Elves, cold weather, expensive country and 24 hours daylight in summer is what comes to people’s minds when thinking of Iceland. But is that really true?
I have asked Lara to tells us more about expat life in Iceland including challenges, language, and cultural barriers, local dishes, costs of living and much more.
Hi Lara, tell us about yourself…
Hey there, I am Lara and I am born and raised in the east of Germany. I have an undergraduate in tourism management and spent some time in Norway and in Iceland during my studies.
I figured out though, that I did not want to work with the tourists, but rather with the people who actually shape the industry and so I landed in human resources in the tourism sector which I really like.
I am currently working on my Master’s degree in Reykjavík (but that was not the main reason for me to move to Iceland). I like books, Zumba, and during lunch breaks, I force my class-mates in university to go out for a walk with me.
What was the main reason for moving to Iceland?
The main reason I moved to Iceland is a certain Viking. I actually just wanted to gain some experience abroad when I first came to Iceland in 2013.
I worked a summer job in a small village in Iceland – and I found it terrible! I just wanted to get back to Germany. However, it was not an option to give up.
The time got better once a special Viking showed interest in me… I actually tried to Germanize him and we lived in Germany for several years. But I guess you can get an Icelander out of Iceland, but not Iceland out of an Icelander and so we moved back to Iceland together.
Is it easy to connect with locals or are there any barriers?
Yes and No. I think Icelanders are a bit careful at first. My impression is, that they are not overly excited about meeting new people. One must consider, that many Icelanders live in their municipalities forever.
They have their community and the people have known each other for a very long time, if not their whole lives. So, if someone new comes into that circle, they are a bit suspicious at first.
However, once you show that you stick around and they get to know you, they are very easy going, friendly, and extremely helpful and supportive. At least the language is usually no problem as Icelanders are all very good in English.
How about the cost of living?
Iceland is very expensive. In fact, prices in Iceland were 84% higher than the European Union average in 2017. On the other hand, Iceland is among the countries with the highest salaries in Europe. So, for us living and working here it evens out. I guess, for tourists, it is more challenging though.
What is your favorite and least favorite part about living in Iceland?
My favorite thing in Iceland is that I feel extremely safe here. Iceland is one of the world’s safest countries and I really appreciate that.
Another thing is that we are always close to the sea – and who does not like living close to the sea??
My least favorite part is the weather… It is very challenging as it is often raining or windy and never really warm.
What was the biggest culture shock for you?
I would not say that I had an actual culture shock but there is one thing that is difficult for me as a German: the Icelanders live after one true credo which is: “Thetta reddast!”. It basically means: “It will all work out somehow.
No matter how big the problem, a solution will always present itself. Even when there is no solution in sight at the moment, problems have a way of working themselves out.” – and then you pretty much sit back and wait until everything just works out.
Well, I am a stereotypical German: all planned and organized! Sitting back and waiting is not exactly my specialty… But, I try to adapt and I think I am getting better.
What is your favorite local food?
I should probably say lamb since it is a very traditional food. But I am more into the simple things. For example, “Flatkaka” which is a type of bread. My Viking’s grandma makes great Flatkaka. His mom makes a great chili jam. And his sister makes great cinnamon rolls…
Oh, and then, of course, the Icelandic Hot Dog! I think Hot Dog is unofficially the national dish of Iceland.
Can you share any funny/typical traditions from Iceland?
Every year between January and February the Icelanders celebrate “Thorrablot” which is a traditional sacrificial midwinter festival originally offered to the gods in pagan Iceland of the past.
The menu consists of traditional Icelandic food, such as rotten shark, boiled sheep’s head, ram’s testicles, and other unusual culinary delicacies. After the Thorrablot dinner traditional songs, games, and storytelling are accompanied by dancing until the early hours of the morning.
The event is always organized by a committee. This committee announces then the committee for the next year. And guess who will be in the next committee?
What is the most annoying stereotype about Icelandic people that you found out not to be true?
Surprise: Icelanders do not live in igloos! They live in actual houses with heating and running water.
What is your favorite thing to do in Iceland that people should do if they visit?
I have not yet seen everything in Iceland, but my favorite thing was a boat ride on the glacier lagoon in the south of Iceland. It is a truly magical place (you can see it in “James Bond: Die another day”) and if you are lucky, you get to see seals in their natural environment.
Apart from that, I think tourists should definitely jump in a natural hot spring!
What are some fun facts about Iceland most people don’t know about or expect?
I have a few fun facts about Iceland for you. For example, did you know that there are more sheep in Iceland than inhabitants? Or that an Icelandic horse (which is NOT a “pony” btw… 😉 ) that has left the island once is not allowed to return to Iceland in order to keep the breed pure?
Did you know that there is no army in Iceland? And no Starbucks? And that the arctic fox is the only native mammal in Iceland? As it turned out, there are quite a few surprising fun facts about Iceland and I made it “a thing” on my Instagram every Friday.
What would be your top advice for people who are thinking to move to Iceland?
Most people fall in love with Iceland in the summer when we have daylight 24/7. But the winters are the exact opposite and therefore extremely tough. It is dark and the weather is unpredictable. There are constant weather alerts and road closures.
Therefore, I would advise trying to visit Iceland for a longer period in winter to see what it is like the other half of the year.
What do you miss most from home?
Except for my people, the thing I miss the most are TREES! In fact, Iceland used to be quite forested a thousand years ago. When the Vikings arrived, they used all resources to build their homes and boats and so on and did not leave much wood behind.
I also miss the actual seasons. We have mainly summer and winter here. And summer is nothing like a summer in Germany where you would jump in a lake or enjoy a mild summer night. In fact, I have not ever worn shorts in Iceland in the summer.
You can connect with Lara on Instagram, if you want to know more about Iceland and enjoy her weekly Friday fun facts about Iceland.
You can find more expat stories on my blog.