I have wanted to live in Iceland ever since New Years Eve 2016.
It was half past eleven in the evening and I was stood outside Den Danske Kro, a Danish bar just off the main street in Reykjavik.
My family and I were in Reykjavik for New Years because I had fallen in love with the country on previous visits, and I wanted to share it with my loved ones. Luckily after a day relaxing in the Blue Lagoon followed by dinner and cocktails, they were all really enjoying themselves.
In the near distance we could see the fireworks at Hallgrimskirkja square, so we set off walking through the snow, stopping every few feet to arch our heads skyward and chant ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’- you get the point.
I sensed something had changed in the usually stony demeanour (or volcanic demeanour) of the Icelanders as we rounded the corner at Spítalastígur and looked back towards the main road. A man in a high visibility jacket had walked out into traffic with a large carrier bag that he placed on the ground, halting the cars going in either direction. He knelt down, played with the bag a bit, and then swiftly walked away. The bag exploded upwards, showering the road and surrounding cars with sparks, the guy had put an industrial sized Roman candle in the middle of the road! But nobody batted an eye. My brother and I were laughing and gesturing at the scene, but the drivers just calmly drove around it. Pedestrians acted like it wasn’t really a weird thing and walked dangerously close to get a better view, and nobody was upset.
We hugged and smiled and said friendly things to each other that the other didn’t understand
As we crested Þórsgata and arrived at Hallgrimskikja square we saw and heard an expanse of colour and noise, the colour of the fireworks complimented by the winter jackets and children’s puffer suits all milling around the square together lighting off fireworks. It was like nothing I have ever seen before. No-one here was following the safety instructions to stay as far away as possible, everyone was within six feet of large fireworks going off. It was magic. I got handed a sparkler by an Icelandic woman I didn’t know, and a swig of Jack Daniels from one of her friends. We hugged and smiled and said friendly things to each other that the other didn’t understand. I learned that Icelanders can only buy fireworks at strictly regulated times, and when they do, they spend up to a months wages on them. The sky showed it, and my ringing ears concurred.
This was a great experience, but the moment that made me decide that I would move here was the little girl and the rocket.
She looked like a puffy starfish. Arms and legs all stretched out as she waddled up to her dad, grabbing his leg and squeaking at him in Icelandic. The dad looked benevolently at her and patted her on the head, then knelt down and handed her a rocket from his carrier bag. The rocket part was the same size as the girl, the stick it was attached to was three feet long. I stood there watching, unseen in the crowd, feeling a bit unsure. This was definitely dangerous. She waddled off with it and stuck it into a spent Roman candle box, and went back to her dad for the lighter. He handed it to her and she stumbled back to the firework with her arm (and the flame) outstretched. I had a little moment where I thought I was going to go and stop her, but then her dad saw her and grabbed her back. I breathed relief.
The dad put some plastic safety goggles on her and let her go. This little girl of (I guess) three years old lit a professional standard rocket that wasn’t even secured properly. Then stood less than six feet away with her father and watched it arch into the sky and explode in a rainbow of colour.
It sounds bad, now I read it back. But at the time I was enthralled by the way this little scene crystallized some things I deeply respected about Iceland.
[Dont] say thank you if someone hands you the salt, because they don’t expect it and find it weird
Icelanders are independent by nature. The ones I have met don’t waste time judging others, because it isn’t their business. They survive by focusing on what is important to them, which means they can come across as both friendly (which the ones I’ve met are) and also slightly aloof (I was told not to say thank you if someone hands you the salt, because they don’t expect any thanks and find it weird). This little girl was watched over by her father throughout, and was thrilled she was allowed to light the rocket. Now maybe she won’t be scared of things that are a bit dangerous.
Icelanders have fun, in a responsible way. I asked an Icelander about the high prices of alcohol, and the fact that you have to buy it for an inflated cost from a government shop. She shrugged her shoulders and told me that her fun was helping to pay for environmental projects and the healthcare system, so she doesn’t mind. The little girl in the square was given a rocket, but wrapped up in a snow suit and with safety glasses.
Icelanders work hard, and external factors aren’t an issue. Life in such a remote place as Iceland makes people more resilient (in general), and this makes them happier (in general). I respect the idea that happiness comes from the sweat of your own brow, not always because of something happening for you. The Icelandic football team got to the world cup – made up of players and management that have other jobs, and who began playing on frozen fields. The external situation has not determined their outcomes. The little girl, her father, and all the others in Hallgrimskirkja square that night could have decided not to venture out – after all it was cold, snowing, icy and treacherous underfoot, and borderline dangerous! But they were there, and having fun in the conditions, not despite the conditions.
The Icelandic word for this attitude is called ‘duglegur’.
This blog is about my journey to develop myself professionally and personally until I make it to Iceland (and hopefully beyond). As a result, the content here will be eclectic. I know that I have a romantic bias to life in Iceland, but I’m learning, and I want to go there with my eyes wide open, and to be an asset to the country when I arrive.
Ísland bundið, þetta reðast. I am duglegur.