It’s a popular custom as well as a national joke to ask someone, “How do they like Iceland?” within the first five minutes of their arrival in the country. Upon my first, second, third and fourth trip I too was asked this infamous question. After living here for almost a year, I no longer see the country as a place I am simply passing through; but a home where I’ll be raising my daughter, involving myself in the Christian community and developing knowledge of my family’s culture. Iceland for the time being is an investment in the next chapter in my life. So, the answer to your question – I’ll borrow a line from William Shakespeare and quote, “it is neither good nor bad. But thinking makes it so.´´
Now as many might contest, a California girl can get used to the winter darkness, constant rain and undesirable wind chill factor. However, when it comes to bad manners, it’s a whole different ball game. At this point I can write a book on the lack of universal manners that exist in the Icelandic society. For example, there are countless times when I have literally been pushed aside for someone to get past me. It has happened so often that I didn’t think the words, “excuse me” existed in the Icelandic vocabulary. And although it bothers me when people don’t say “God bless you,” when a sneeze is heard, it does not quite compare at all to the issue of being stared at. Just in case it has never been taught in school, staring is universally just plain uncouth.
Back in February I had two dear friends come to visit from New York and as we were sitting in a café one afternoon, I noticed an Icelandic couple staring at us as we ordered from the cashier. As we proceeded to sit down and chat they continued to stare for literally an entire hour. It was as if the two had either nothing to talk about or had an incredulous fascination with black people. As expected, my friends were completely vexed and I was quite embarrassed for the behaviour of these people. If this incident were isolated it wouldn’t be so irritating, however, it happens quite often. Maybe Icelandic people are so used to seeing people that look like them that when something new comes along one has to experience the forbidden fruit by way of gawking. If so, let it be known that some bad habits seriously need to be broken.
Of course there are obvious elements to love about Iceland such as the nature, social welfare and non-existent insect problem. When shifting gears from New York to Iceland I knew there would be things that would be difficult to live without. However, as much as I love New York and all it has to offer, I do not miss the congested streets, serious pollution problems or heavy traffic. Last month I was in New York and had to rent a car to drive to the most forgotten borough of the five, Staten Island, to get our taxes done. I have to admit, the drive there was pleasant. It was before rush hour and I made it easily in 24 minutes. However, on the way back, which was around 11:30 am, my trip was quite different. Not only did it take more than two hours to get home, but the traffic was so horrific it changed the appearance of the highway completely. Everything looked so jammed and cluttered with construction that I ended up getting off at the wrong exit and circling around the same industrial looking shady neighborhood for about an hour. The point is, I love how driving around the bare streets of Reykjavik and finding your way home never involves a stress pill and an empty gas tank.
My bittersweet relationship with Iceland has settled me into the position of a critical participant as opposed to the curious onlooker that defined me before. As much as I love the nature and absence of congestion, there are many more things that I want to grow into loving. I feel as if I have a purpose in strengthening my new home and building it to be the best it can be. I want my daughter to have blessed memories of her early years in her birth country and to feel as though it gave her roots of which she can be proud.