Mag
Here Don’t Be Dragons!

Here Don’t Be Dragons!

Words by

Published March 19, 2012

As I write this from my apartment in Kópavogur, I realize I should start at the beginning. Every immigrant has a long tale, but I need to condense the background into a little 30-second snippet.
So here it goes: Growing up in the US, Iceland was this vague little dot on the map, something that might as well have been labelled “Here Be Dragons!” Every so often I’d hear something about Iceland in the news, and I would get excited about it, but I didn’t think very much about the country otherwise. However, after I fell in love with Sigur Rós and watched their documentary ‘Heima,’ I decided I had to go there. I started learning the language last spring and visited twice last summer, couchsurfing across the country. When I returned, I decided to do one of the craziest things that could have come to mind: attempt to move to Iceland and start a brand new life overseas. I translated my resume to Icelandic and dropped off perhaps four applications, thinking that there was no chance I’d actually get a job here. Unfortunately for Iceland, but fortunately for me, there’s been somewhat of a brain drain, especially for computer programmers with my skillset, due to the “kreppa.” I landed a job within just a couple of weeks.
Judging by comments that I see on Grapevine articles, I understand that I’m supposed to eventually become a Jaded Immigrant(TM). That is, I’m supposed to spend my time finding reasons to publicly gripe about Iceland and Icelanders. It’ll be interesting to see how that evolves, because so far, every day I’ve spent in Iceland, I’ve just loved it more. Iceland is far from perfect and has its share of problems, to be sure. But from the snow on Esja to the use of kilojoules on food product labels (geek swoon!), from the geothermal hot water radiator beside my bed to the almost comically well-labelled streets and lights at intersections, from the unreal talent in the music scene to the carton of súrmjólk með hnettu og karamellu in my refrigerator, or the vast and often empty parking lots and trails that make you feel like they were built just for you. Well, I just love this country.
I once started making a list of the things I loved about Iceland and ended up giving up after a few hundred entries.
When I was shopping the other day to furnish my apartment, I picked up a small Icelandic flag. I took it inside and proceeded to hang it on the back of the wall of my closet, out of sight from everyone but me. To some extent, I’m hesitant to show it because, having come from the US, I have an uncomfortable association with flag waving and nationalism, and as an immigrant, I worry about being judged as naive or presumptuous for adopting someone else’s symbol. But at the same time, I feel proud of my new country, and I especially want to have it for when I have to go back to the US to wait on my papers. Because I know it’s going to feel like exile when it happens. I really don’t like to think about it.
One of the stereotypes about this country is that it’s difficult to get to know Icelanders. Perhaps this is based on the fact that Icelanders don’t generally feel the need to exchange niceties with strangers on the street, or perhaps because some people who come here don’t really try. But I’ve had only the nicest interactions with people so far. One friend drove 45 minutes each way to Keflavík through a snowstorm to pick me up, has spent many hours helping me find stores to get what I need, loaned me a phone, a USB net dongle and let me stay in her apartment when she wasn’t there so that I could use her computer. I had met her in person just once before I had arrived.
How is it that so many people from overseas seem to have a negative view of Icelanders, and even Icelanders often seem to denigrate themselves? I don’t get it. Perhaps I’m just a naive “nýbúi” in for a surprise down the road; who knows?
Ever since I stepped off the plane, I feel like my brain is being twisted and tugged in all sorts of crazy remappings—learning stores, roads, products and, of course, Icelandic. With sufficient time and a dictionary for those random words I don’t know, I generally do pretty well with written Icelandic. But when it comes to speaking, the first thing that goes out the window is the grammar. The next thing to go is the vocabulary. My brain just can’t process things fast enough to handle it all yet. In time, I know, I should get better, but for now I sound like a bumbling fool. And the same goes for understanding when others talk. I make use of the voice recorder app on my phone so I can play back conversations and try to figure out what the other person said or to figure out where I screwed up.
At least I’m starting to master the rolled “r.”
Yes, I could just speak English. That would make things so easy. But I prohibit myself from doing that. I need to, and *want to* learn the language, so I must at least start out all conversations in Icelandic and, should they ever switch to English due to a lack of understanding, try to bring them back to Icelandic. The only exception I’ve allowed myself is for work, but I plan to try to close that “loophole” as soon as possible.
Anyway, that’s life so far. Let’s see what me from the future thinks of my decisions and current views a couple years from now. :)


Mag
<?php the_title(); ?>

What If Sunday is on the Phone to Monday?

by

It is my privilege to film and live in France as an artist. Nothing like a country that every day walks further down the path of its own inexorable decline. Nothing better than an ever more provincial country run by a rotating crew of the same incompetents, dishonest, corrupted by their support of a permanently and totally corrupt regime. What is better than living in a land where justice is a bazaar? What artist wouldn’t dream of such a nation? —Said Jean-Luc Godard in the 1980′s, regarding his country of residence. Mutatis mutandis … we are not there yet. Iceland

Mag
<?php the_title(); ?>

Pylsuspjall: The Best of Reykjavík

by

Today’s Topic: The Best of Reykjavík Welcome to our sixth edition of Pylsuspjall, a feature in which we accost strangers at the Bæjarins Beztu hot dog stand and ask them questions. This time we brave the shitty weather to ask them what they like about Reykjavík. What’s your name? Zhang Xiauying Where are you from? Beijing, China What do you do for a living? I just graduated from medical school, so I’m going to be a doctor in China. What do you think makes these hot dogs so good? I’m not sure. The place just showed up when I googled

Mag
<?php the_title(); ?>

The Best Place In The World To Be A Woman?

by

Women are reportedly more equal to men in Iceland than any other place in the world. But does this mean that we have reached the goal of gender equality? In international media and discourse, Iceland is often portrayed as the best place to be a woman. We certainly use it to market ourselves to tourists and boast of it in our own media. This is in large part due to the recognition we have received from the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index. For four years in a row now, Iceland has been ranked as number one on the

Mag
<?php the_title(); ?>

So What’s This I Hear About Iceland Being The 17th Best Country In The World?

by

Something called The Good Country Index was published recently. It is a list of 125 countries ranked according how much good they do in the world, from Ireland at the top to Libya at 125th. As a marketing stunt, it was brilliant, generating a few hundred thousand news articles around the globe. It was, predictably enough, conceived by a marketing guy who, even more predictably enough, paid someone else to do all the hard work. You can take a wild guess at which one got most of the media attention. The guy who did all the work? No. But let

Mag
<?php the_title(); ?>

Ask Not on Whom the Sun Shines

by

If the State Prosecutor decides to take the Interior Ministry to court, for breach of confidentiality, slander, and abuse of public office against two asylum seekers, the Capital Area Police will in all likelihood handle the criminal investigation, as it has until now. Since the police is subordinate to the Interior Ministry, the police thereby investigates its own superiors. There seems to exist little, if any, protocol for that, which calls for some improvisation. Which is the best way forward? Which way towards a convincing, ethical code of conduct? Should the Minister resign? —No, you are confusing Iceland with some

Mag
<?php the_title(); ?>

Ungoo

by

[Continued from Ungoo: Part IX] Earlier this year, a free-trade agreement between Iceland and China took effect. Iceland is the first, and so far the only, European country to make such an arrangement with the People’s Republic of. No one knows what that means. Literally no one. Perhaps some politicians, administrative staff or business managers think they do: they probably have some rough estimates about the agreement’s effects on our GDP, and at some point may have read an article or two about whether or not China has any imperial ambitions in the arctic. By and large, they would seem

Show Me More!