The Day I became Icelandic

Nita Korsten

I love vacation! In my case, that is not because it means I can cease to think about work!  On the contrary, I constantly get new views on various cultures, a subject I am professionally passionate about. Encountering other cultures provides me with the opportunity to incorporate new viewpoints in my own life. This summer I had the chance to travel to Iceland and embrace the 'Petta Reddast' motto of the Icelandic people!

Even if Iceland is a vast country - with a sheep population that more than doubles the human population, it is culturally very interesting and as an isolated Island, Iceland has a very strong national identity.

My journey started right after takeoff, when I watched the movie “Rams”. This Icelandic drama is about two estranged brothers in a secluded valley, who live side by side, tending to their prized ancestral sheep stock, despite not having spoken in 40 years. The movie is illustrative of how Icelandic culture has been shaped by isolation and the extreme forces of nature, creating a resilient people, and where the bond with nature, and sheep, is tight.

Once I set foot on the ground and started to tour the country, I literally felt and saw those powerful forces of nature when I visited natural hot springs, spouting geysers, smoking volcanoes, impressive waterfalls and immense glaciers, and I realized how this pure and forceful nature shapes the plain and – according to some - blunt way the Icelandic people communicate.

It might be the long and dark winters that drive the Icelandic people to be creative in many ways. Writing and music have been an integral part of life and the performing arts have long been key in Icelandic culture. So when I arrived in Reykjavik I couldn’t resist buying tickets for the performance: “How to become Icelandic in 60 minutes”.

 

It turned out to be a hilarious program, in which I recognized many situations during my visit, like the way people give very general directions when you ask the way, the rude way people communicate (although being Dutch myself, I hadn’t particularly noticed that one - everything is relative!), and finally the “Petta Reddast” motto, which means something along the lines of: “it will all work out okay”. Life is often difficult in this barren, harsh country. When faced with difficulties Icelanders always maintain a belief that things will work out in the end and no matter how big the problem, a solution will always present itself. 

 When I left the country and caught a last glimpse of the moss-covered lava-rocks and the steam rising from hot springs from my airplane window, I felt inspired and energized by Iceland and its people. I promised myself to take the Icelandic motto home with me: “Petta Reddast”!