Pinpointing Icelanders (KH)

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katharinahauptmann02_dlLast week fellow Iceland Review Online writer Jóhannes Benediktsson dealt with a very interesting question in his column, if Icelanders have “obvious characteristics that distinguish them from other European nations.” 

Jóhannes wrote he had some vague hunch that Icelanders shared some characteristics but he couldn't quite specify what they might be.

A very intriguing topic, I say.

Jóhannes made a good point by stating he could always point out Icelanders abroad.

I’ve had similar experiences when traveling.

I have a (more or less) elaborate theory regarding the characteristics of Icelanders and I've been waiting to tell someone about it.

So thank you, Jóhannes, for finally giving me the chance to share my thoughts on this very topic.

I'm not Icelandic but have lived in Iceland for almost six years and perhaps I'm more aware of these characteristics because I compare Icelanders to my German countrymen all the time.

Of course I can only scratch the surface here due to the limited word count of this column. It would take thousands of words to properly describe the characteristics of the homo islandicus.

First of all, let's reflect on “the Icelandic look”. In my opinion, there is indeed such a thing as a typical Icelandic look.

Icelanders are generally very well dressed. Most people wear stylish and hip fashion and everybody has a more or less fancy hairdo.

Surely you sometimes encounter people in sweatpants and other questionable outfits in Reykjavík, but very few times in comparison to other Western cities.

It is obvious that people are well groomed and try to make the best out of their look. At least they try to create some sort of personal style for themselves.

In Germany, however, there is a certain type of woman. She wears blue jeans, a plain-colored cotton shirt with a v-neck, most likely no make-up, unflattering glasses and parts her hair down the middle.

Yawn. Booooring!

You would never ever encounter such a specimen here in Iceland.

Here, the women wear brightly-colored tights, golden blouses, neon jumpsuits and so on. It's all a vibrant mix of styles.

In my opinion, Icelanders dress without restrictions; they dare combine everything and wear it with grace.

I guess it's this boldness that makes Icelanders one of the world's best dressed nations. How very refreshing to my Germanic eyes.

Sure, this is all just superficiality but we have to start at the first glance.

Furthermore, Icelanders are very, very self-confident.

After almost six years in this country the utter self-esteem of the locals still amazes me. Nobody says: “I won't do this because I don't know how”—they just try it. They seem to be immune to the fear of failure, or maybe they just don't fear a challenge.

Hardly anybody is ashamed or too embarrassed to strip naked in front of his or her colleagues at a staff party to go skinny dipping.

Those people just have no shame. This is a really striking feature and I'm sure other foreigners living here agree with me.

The typical Icelander has a huge family including half and step siblings, a large number of close friends, likes beer, doesn't know how and where to properly park a car, speaks at least two foreign languages and has had many lovers in his or her life.

It seems as if people do not needlessly worry too much about things to come: “Þetta reddast” (“it will all work out”) is a typical and commonly used phrase in Iceland.

I envy the Icelandic people for having this feeling of certainty.

Sometimes, though, this attitude makes them a little bit too unsystematic, careless and disorganized.

I guess what they need is a little German efficiency...

Katharina Hauptmann – katha.hauptmann@gmail.com

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.