Nicelandic Anecdotes

“Þetta reddast” is an Icelandic term used in a great variety of situations to describe the mindset of most Icelandic people. It means; “Things will work out in the end.” Icelandic people are usually very laid back, do not take themselves too seriously and are solution oriented. The Niceland team trip to East Iceland is a perfect reflection of this mind set.

We set out to discover the art festival LungA and had a wonderful experience attending the festival, you can read all about it in our LungA post. After getting back to the capital we are humbled by the kindness of the East Icelanders.

ÞETTA REDDAST”
As Icelanders we also have the “þetta reddast” mindset. The small town of Seyðisfjörður is located about 30 minutes away from Egilsstaðir, the largest town in East Iceland. Seyðisfjörður has a population of about 700 people, during LungA art festival it is completely flooded with people. Every guest house, Airbnb and hotel is booked months in advance and that is exactly how this story begins, Seyðisfjörður is fully booked and the Niceland team needs a place to stay.

In Iceland “þetta reddast” is very much about your network, family network and friends network  what availability of resources you have at your disposal. So if you have an uncle, aunt, cousin or friend in a part of the country in which you need a favour, you are much more likely to be able to solve any problem you might have. Everyone knows everybody in Iceland or at least someone close to them. No place to stay, Seyðisfjörður was full, we had no available place to stay. Literally no vacancies. Being Icelandic, we know that “Þetta reddast,” it will work out in the end.

Niceland activated the network, one of our friends works with a man whose parents live in Seyðisfjörður.
Árdís, a local housewife and her husband Stefán were leaving their home in Seyðisfjörður and going north to Akureyri for the weekend. Máni, our friends co-worker informed us that if we would take care of their 15 year old cat, Matthildur, while they were away, the Niceland team was being welcome to stay at their house for the weekend, free of charge. Three complete strangers are trusted with the family home and all earthly possessions because we have mutual ties to the same person. This system is based completely on respect, your names reputation is everything and since Iceland is such a small country, people assume the best about each other. A beautiful red house with a driveway, a perfectly manicured yard and a warm feeling of home (actually the house you see in the photo above.) To underline the trust system that runs so deeply in Iceland, Árdís the homeowner, had a difficult time finding a key to her home, because they never lock the door in the safe town of Seyðisfjörður. Beautiful way to live, this is Niceland.

MATTHILDUR THE CAT
Neighbourly and communal love is overwhelmingly apparent in Seyðisfjörður. Jóhann and Svava our neighbours have become a big part of our experience in Seyðisfjörður. The guesthouse across the street provided us with sheets, bed linens and pillows to help make our stay more comfortable free of charge. Matthildur, the house cat, is a typical Icelandic cat, spending most summers outside, coming inside for sleep and food. This 15 year old cat did not like to drink water unless it was fresh and preferably running. After finding Matthildur was not feeling well, concern grew for her wellbeing. Jóhann was concerned and became a regular in the caretaking process of Matthildur, word got out that Matthildur was ill and after having reached out to a vet, two police officers came to the house out of worry. The tightness of this society was very apparent. Jóhann, the 90 year old neighbour, decided to drive to a vet he knew over an hour away. After Matthildur returned home, Jóhann would often be found laying on the floor petting her, playing with her and Matthildur purring in delight. At the LungA concert in NorðurSíld the police officers stopped exclusively to ask about Matthildurs well being.  The kindness in everyone’s heart was so strong, one is quick to forget how important kindness can be, we should all be kind to one and other and thank those who lead by example.

THE NEIGHBOUR
Seyðisfjörður is surrounded by majestic mountains that shield it from winds, so when the sun comes out Seyðisfjörður becomes a truly unique place, warm enough for you to walk around barefoot or run naked into the ocean but also visible not to far away is a ski lift for snowier times.
Conversations of moving to Seyðisfjörður for summers wized around town amongst guests, unplugged from the rest of the world, this little bubble was almost dream like. Our little red house complete with front and back gardens was like something out of a fairytale.
The neighbour was a 90 year old man, Jóhann Sveinbjörnsson, he has lived in Seyðisfjörður his whole life. People do not knock but rather they walk into each other’s houses if they know each other well enough, this is customary in the country sides of Iceland. There is something so pure about this trust.
Jóhann Sveinbjörnsson is married to Svava, they have four children that he tells me about, then he goes on to tell me he is “heimskur,” a term younger Icelandic people use to describe people of lower intelligence but actually means that he has never lived outside of Seyðisfjörður. Jóhann has an impressive gun and cannon collection in a locked room in his basement, often called “fallbyssu kóngurinn” or the cannon king. Jóhann says, “I love cats because they are genuine, I know them so well, I have always had a cat for as long as I can remember.” He reaches over and takes his cat “Depla” or “Spots” in english, she is a purebred Bengal cat, the only one of her kind in Seyðisfjörður. “When she was born she was named Coco Chanel, but Depla suits her so much better.”
Jóhann was a gymnastics champion, he has always been in incredible shape and kept his physique by hand carving and making a balance beam, circuits for training and railings, rumour has it that when he reached the same age of which his father had past, he did a handstand on his father tombstone in his memory and in gratitude for his DNA. No one would have believed it but on his 75th birthday he assumed a hand-stand and proceeded to walk up the steps in front of his house on his hands. Still to this day he walks everyday and rides his bicycle around town. He knows every family in town and has great knowledge over Icelandic ancestry. Once you enter their backyard one immediately notices the unusual rocks in his flower beds, crystals, Icelandic spar, basalt, halite, lava rocks, amazontie all arranged by color.
Svava tell me she has been collecting rocks for decades, especially from Eskifjörður where she is from. Svava then says “take some rocks with you, we will not be taking them with us when we pass on to our next place.”
Being our neighbours, they reached out to us everyday, inviting us over for coffee but also to sign their guestbook. Svava & Jóhann Sveinbjörnsson and his wife will be featured on #humansofniceland on @thisisniceland on instagram.

DVERGASTEINN
Jóhann spoke of an article he had written many years ago about the legendary Dvergasteinn located in Vestdalseyri, Seyðisfjörður. Folklore stories are very rich in Icelandic culture and Niceland is committed to sharing them with you as told by the locals. Dvergasteinn translates to Dwarf-stone, referring to a very peculiar looking stone, with a big story behind it. The vicarage used to be next to the rock, people would gather to go to church and there use to be a lot of life around the rock and the church. But as time passed, the church became inconveniently placed, hence it was moved to the peninsula in the middle of town, but Dvergasteinn was left behind. Now it seems to linger at the edge of the bay looking into the fjord over Seyðisfjörð, who seems to beckon it. The story says that men that worked on dismantling the church, saw what looked like little houses floating in the water, convinced that it was the dwarfs moving away in protest. The stone has a honeycomb weathering pattern on one side, meaning it has holes that are highly unusual almost whimsical. Looking around Jóhann’s immaculate home, beautifully kept by both him and his wife, he explains that many decades ago the towns people would collect dust from Dvergasteinn holes and still to this day the dust that accumulates in the holes of the rock and is used to polish the silver, brass and gold in the house in every home. A wonderful quirky tradition, that makes this place so unique. This is Niceland.