Sunday, April 02, 2017

Naked in Public, and Other Thoughts

There have been a great many things to consider, lately. Heading soon into my eighth month living in Iceland, this has kind of become my life now and my home now and there is this huge, massive chasm between being on holiday here and having a kennitala and a legal address in 101 RVK. And the fact that I have over a year left leaves a sweet taste in my mouth as I wonder what kind of person I'll be if, when I'm ready to move on. 

So until then, here's my seven month summary of life in everybody's favorite (sub)arctic island.

...thinking very important expatriate thoughts in my natural habitat


1. I can't eat "American" food anymore.

Like, I know that we have prime access to perfectly healthy foods in the US (outside of food deserts) so calm down. This is not about that.

Andi came to Iceland and brought me a gigantic bag of M&Ms (which I will never not be able to eat) but she also brought 5 delicious boxes of Kraft Mac n' Cheese. Swoon. 

I know that this is only "food" by the loosest of standards, but everybody loves a good box of mac every so often. As down-home delightful as those cheesy noodles were, though, they just like...sat in my tummy like a rock. And didn't really go away. And I've been eating plastic carbs all week and now I'm bloaty and sore. 

Not surprised, but it means that my body has changed.

For the better, obviously.

Like, my tolerance for fillers and pseudofood and other such junk has drastically declined, and I'm not mad about it, but I am kind of surprised. I don't eat less chocolate or ice cream or hot dogs (arguably way more hot dogs, I mean, come on) or snacks than usual, but they must be...different somehow.

I am, though, sad about the dwindling likelihood that I can once again dominate the world when I'm back in the States this August and inevitably end up at Asian Buffet with my dad. I'll have to train for weeks. 

Oh well. I guess I'm not that upset. 

2. I am still not used to living in a peaceful country and everyone is over it.

Every time I bring this up with an American, they get it. Every time I bring this up with a Nordic person, they do not. Why must I always expect tragedy such that when tragedy befalls, I think I'm ready? For what do I think I'm preparing? Why don't I just calm down? Nobody needs my frantic alertness or my surplus of compassion. Well, nobody besides myself. But I'd rather give it to somebody else. And everybody else is pretty much fine, and pretty much over my more-bloody-than-rosy worldview.

Especially my friends whom I am constantly watching, like, text me when you get home.

Text me when you get home.

Text. Me. When. You. Get. Home.

Hey, instead of not texting me when you get home, you could try texting me when you get home.

Otherwise I will assume that you're dead, and will prepare myself to search for your body in the swamp. And the thing is, I really don't think that it's all that paranoid to think so.

Well, maybe in Reykjavík. But it only takes one second of becoming complacent, dropping your guard, putting weak faith in the presumed security of a given location for that security to go away. You will never, ever, ever convince me otherwise. 

So, yeah. I know you can walk home by your own damn self like a grown-ass adult, but you are also grown enough to text me when you get home.

3. I have been naked in public a lot, and I kind of love it.

Not in the ~feminist utopia~ sense that a lot of you probably picture Iceland to be (it isn't.) But because an enormous part of Icelandic culture is deeply rooted in access to geothermal hot pots, visiting public pools is essential. And to have public pools that aren't full of hot grimy wastewater, you have to clean yourself before entering. And to clean yourself well, you can't be wearing anything while you do it.

Simple, really.

Although it's pretty blatantly obvious when you think about it, I hadn't truly internalized the depth to which the United States sexualizes bodies from an incredibly young age. Like, why? Stop doing that, pervy grease-ball United States. Stop it. It's unnecessary. And it leads to all sorts of problems and abuse and shame and then everybody acts all surprised when actually, the root of the problem has been right in front of our noses since the days we were born.

Since nudity is not a big deal in Iceland, and really it's just about keeping public pools clean enough to use, bodies are not overtly sexualized here. That has been refreshing for me, and very body positive. Sex is actually kind of an interesting topic here; sometimes it's casual and sometimes it's extremely exclusive. Starting a family at a relatively young age is pretty commonplace, and the entire structure of the way this country is run centers on access to childcare and work day/school day flexibility to make sure the kids are picked up on time. Family is important here; everyone is pretty much related anyway, so it's easy to see why that is!

4. Graduate school has been easier than high school and it's really weird.

Last time I was in graduate school, I worked incredibly hard and felt awful about myself. Currently in graduate school, the amount of effort necessary to get by is essentially zero, and I feel like a queen.

I like this, and I don't.

I like it because I'm in virtually no danger of burning out and have a solid support system here, but I don't like it because when things do not meet a certain threshold of challenge, I lose interest and fail to absorb or learn or excel.

Luckily, this is graduate school, not high school. I have the opportunity to take charge of at least half of my degree, the half that involves my research project. In this half, I can truly grow and learn and self-lead. 

See, I like it when I can see growth, and I can. So I'm holding on to that for now, and working on accepting the fact that this is what a non-hostile work environment, more or less, looks like. Note that I am not meaning to confuse a non-hostile work environment with administrative competency, but that, as they say, is a horse of a different color. 

There is enormous room for improvement anywhere, but I think I can figure out how to come out on top here. And that's incredible, for grad school. 

5. The extraordinary has become my new ordinary, and I'm trying not to let it ruin me.

Yes, geothermal rivers in the middle of rolling basaltic hills are an hour's drive away. Yes, I can go glacier hiking if I want to. Yes, my everyday mountainous view from Reykjavík is spectacular. Yes, the northern lights here are tricolor undulations that will knock you straight to your knees.

This place is so full of natural wonders it's incredible that the entire island isn't a federally protected park. 

I mean, besides the fact that we kind of need some of those natural wonders to heat our homes, but ya know. Take the good with the bad; the free heat with the sulphur smell and the impending threat of volcanic eruption and glacial flooding. 

Reykjavík is one of my favorite places ever, but it tends to close in on a person. The darkness does, too, so I'm glad that we're nearing midnight-sun season! It's so important to get out of town as often as the opportunities arise, because once you do, you can find the most amazing things! I hope I never grow out of my sense of wonder, even if I've seen Gullfoss for the millionth time or the continental fissures and moss-covered lava fields for the zillionth. 

I'm just going to let it amaze me every time. Even if there is a perfectly valid explanation for that volcanic crater being right there, or that hot spring. I still think it's the cat's pajamas and I always, always will.

So, come visit me. Visit me so that I can show you these things and experience them all over again. Visit me so that I can tell you about all of the strange things that come with living here; all the strange, wonderful, beautiful things. See it, feel it, taste it with me.