’t matter for Icelanders. You are no one in Iceland, if You don’t publish at least one piece in your lifetime. They read a lot and they publish themselves a lot. When a person dies there, he doesn’t have a simple necrology in a local newspaper as in average European country. Real dead novels are made instead of that. Maybe it’s easier to write about feelings instead of showing those emotions live. It doesn’t fit in with what we think about the Viking successors.

I’d have much more to write about because Iceland doesn’t leave you indifferent. Despite easy descriptions, I want to leave this last point for You, to fill in with Your own reflections and observations when You visit this astonishing country since I’m pretty sure, you will if You are reading this text.

*All interpretations and descriptions in this text are based on personal observations and few quite serious facts. However, with an intercultural background and bite of humor and irony.
Don’t be too serious though. Life is too short to complicate it.

**Special thanks to Björg Árnadóttir (Reykjavik Akademy) and Atalaya Foundation to make this big dream and lot of bucket list points came true

Copyright by Vesna Lorenc – intercultural facilitator, coach and mediator by choice