What It’s Like for an American to Live in Iceland

Magazine What It’s Like for an American to Live in Iceland

By David Brooks.  First the disclosures:  This blog post is - obviously - pure opinion.  I cannot speak to how another would experience living in Iceland.  And, I am an American, married to an Icelandic woman, that lived in Iceland for two years from 2004 to 2006 (boon years prior to the economic meltdown). The following is a distilled version of my experiences and opinions of living in Iceland.

That out of the way, here it goes:

The Place - Iceland, as a place, is a singularity.  There is really no place like it.  It is a volcanic island in the North Atlantic located just below the Arctic Circle.  When I first moved there, I met a person that told me that, ‘people moving to Iceland either love it or hate it.’  It is a polarizing place.  I have to say that I was somewhere in the middle.  Moving on. In my opinion, there is life in Reykjavik and then there’s everywhere else.  The vast majority of Iceland’s small population lives in Reykjavik.  Almost everywhere else is either nature or a small village, save maybe Akureyri in the north.  Iceland has the cleanest nature of any country or place I have ever been to.  Put it this way, you can still drink water from a stream in all places outside the city, and Reykjavik - the Capital city - still has a strong salmon run.  Lastly, Iceland is a land of epic views with its largely a treeless landscapes, clean air and mountainous highlands.  Sometimes I felt like I could see the curve of the earth.   

Life in Reykjavik - Life follows a very specific rhythm in the Capital city, probably everywhere in Iceland.  In general, the pace of life was much slower than I was used to.  Icelanders work hard and they play hard, to use an old cliche.  Icelanders take long vacations, some up to 4 weeks in the summer!  As an American, this is unheard of.  I submit to the average American, that if you had a 4 week vacation you wouldn’t (at first) know what to do with it.  

Further, Icelanders tend to all do things at the same time and same place.  I will give you an example. I am an early riser and a runner.  Weekend runs on a Sunday were largely a solo affair; I had the streets to myself.  All of Iceland tends to start work at 9 and they stay till 5 or 6; City traffic follows this pattern without much deviation.  Weekends are slower affairs. Men watch soccer. People wake late - almost everyone.  We would go visit friends for coffee in the afternoon. Coming from a country and large city where there was always a plethora of choice, Iceland was far more limited.  For example, my wife - who is Icelandic - is still overwhelmed by choice in US supermarkets.  She will say, ‘Why do you need 200 kinds of breakfast cereal?’

The People - Icelanders are proud, somewhat stoic people. Look, they are a race of people that sought to make a living on a cold, barren island 1000+ years ago. Pride and stoicism were necessary personal attributes.  Icelanders are not necessarily warm and emotive people. Get to know them though and you’ll have a loyal, lifelong friend.  Icelanders are educated and informed. The culture there expects education, many Icelanders have advanced degrees. They are up on politics and they tend to be very well-travelled.  Lastly, Iceland is a very progressive political country. For example, Iceland may be the most gay-friendly country on earth.  

The Nature - Simply put, it’s amazing.  Iceland has one of the lowest populations per square mile in the world.  It is like one big national park filled with exotic, unspoiled nature.  It is riddled with streams, rivers, waterfalls, glaciers, mountains (including volcanos) and more. There are few mammals. Heck, there are even few bugs.  Landscapes are either moss-covered volcanic fields leading to mountains or grass covered fields leading out to the sea.  I say without hyperbole, that it is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

The Weather - Yes, Iceland’s weather deserves it own paragraph.  That should tell you a lot.  Iceland is a sub-Arctic country located out in the middle of the north Atlantic.  What can I say, other than the weather is cold, grey and rainy quite a lot.  You get long, cold and dark winters.  In the summer, you get long days - very long.  Basically, don’t expect good weather.  But when it comes - Oh Lord when it comes - Iceland is glorious.  Some of the most memorable days of my life happened on glorious sunny, warm days in Iceland.

In closing, I have to say that I was overwhelmed at first when I moved to Iceland. It was not easy.  In the intervening time and years since, I have come to love Iceland and respect Icelanders. I have many friends there that I know would welcome me into their homes with open arms any time I had the good fortune to return for a visit. 

On behalf of Icelandair Hotels, the place to stay when you need a hotel room in Iceland. Seriously!

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