From Iceland — Toto, I’ve A Feeling We’re Not In Slovakia Anymore

Toto, I’ve A Feeling We’re Not In Slovakia Anymore

Published June 9, 2015

Katie Steen

I’ve been in Reykjavík for a week now, and it’s just starting to dawn on me that I’m actually living in Iceland. (It’s hard for things to dawn on me when the sun never really sets in the first place.) I’ve been on my way to this windy little island for a while now though.

Three years ago, my friend Jeremy, an excitable ginger with schemes forever rattling around in his head, proposed that we go to Iceland, and willingly participate in indentured servitude (i.e. farm through WWOOF). I knew absolutely nothing about Iceland, but a quick Google search taught me that it was hip, feminist, and boozy, with 24 hours of summer sunlight (er, daylight—big difference). I was hooked, but Jeremy backed out, and I spent another summer in Michigan bumming around the lake and pretending it was the ocean.

Two years ago, I attempted yet again to come to Iceland, but was scared off by the weather forecast. ‘50 degrees and rainy? In June?!’ I thought. ‘Must be a freak season. I’ll try again another year when it’s normal summer weather in Iceland.’ Curse my ignorant naiveté!

A year ago, I was still stuck in Michigan, this time with a couple of lingering ex-boyfriends thrown in the mix. I’d pass one on the street, Kill Bill sirens would go off in my head, and I resolved to get the heck outta Michigan, frantically skimming Kayak for flights to Iceland so I could start a fresh life with the Vikings. But then, I ended up with another new boyfriend, so it was another distracted, lazy summer in Michigan. Damn those Michigan boys stealing my heart!

But now, finally, I am here, after living in rural Slovakia for a year, teaching English through the Fulbright program. I came straight from the tiny rural town of Filakovo to Reykjavík, and the differences have been stark and unnerving.

After spending a year getting used to the harsh isolation I experienced living in the middle of nowhere in Slovakia, now that I’m in Reykjavík surrounded by fellow foreigners and traipsing to and fro hip cafes and tourist trap bars…somehow, I feel off kilter and awkward. A little weirded out, actually.

I get the sense that Reykjavík isn’t a real place. It’s almost TOO comfortable, TOO accommodating, too hip, too “quirky,” too rustic, too clean, too frickin’ expensive. It’s a city readymade for the Zooeys of the world, with a jarring lack of perspective. I visited the so-called “ghetto of Reykjavík” yesterday. Um, it had a sculpture garden and children playing soccer. The weather was shit but yeah, it was kind of a nice place, definitely lacking any gun violence or raw sewage or racial extermination. And I had a bartender the other day, while listing off the snacks they had available—olives in a jar…cheeses I can’t pronounce…—tell me “luxury food is a human right” without a hint of irony in her voice. Huh??

Everyone’s some sort of artist or poet or musician or Björk’s cousin or something. (These Icelanders write so many books they can’t even sell them all!) And why the hell is everyone so disgustingly—and similarly—stylish? Even little kids traipse around in trim jackets and Converse high-tops, showing off gelled undercut hairdos. Never mind the fact that people just seem to be inherently gorgeous here, but on top of that they also have to dress well too? Where do they get the money to burn away in these sleek boutiques?

And don’t even get me started on this whole “þetta reddast” bullshit. Life sucks and then you die. Maybe, somehow, not in Reykjavík, but where I’m from, one slogan you might hear is “Detroit: Where the weak are killed and eaten.” (To be fair, I’m from a suburb—that’s why I haven’t been killed and eaten yet.)

Coming to Reykjavík kind of feels like returning to my cosy little bubble of a college town in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I was surrounded by all sorts of young, beautiful creatives, seemingly all with yoga schedules and nose rings and a warped sense of wealth. I wanted to get out and move to a new and different place so badly by the end of college, and now it feels like I’m right back where I started, minus the friends and plus the ocean.

It’s been years I’ve been dreaming about this place, and now I’ve been here a week and I already need to get out of the city. I’m even almost starting to miss all the grittiness of Slovakia I used to complain about. Give me some Slovak realness, some bitchy side-eyes and stern, frowning faces with thick square jawlines. Give me sickly yellow thunderstorms that rattle our paneláky and toothless Babas glaring at me from park benches and the springtime return of massive insects that hit their fat bodies against my window like pebbles being thrown from below. Give me the ever-present stench of garlic and grease, emanating from the pores of strangers on the bus ride home. Give me weathered bodies with dirt under cracked fingernails. Give me a language that isn’t English, and will not accommodate to those who only speak English. Give me a severe lack of comfort, because right now, Reykjavík feels all too familiar—too easy. (For the record, I don’t want to go back to Slovakia right now—I’m just using it as an extreme example.)

Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is, time to get my ass on a road trip.

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