Iceland is becoming a multi-cultural society. Not only do groups of immigrants with no ‘local’ ties come to the country, but also a growing number of immigrants whose spouses have roots in Iceland.
For some reason, Icelandic women have been more prolific in ‘importing’ new blood to the country than men, a phrasing that is in no way intended to be offensive but rather a way for us to laugh on our journey through the narrow and often confusing passages of Icelandic immigration rules.
Yesterday afternoon, I had to run to the library half an hour before it closed to print out some documents.
I don’t always pay much attention to what is going on around me but this time a young woman caught my attention.
She looked no different than the masses of students and regulars who come to the library but when she started talking I realized she was from North America.
At first I was under the impression that she was a student but as it turned out she is married to an Icelandic man and had recently arrived to the country.
She told the librarian she only had her temporary kennitala social security number and eventually, she had to use her husband’s library card.
I was so happy to see how willing the librarian was to help the newcomer borrow books from the library like any other citizen in Iceland.
It’s not a service one can take for granted when using the temporary kennitala. I know all too well how that goes.
I met my husband almost seven years ago in London. He is from South Africa and after a brief attempt of being ‘just friends,’ I gave in and we have been together since.
For an international couple, our run at a long-distance relationship was short, only three months. That was too much. So, we did what all madly-in-love couples do and got married six months into the relationship.
It never was a question of whether we’d get married. The question was simply when. We knew from the get-go we couldn’t be without one another.
We had a beautiful little wedding with our families and the few close friends that were in South Africa on the day.
Being an international couple we had an equally international circle of friends so to share the day with everyone would have been impossible.
But it didn’t matter. We had a beautiful day with the people we love and not a thread of doubt or anxiety clouded our day or the day before.
We had made the decision to really be together through thick and thin, and oh boy, thick and thin describes it well.
When we arrived in Iceland, the immigration guard said “welcome” to my husband as we showed him the documents we had traveled with all the way from South Africa.
A few days later came the time to prepare the application for the spousal residency. We handed in all the documents, documents that we kept and still keep in a safe place. These documents can mean the difference between a comfortable ride and a violently bouncy one.
We all know bureaucrats do their best and most of them are not only helpful but make the progress easier with a smile or friendly encouragement. They see the likes of us all the time.
I will always remember the woman who told us my husband was free to live in Iceland without further permits. He had served his time in the system. She was kind and her smile made my day. People like her are often forgotten.
All worked out for us. Yesterday was our sixth wedding anniversary and this summer we celebrate seven years together. It’s been a wonderful time. But it hasn’t always been easy.
Some of the hiccups relate to the language. The excess pressure to learn Icelandic as quickly as possible isn’t helpful. Most people want to take their time to learn the language properly and shake their insecurities.
My husband understands just about everything these days, or at least is able to make sense of it. But not everyone makes it easy for him to understand. Some people speak too fast and others are too impatient to give those who are new to the language a chance to speak at their own pace.
I hope the young woman I saw at the library makes it to the other side with her husband. They have a long journey ahead of them and sometimes it will be hard, harder than they expected.
I almost wanted to go up to her and tell her a little bit about my experience. I wanted to say to her that her driver’s license will only be valid for six months tops after her first application for residency has been approved.
After that, she needs to find a driving instructor and take a few lessons. But first, she must take a written test. She’ll have to pay the additional cost to continue driving in Iceland. But as a tourist she can drive as she pleases.
As a couple she and her husband will learn the meaning of benign dependency. As an international couple, they must rely on one another and trust runs deep. We are better people for it.
The early days are always sweet and tender like the honeymoon should be. But there are also times of worries and constant fear of the worst: of being torn apart for bureaucratic reasons.
Being young and in love makes all this much more bearable than it otherwise would be. But it doesn’t prevent the hard times and in those times, a smile from a stranger makes a bad day better.
Júlíana Björnsdóttir – email@example.com