German Author Praises Icelandic Way of Life Skip to content

German Author Praises Icelandic Way of Life

Alva Gehrmann, a freelance journalist from Berlin, recently published a non-fiction book entitled Alles ganz Isi – Isländische Lebenskunst für Anfänger und Fortgeschrittene (“Everything Isi – Icelandic way of living for beginners and advanced”) which has proven quite popular in her home country.


Alva Gehrmann. Photo by Tina Bauer.

Gehrmann first came to Iceland as a backpacker and was fascinated by the country and nation. Over the past five years, she has lived in Iceland for several months at a time each year. She has written many Iceland-related articles for German newspapers and through her interaction with Icelanders, became inspired to write about the Icelandic mentality.

alles-ganz-isi_ag-coverHer book doesn’t focus much on the typical nature stories, but rather on the Icelandic society. Among her protagonists are authors like Hallgrímur Helgason and Sjón, former President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, as well as comedian and Mayor of Reykjavík Jón Gnarr.

The book is interspersed with tongue-in-cheek advice on how to directly test the Icelandic way of living: for example, how to dress stylishly the Icelandic way and how to turn the bathtub at home into an Icelandic-style hot pot. asked Gehrmann a few questions about her book:

When did your ‘relationship’ with Iceland start? And when did you decide to write the book?

The first time I came as a backpacker to Iceland, especially to experience the exotic nature. That was almost ten years ago. Later I returned as a journalist, and discovered the Icelanders, who can also be very exotic and ‘per capita’ always compile records: You have the highest density of Nobel Prize winners in Literature, Icelanders have the most children in the whole of Europe and it’s said that no other nation uses Facebook as much. After 40 articles about the society, the idea came up to write a book. I want to bring my readers closer to the Icelandic way of living and show how the island nation lives, loves and deals with crises.

What interests you about the Icelandic way of living?

I appreciate the spontaneous, flexible and creative side of most Icelanders. The vaunted creativity has already become a kind of cliché, but it really exists. If Icelanders have an idea, almost everybody has the courage to try it. This could be a performance, knitting a woolen full bodysuit or building a solar powered Coke machine in the midst of solitude in east Iceland. Following the motto: thetta reddast’—it will somehow work out. If not, then they make up something else.

Is the thetta reddast mentality not romanticized too much?

Of course, this mentality does not only have advantages. Some things are done unthinkingly or at the last minute, and then they’re going wrong. During the crisis it was temporarily forbidden to say thetta reddast. It doesn’t work out all the time, people said then. For me, it was still enlightening to experience how Icelanders deal with the financial crisis. In Germany people never would have chosen a comedian as the new mayor of their capital. Icelanders have the courage to go unusual ways. This is probably a legacy of nature: In earlier times Icelanders always coped with what was there—the farmer sometimes had to be a doctor, carpenter or lawyer too.

Have you never met any Icelander who thinks differently?

Certainly, I also know Icelanders who are different, who like to plan, have never taken large loans and are more hesitant. But they also consider themselves as not being a typical Icelander. In my book I concentrated more on the typical sides. What strikes me again and again is the curiosity and restlessness of the island nation. Someone once told me: “When the crisis came, I was depressed. But after three months I was bored of the crisis.”

What do you think caused the crisis?

If I could answer this question in two sentences, I would soon be rich and famous. Certainly the bank privatization plays an important role. I still remember that I was surprised that during the boom years almost everyone got loans without having to offer big guarantees. That wouldn’t have been possible in Germany. On the other hand, this quickly creates a group dynamic: if almost everybody finances his house, jeep or the modern television system with loans, many others do it too. What is remarkable with Icelanders is: If there is something in fashion or new, suddenly everybody wants to have it or do it, like buying a jeep or, most recently, swimming in the ocean.

What can Icelanders learn from the Germans?

Many Germans should ruminate less, and some Icelanders could think a bit more before they jump into the next adventure. When I started the book and told my Icelandic friends I want to encourage the Germans to live a little braver, more flexible and spontaneous, they said: “What? We should be more like you Germans!” It would be probably perfect to blend both mentalities. But mediocrity is still somehow boring. And I think for Icelanders it would be probably the worst reputation to be described as boring.

Have you adopted some of the Icelandic way of life yourself?

In my first book readings I staged small performance acts which I would have never have done five years ago. I also plan less now and it honestly stresses me sometimes when friends want to make an appointment two weeks in advance at 3 pm. Who knows what will be then? As the author Hallgrímur Helgason says: “We don’t like to plan. We want our future to be exciting.” In my book Hallgrímur gives ten tips to stop pondering and to start acting out your own creativity.

Alles ganz Isi was published in Germany, Austria and Switzerland by Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag.


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