When I first came to Iceland as a tourist two years ago, I was astonished at how friendly everyone was, especially at dawn when liquor bottles had vanished into seeping mouths. My first night I walked around aimlessly until I got to Austurvöllur, where I saw a group of people attempting to play Twister. Apparently my facial expressions weren’t subtle because one of the participants came over and made the following remarks: “You must think us Icelanders are fucking crazy!” and the question I would hear from that day on: “How do you like Iceland?” My answers were: “No,” and “I have only been here for a few hours.” I was immediately asked to join them in the rúntur, to take a toke, and to drink my weight in vodka. It was a welcoming committee befitted for a king or a member of the Rolling Stones.
Once I mustered up the courage to island hop over here where the cool oozes unto the polyphonic streets, I discovered the Great Wall of Iceland. It is invisible to the naked eye but nonetheless strong as steel. It is a subconscious wall that maybe Icelanders aren’t even aware of. Or maybe I have x-ray vision because I come from a culture that is outgoing and loud to the point of obnoxiousness, but with those qualities comes an open arms mentality.
This wall is the arm lengths friendships that tend to form between Icelanders and foreigners living in their country. It is as if Icelanders are one big tribe and the only way to join is through marriage or partnerships. Icelanders’ genuine friendliness, giving nature and curiosity towards foreigners still amazes me. I have actually made a lot of acquaintances because of where I am from and Icelanders wanting to know more about my country, Puerto Rico. However, it has been very hard to climb over that Great Wall from acquaintance to friend. Upon talking to foreigners who have lived here from several years to a decade, I have been told that they still deal with this great divide and that falling in love with an Icelander coincided with their kinship acceptance.
I admit that my expectations were high after having experienced such riveting conversations and drunken stupors (separately) with the Reykjavíkians. They were also high because the motto in my culture is “mi casa es tu casa,” which means my home is your home. Therefore I am used to inviting people into my life and my home with great ease and joy.
I have chipped at some bricks and managed a few peepholes and good friends at the other side. As I squint with my x-ray vision, I can see the Great Wall about to crumble.