If you’re not familiar with the Icelandic language, different words have a tendency to look and seem exactly the same, especially the ones on street signs. This is probably why I found myself completely lost on my first day here while looking for The Grapevine offices.
I wandered to Austurvöllur Square and emailed my boss in hopes that she would check her email before I froze to death. When I had envisioned what I’d be doing in Iceland in the few months prior to coming here, I certainly did not expect to be lost, freezing, and late for work. Actually, my expectations of what were to come were shaped partially by the World’s Strongest Man competitions that I had seen on ESPN. There always seemed to be a disproportionately high number of Icelanders competing. I became particularly infatuated with one of them, Hafþór Björnsson, who is 2.06m and weighs 170kgs. I hoped that I would at least encounter him while I was in Iceland.
My chilled fingers were gripping my phone in hopes of feeling it buzz. My head was on a swivel as I took in my new surroundings. There were some impressive skateboarders, one…two…three… four pizza places all within eyesight (?), an ATM, and—no way. Could it be? It’s quite difficult to convey just how big a 2.06m, 170 kg person really is, but my guess is that he was wearing a 4XL t-shirt (if that even exists), and it was skin tight on him. Unimaginably big. But there was no doubt about it, there was Hafþór Björnsson getting into his car.
Seeing Hafþór Björnsson while in Iceland? Check. On my first day, first morning in Iceland, one of the first people I see. Thank God I couldn’t find the office.
Not only was I “starstruck,” but I was also blown away by how quickly I encountered Hafþór. What were the chances that I’d encounter Hafþór Björnsson at all while I was in Iceland, let alone within the first hour of leaving my apartment? It was then that I realized just how small this city is. With every step you take in this cosmopolitan city of just over 120,000, you’re bound to run into somebody you know.
Ah, finally the vibration from my phone that I was waiting for. After finding the office via some more user-friendly directions, the first thing I mentioned to my new coworkers was my encounter with this Icelandic strongman. Shrugs? A few head nods? This was not the reaction I was expecting; clearly they weren’t as excited as I was. A Google search was even required for some people to confirm whom it was that I saw. I guess this reaction spoke to the “normalness” of seeing someone like Hafþór walking around in this modestly populated city.
Should I have gone up and said hello, or gotten a picture with him to show my friends? Probably. But this “quaint” Nordic capital city is small enough for me to run into him again before I leave.