Icelanders – The Tribe

It was pointed out to me some years ago that the Icelanders are not just a nation but a tribe.

As I have been living abroad for the total of 17 years I am getting it now how that works.

The smallness of this society is amazing at times and everyone seems to be connected somehow. When you have a nation of 330.00 people it is logical that you will meet people who are either your relatives or friends of best friends. We have a saying in Iceland, that you just have to talk to someone for 5 minutes and you will find a connection.

This is what I love and hate at the same time. When I was younger I had this idea that living abroad would give some kind of freedom to be exactly how you are, going shopping with morning hair and all.

I realized after a couple of years in Copenhagen that Iceland is like a neighborhood in a city. Humans are in need of belonging and sometimes people don´t even leave their neigborhood their whole life. So going shopping in Copenhagen where I lived with morning hair was of course an illusion (unless I really wanted to travel far in my morning hair).

Icelanders are a funny tribe like that. Seeking to escape, and then, once they are out, they can´t stop thinking nostagically about how much they miss their homeland and how the water is better, how the swimming pools are better, how the icecream, the fish, the lamb and the fresh air are better.  Not to mention the football team. We watch the Icelandic news, read the Icelandic newspapers, smuggle in smoked lamb for christmas and of course make sure we have a proper Icelandic chocolate egg for Easter.

Even my American partner went to great lengths to provide me with a mix of malt extract and orange soda, which, believe it or not, is the traditional Icelandic Christmas drink. Otherwise Christmas would probably not arrive properly, God forbid.

The results of this way of being both a nation and a tribe of people is that many of us have lived abroad for studies or work.  They may realize that no place is perfect, but that their Icelandic roots exert strong  powers, haunting them as they travel or live away.

Part of the magic of Iceland, especially for the visitor, is that Iceland is a society of people who have seen the world and have decided that Iceland is still their home. This is part of the reason why Icelanders are hospitable, even in the midst of a tourist boom.  They have a  real connection to the rest of the world.

Still, as a foreigner once said, Icelanders are probably the most homesick people in the world when they are away from home. I think that is true.  So, when they get claustrophobic in Iceland, they can hop a flight out for a while and then all is good. Most come back.  And rare is the Icelander abroad who doesn‘t think about it.


Iceland by helgastina provides personalized travel plans for people travelling to Iceland. Hidden gems and connecting with the Icelanders is the main focus.


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