The Icelandic Way (JB)


Júlíana Björnsdóttir's picture

It’s been said before and will be said again that Icelanders are a peculiar nation with some very strange habits.

One of our strangest traditions is perhaps the old Þorri culinary habits, a tradition that includes eating food that is literally inedible, to yours truly at least.

While many Icelanders actually eat some of the traditional courses, mostly comprised of pickled offal, many do not.

Icelanders are fiercely proud, sometimes as stubborn as an old mule, and many believe Iceland to be the best place in the whole wide world.

We have reason to be proud too. Nature is extraordinary with the land beneath us alive and constantly changing, sometimes erupting lava, and at other times shaking beneath our feet.

We all have stories of where we were during the last earthquake.

For example, in late May, I was sitting at my desk when all of a sudden the building began to shake. My colleagues and I looked at one another, momentarily wondering whether this was the wind but soon realized this must have been an earthquake as the wind simply wasn’t a strong enough (and rarely is) to shake the building.

Yes, the wind. The wind is alive and well in Iceland and an element of strength that perhaps reflects the Icelandic beating heart. The wind is truly fiercely proud and vigorous. It never surrenders and continues to test our character.

Because of the wind, Icelandic runners often do very well in marathons and other events around the globe. A windy day on the mainland of Europe is actually a light breeze in Iceland.

When the earthquake struck no one stood up to go outside in case another earthquake would follow. No, we simply got on with it and continued working. Then we went for lunch.

Keep in mind, though, that this wasn’t a major earthquake. It was magnitude 4.0, a small quake on the grand scale of things, and in particular considering that our buildings are designed to be able to withstand earthquakes like these.

In this day and age, the Icelandic nation is rapidly changing.

The elements haven’t changed, though. The shift in seasons was, is, and probably always will be vague. Summer nights were, are, and always will be bright. This is the nature of the land.

But the nation is changing, or perhaps I should say evolving.

There is an intense feeling of change brewing under the surface, a change that is being contested and a change that is being embraced: the increasingly international vibe that is infusing itself with the once-upon-a-time isolated nation in the north.

Nowadays, Iceland is a popular tourist destination with more and more travelers making their way there to explore the extraordinary nature, experience the bright summer nights, and meet Miss Aurora, the northern lights that light up the dark Icelandic winter sky.

In my mind, this new international vibe has brought out the very best in us. This once introverted nation, introverted from centuries of isolation and rough living conditions, has found a way to thrive under these conditions, and with new influences entering the country, the cultural elements that are uniquely Icelandic are enhanced.

The world of arts is rich and diverse. Musicians are making their mark around the globe, a new generation of Icelanders who’ve left and returned brings back novelties, and young Icelanders are passionate about life and about making their mark.

The nipple revolution, for example, was an example of young women taking control of their bodies, deciding to liberate themselves and defying the standards that are meant to hold us back.

This past year has been inspirational for the feminist movement. There is so much going on, such energy and fierce intention to change perceptions and annihilate misogyny.

Boys and men too are joining the good fight.

This is partly inspired by the centennial anniversary of the suffragettes’ movement’s greatest victory in the 20th century. On June 19, we celebrated that women were given the right to vote one century earlier.

So much is changing and while some traditions may in time become but words and paragraphs in history books, others will evolve and be enriched by the changes.

In my opinion, we become better people through the globalization of our society.

I believe that because of the curiosity foreigners have for our little land, we are now kinder, more respectful (sometimes in our own unique way) and invigorated.

Júlíana Björnsdóttir – julianabjornsdottir(at)

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