I’ve lived in Iceland for nearly 12 years now, and have been a citizen for the last four. Along the way, I’ve met other foreigners who moved here for various lengths of time, and have always been fascinated by the transformative process people go through as they try and make a life for themselves here. In the course of my studies, I’ve noticed three distinct stages that foreigners go through after they make Iceland their home. If you’re new here, you’ll want to keep this article handy. Take notes if you have to.
Stage 1: Wonder
You’re freshly arrived and can’t believe you have finally moved to this golden land. At last, the country that you’ve only visited on vacations for short visits is all yours. You imagine you’ll go to the Blue Lagoon every week now, and take many excursions into the countryside, clad in your lopapeysur while munching on harðfiskur and drinking lýsi like it’s Gatorade. You also believe you’ll be spending many weekend nights in any of Reykjavík’s amazing clubs, dancing to Icelandic music and drinking Víking, partying harder than anyone has ever partied before.
You know that the locals, once they see how much you love this country, will welcome you as one of their own and that you’ll have loads of friends within a week’s time. You can’t wait to take photos of yourself to send back to your friends and family, who are unfortunately deprived of the blessing you have received to be living here. You avoid other foreigners as if they were smeared in seagull droppings, but Icelanders are just the most darling little dearies. You could just pinch their cheeks! Surely, this is the first day of what will prove to be a rollicking and joyous adventure.
Distinguishing characteristics: CD collection includes a mix of everything from Sálin to medieval rímur. Often sighs and smiles dreamily at television commercials.
Notable quote: “No, really, shark is delicious!”
Stage 2: Disgust
Turns out moving to a whole other country isn’t so easy after all. You haven’t been out to the countryside because you’re too busy working a shit job for shit pay, i.e., the sort of jobs immigrants do. By the same token, you don’t have the money to go out partying every weekend, and when you do manage to get downtown, you’re appalled by the behaviour of Icelanders in the wee hours of the morning. The Icelanders you work with tell jokes about other ethnic groups that would get you fired back home. You’ve given your number to everyone, but hardly anyone calls you to go out, and when they do, they all speak Icelandic with each other and seldom bother to translate the conversation.
Now the casual bragging Icelanders make about their country sounds boorish and obnoxious rather than endearing. Every time you hear someone say “Ha?” you want to break something. When you do meet other foreigners, you can’t wait to talk about all the various and sundry ways in which Icelanders suck. You hate this primitive, medieval, backwater, podunk rock in the north Atlantic with every fibre of your being.
Distinguishing characteristics: Smirks and shakes their head a lot.
Notable quote: “Well that’s just typical. Icelanders. Pfft.”
Stage 3: Realisation
As you start to become bored with your own scorn and ridicule for Iceland, you eventually give up and decide to make the best of it, doing your own thing whether these people accept you as one of their own or not. You find yourself discovering little things you like about Iceland that you didn’t notice or appreciate before, like intermission during a movie, blár Ópal (rest in peace) or this great little café that looks like someone’s grandmother’s living room.
You get more curious about obscure bits of history not covered in travel books. You discover that the oft-used saying, “These people seem very cold at first but once you get to know them they are quite warm” is bullshit—people who start out cold stay that way, but others are warm from the get-go. You start to make real friends among a couple Icelanders, and find that you have a lot of things in common with them.
Soon enough, the next time you hear a foreigner slagging Icelanders off, you feel the urge to defend the country, not because you believe it’s a magical elfin paradise but because this is also your home, and you know Icelanders that you personally care for and about. My God, could it be Icelanders are really just ordinary people, not cute little huldufólk or drunken trolls? Could be!
Distinguishing characteristics: Music collection now includes Ellý Vilhjálms and Ham. Goes to Eurovision parties and has unironic fun.
Notable quote: “Æi ég nenn’ess’ ekki. Þetta reddast.”