Full disclosure. I am an American who, by circumstances, lived in Iceland for 2 years and has traveled there dozens of times over the last 10 years. I have watched Iceland go from a relatively unknown tourist destination, to being a hot one with huge growth.
Because of the amount of time I have spent in the country, and the fairly extensive travel I have done with the good Icelandic friends I am honored to have, I have come to believe that there two central tenets of being Icelandic. These two things are, Icelanders really love their land and their language.
Love of land
Now, I know some of you may say, “I love my country!” That’s not what I meant. And, I am not necessarily talking about patriotism. Icelanders love the very ground of their island nation. They love the unspoiled nature and the vast uninhabited areas. The know it very well, as most have traveled extensively in their own country. They know the names of mountains, valleys, landmarks. Many know the history of places. Icelanders are proud of their beautiful country and the vast majority would like to keep it that way. The entire country, in a very real sense, belongs to every Icelander. With only a few exceptions, you can access any bit of land you desire. It is almost all publicly accessible. Of course there are rules about off road driving - automobiles can very badly damage this fragile sub-Arctic ecology - besides that one can travel freely almost anywhere. And wherever you go, you will hardly see a trace of garbage, or other human activity. Icelanders stick to trails so as not to damage the nature. They treat it with deep respect. They treat it with reverence. This with almost no exceptions. And if you have traveled to Iceland, you may understand yourself why they feel this love. You may feel it too and we can learn a thing or two from Icelander’s respectful treatment of their nature. It is because they love their land that those lucky enough to visit still get to enjoy actual unspoiled nature. Out in the countryside, you can still drink water from a stream. This is rare indeed. So, I for one, wish to thank Icelanders for their love of land and I now join with them in this love when I am out in the highlands, perched on a grassy hillside, or glacier, the snow covered mountains in the background and the only sound I hear is the wind in my face.
Love of language
The second thing I have come to understand about Icelanders is they love their language. Icelandic is a very rare language indeed, spoken by only approximately 330,000 people. It is the original Norse language, unchanged for well over a 1000 years. It is the language of the sagas; an Icelander could read a story written a millennium ago, very few could claim this - certainly not an English native speaker. I have come to understand that Icelandic is a rich, almost poetic language. It is filled with deeper meanings. It is also a complex and demanding language for example, almost everything gets conjugated - even names. I had a nice conversation with a friend on my last trip, and we were talking about our respective languages. He then told me about a handful of people he knows that speak Icelandic REALLY well, and he revealed to me how much he loves to hear his native language spoken really well. I imagined it was like speaking the formal language of court; rich with rolled R’s and all the proper inflection and conjugation. It was fun to hear him speak so highly of a colleagues language ability, this from a very well educated Icelander. The fact that it’s hard and exclusive, is part of why Icelanders love their language. But that is not the whole story. It is also a very real and significant part of their identity and heritage as they clung to this rather hostile rock in the middle of the North Atlantic scratching a living out of what had to have been a tough run for hundreds and hundreds of years. They were ruled by the Norwegians, then later by the Danish. But, they always kept their language.
By David Brooks, on behalf of Icelandic Mountain Guides, the only Iceland tour operator I would ever use or recommend! These people love their land and it shows in every tour.