Text: Ellen Wild
There is this Icelandic 'habit', by lack of a better word, that was really surprising to me when I arrived there, back in 2018. A cultural aspect that was quite the opposite of what I was expecting from the North-Western part of Europe with its strong tendency towards structure and order.
It was a big surprise to me that this 'structure' was just not there in Iceland. People seemed to be completely unfamiliar with the concept of 'planning'. Even thinking only a few weeks ahead appeared very difficult and incomprehensible. I have to admit that this was not only a surprise, but also a total culture shock. Even an annoying one at first.
Up until then I had never questioned the extreme level of planning ahead that was so engrained in my own upbringing. For me it was very normal to have your summer holiday booked and planned in January. To have family gatherings planned sometimes a whole year ahead. To have to dig in my calendar, months before, when trying to find a date to meet my friends.
My whole year was booked in advance. I perfectly knew what I would do, more or less, months and months before. The same goes for the whole of society. You need an electrician, your garden fixed or to rent a location for your party? Better arrange it months in advance! It was ignorant of me, to think that the way I was used to, was the only way that existed.
But if you think of the natural heritage of Iceland and its people, it is not hard to see why it was; and is, indeed very different there. When you live in a rough landscape like Iceland, with very extreme and unpredictable weather, it is impossible to decide what can be done on each given day, in advance.
Because, most likely, the conditions will not allow for what you had planned! This taught the Icelandic to be very comfortable with the uncertainty. And also, to live very closely with their freedom. To live in the moment.
It did very much stress me out, not being able to plan what I would be doing three months later. Especially when it concerned things like housing and jobs. The people I tried to communicate with about this, found it very difficult to deal with me. How could they? These people didn’t even know what they would feel like doing three months later!
This difference between the Icelandic people and other North-West Europeans was very noticeable. Back then, I worked in a coffeehouse. When, for example, a German family would come in, they would have a designated person who took the order for the whole group. This person would know exactly what the group wanted and how many of each thing needed to be ordered. Orderly. However, when an Icelandic family would come in, they often were deciding and ordering at the same time, by multiple persons of the group. Leaving the coffeeshop employees make an order out of the chaos and calculate just how many of each thing they wanted.
And as it goes with culture shocks, there are several stages you go through. After the first surprise of this alien aspect of living of this new society or culture, there comes annoyance. You're a bit, or a lot, irritated that you can't do things the way you are used to and you can't understand how the people in this new country can live like that. But then, magic comes along.
You slowly start to question your own way of doing things; and why it is that you do what you do. You start realising that this is not because it is the best way, but because it is what you grew up with.
And it is right there that the soul expands, that you grow as a person and that your horizons widen. You start looking objectively, in the role of the observer. Both to yourself and this new culture you find yourself in.
And you know what I discovered since spring 2018? Something that has slowly sunk in and changed my way of living completely. This extreme planning-mentality, stripped me of all spontaneity. I didn't take into consideration, how future me would feel about my plans months after making them. With this behaviour, I gave myself the message that I didn't care about how I felt in the moment. I decided long before what it was that I was supposed to be doing right now. It didn't only strip me of spontaneity, it stripped me of freedom and of empathy towards myself.
Now I have almost seized this habit that I was brought up in. When I think back at my overly booked calendar, only 1-2 years ago, it honestly gives me anxiety. Right now, I have no idea what I will be doing next weekend even. Let alone in a few months. And oh, the relaxation this gives me! Because you know what they know in Iceland?
- Future you, likes to make some decisions too.