When does a Western Icelander become an Icelander?

Kent Lárus Björnsson


I am not the first and will not be the last North American person of Icelandic descent to venture to my ancestral homeland and feel quite at home here. I have some close friends that have lived here for many years, there are also people that are still living here and don’t plan on moving back right away anyways. It is an interesting question though. All I really have to go on is my personal experiences and unique situation.


My story is simple. I lived in Iceland for two winters twenty some years ago. My experience here was fantastic and thought I would grow out of wanting to live in Iceland. I settled down, somewhat in Canada. A person can’t totally block out friends, family and good memories. I always thought, how could I return to live in Iceland. I had a good job and a decent life in Canada but there was always something tugging at me. Well I am back and before I get too carried away, all I have to say is that life is great. Now I am asking myself, am I Icelandic or what. There are a few reasons why I think I am Icelandic.


Ancestry, I am a little more unique than most North American Icelanders; all my roots are in Iceland. I am more Icelandic than many residents of Iceland and many of my cousins here. I know of a few North Americans that are the same as I. My brothers have all married women who do not have Icelandic roots. I am not complaining my sisters in-law are all great people but the fact remains that my nephews and nieces are not totally of Icelandic ancestry. It is amazing how long the streak has lasted considering what the Icelanders had to put up with first in Iceland and then North America. Am I Icelandic?


Language, to start is getting to be an issue. I wouldn’t say I am forgetting English but often it is easier to use the Icelandic word or sentence if I am speaking to someone that understand Icelandic. This is happening more and more and it even happens when I am speaking to people that don’t have Icelandic as a mother language. I even feel a little uneasy with Icelanders who throw English words into their conversations thinking it is cool, shame on them. I do it sometimes because I have to. Am I Icelandic yet?


Money, lack of or maybe attitude towards it is a better reason. Icelanders have a different attitude when it comes to money. Who in their right mind would go out for a beer in the bar in North America and pay $12.00 CAD or almost $10.00US. Or better yet, fill up your tank with gas at $2.00 a litre. Yes I like many others line up at Bćjarins Bestur even in the middle of winter to pay almost $4.00 for a hot dog. Icelanders are also hard workers. Many people have side jobs and they work many hours per week. Yes this helps pay the bills but it is just the norm here. Last spring when I was working 3 jobs it was not seen as unusual. Am I Icelandic yet?


Travel is a past time of most Icelanders. The Vikings were real explorers. They discovered North America long before Columbus. One of the first women to settle in Vinland, Guđríđur Ţorbjarnardóttir was a distant cousin of mine. She was quite the traveller. After North America she returned to Iceland for a time and then went to mainland Europe. She walked to Rome to meet with the Pope. I like to travel, both around the country and outside the country. Living on an island can be a little confining so many Icelanders travel abroad. I like that; I think I have flown more in the last year and a half than I have flown in the 20 years before that. Icelanders have a fancy for 4X4s, the bigger the better. I started with a regular Chevy Blazer and now I have bought a custom raised newer Chevy Blazer with big tires. Am I Icelandic yet?


Education is important to Iceland and Icelanders. It has been important for centuries, starting with the writing of the Sagas and the study of them over the years. I own a complete set of the Sagas even though it is the English translations. I work at a fine education facility in Iceland, Menntaskólinn viđ Hamrahlíđ. Icelanders pride themselves in learning languages. Danish used to be the language they learnt but that has changed to learning English. They don’t stop there; they learn German, French and now many are studying Spanish. I myself am learning Spanish and French in school. Everyday I am learning some Icelandic as well. Last fall I took an art class as well, something I have long wanted to do. I am also enrolling in a tour guide course to start this fall. Am I Icelandic yet?


Technology, Iceland is home to technology freaks. Everyone has mobile phones, most people have computers and their homes are filled with modern technology. I was kind of a technology freak before I came to Iceland. I have not slowed down here at all. I have the computer on 8 to 10 hours a day at work. I have my own web site and it keeps getting bigger and bigger. I have two laptops, an older one that I brought from Canada and one on loan from the school. I have a desk computer at work and I am responsible for 70 laptops that are based in my office. I am in charge of all the technical equipment in the school. The newest equipment addition is a satellite system. It is also fed into my office so the TV is usually on. Am I Icelandic yet?


Weather, Icelandic weather is very interesting. Iceland does not have winters like the prairies. It is hard to tell the difference between the seasons here. You don’t hear anyone complain here. Often the only thing that you hear on the streets is wait 5 minutes and the weather will change. Many never get used to the weather here; I like it. Am I Icelandic yet?


Heima, the Icelandic word for home. It is interesting to hear the older Western Icelanders speak of “home” when the talk about Iceland even though many have never even been to Iceland. Iceland to them is still heima. If I am talking about Iceland I also use “heima” even though Canada will always be home to me. Am I “heima”, Icelandic yet?


“Islendingabók”, is the on line registry of all Icelanders born in Iceland. I tried to get access but my identity number was not accepted at first. I now have access to the registry and I am in the book but do not have any parents. I do have access to my ancestors who were born here and hopefully soon get my family in North America added as well. For now I am without any links to my ancestors, but am happy I am in the book. Am I Icelandic yet?


In conclusion, I feel that I am getting close to being an “Icelander”. More often than not I am looked at as an Icelander. I look like an Icelander, act like, talk like and so on. To my friends I am Icelandic even though I have a Canadian Passport. They have recently changed the laws allowing people to have dual citizenship. Did they do it for me? No but I might take advantage of the offer. I pay my share of taxes in Iceland. I like living in Iceland even though I like my trips home to Canada as well. I know I am Canadian, North American, Western Icelandic and I am now beginning to think I am Icelandic as well. When my name is in Islendingabók I will know my questions have been answered. Since it is still not in there I will keep asking the question, investigating and studying.