Þingeyri, Westfjords, Iceland.
In May of the year 2018, I moved to a little village in the Westfjords of Iceland, Þingeyri. I ran away from crowded places and pollution in search for silence and fresh air. My craving for nature, a constant nibbling on the back of my mind, has been fulfilled. But needless to say, it still has been quite an adventure. This is what I have learned so far.
Let’s get this out of the way first. I do not, in any way, want to generalize. Although the formulation of my words might let it seem that way. These things are purely seen from my perspective. Everyone will experience things differently and people and objects described will not always behave the same and are always unique.
1 The Icelandic people.
You cannot live in Iceland without getting to know the Icelandic people. When you first meet them, they can seem a bit surly and stern. Unfriendly and cold even. They will not likely smile to strangers or perform any unconditionally nice gestures to whom they don’t know. But don’t be fooled. Because once you get to know the Icelander only a little bit, you will learn that under their Scandinavian shell lies a really warm person. They will quickly make you feel at home.
The Icelander lives, more than anything else, in the now. He will not think yet about next week, but be truly present in the moment. They are very down to earth and honest people. Nothing is glossed over. Even when you don’t know them that well, they will be very direct and honest in their opinions towards you. They like keeping it real. Which is refreshing if you come from a more superficial and sometimes hypocritical society. Their humour is very dry. At first you will wonder whether they are joking or not, because they tend to keep a straight face.
Furthermore, they are extremely family oriented. They will bring there whole family along when they travel. And lastly, they are very proud of their history, identity and language. The main part of integration is very simply learning the Icelandic language. Which is the key to their culture and habits. They are much more patriarchal then the people from my home country, Belgium.
2 How to live in the now.
I already mentioned this briefly above, the Icelandic people make it an art to live in the now. They have a time management system that is almost exclusively short term oriented. You will rarely find an Icelandic family planning their summer in January. Nor are their agendas filled with gathering and activities months ahead, as I’m used too.
At first, this was surprisingly irritating. In May, I found myself wanting to plan out my whole summer. I even wanted to know what I would be doing in September, October, November. I really had to adjust my thinking. Icelanders live by the philosophy that everything will turn out good in the end. No need to worry about the future, we will deal with it when the time is there. Everything will be exactly as it need to be. The origin of this thinking is closely related to their history, the land and climate in which they live. It’s difficult planning to fix your roof in two weeks, if the weather gods are planning on dropping a storm on your head. No, you will find yourself fixing your roof when you find the time to do it.
After some months, I find myself leaning towards this philosophy more and more. Friends and family keep asking me what my plans are for the following months and I catch myself thinking: “Next month? Let's see about next week first!”
This is an obvious one. My opinion about Iceland has not changed a bit since coming here. Imagine the landscape of any fairytale and you will find yourself in the Icelandic nature.
Iceland has everything. Mountains, glaciers, beaches, fjords, volcanos, geysers, natural hot springs, rivers, fields full of flowers and a climate with character. When you see the sun lie a golden blanket over the bright green moss that covers the black mountains, you will understand what I mean. The nature can be very harsh and the weather unpredictable, but in the midst of all that, you can watch the northern lights from a hot spring.
Not only does the natural beauty resembles pure magic and mystery, the air is so fresh and unpolluted and the water is is the clearest you will ever drink.
Before summer I wondered if I would ever get used to this landscape. But no, every morning I wake up with the same sense of wonder. Sometimes feeling like mother nature can drop the decor at any time, because it just looks too beautiful to be true. I hope every Icelander feels the same.
4 Small community life.
Another adjustment for me. Coming from a country where cities overlap each other, the difference could not be larger. I exchanged mountains of people with, well, real mountains. The first thing you notice when living in a village with only 300 inhabitants, is that everyone knows everyone. I found myself walking into a farmers house and the farmer’s wife already knew I was ‘that girl who doesn’t eat meat’. There is literally zero anonymity in a community like this. This does not only apply to the single villages, for people are also very aware about what is happening a few villages along the way. With only around 7000 inhabitants, the whole of the Westfjords qualifies as a village.
After a few months, I found myself going from Þingeyri to Patreksfjörður, the capital of the southern half of the Westfjords, feeling like going out to the big city, for they had a real shop and a police station there. You learn to live with what you have. It can be good for your wallet, for there are no shops to spend your money.
To be honest, I loved it. To not drown in an ocean of people on an everyday basis. Because of the smaller population, there is so much more space and opportunity. If you’re motivated to make something happen, you will make it happen, for you will not find 37 other people already doing the same. Everyone is famous in Iceland.
5 Swimming pool culture and body confidence.
This one applies to the whole of Iceland. But the swimming pool culture is so strong that in every little place, there is a swimming pool. Often outdoors and always with a hot tub. It is the place people go to socialize. In the little village of Þingeyri, a club of elderly people would meet in the swimming pool every morning, to drink coffee in their bathing suit. I heard people say is was strange of me to swim laps, for no one goes to the swimming pool to actually swim.
Another big thing that comes with this aspect of culture, is body confidence. Dressing rooms are big open places where everyone (separate for men and women) changes clothes in the same room. You are also required to shower naked before and after swimming in the communal shower. Consequently, there is no shame between mother and daughter, school friend or even teacher. A body is a body and everyone is normal. I think this is a good tool in learning young girls in how real people look like and why Icelandic women are more body confident than where I come from.
Fun fact: Because of the small community and consequently non-existent nightlife, the local police will perform alcohol tests at night on the way from and too natural hot springs. Because that’s the place to be.
Although we are 2018, Icelandic people still live close to the land. How could they not, it’s not only a necessity in this particular landscape and climate, but it is also a privilege to live in a land so wild and terrifying beautiful. One can feel the presence of mother nature so close to the surface in this magic environment. The people are very protective about their land and culture, as they should, for not every visitor can grasp the uniqueness and vulnerability of the natural treasure that is Iceland.