By Max Naylor, Translator at STP
You’ve heard of cosy hygge (the Danish “art of cosiness”), maybe you’ve come across the Swedish perfectly adequate phenomenon of lagom (“just right”) and perhaps even tough old sisu: Finnish grit and stiff upper lip. Now it’s time for Icelanders to take the stage with their own mantra for life: þetta reddast (pronounced something like “thehta rettast”). Literally it translates as “it’ll sort itself out”, although a more colloquial translation would simply be “no worries”.
These two words encapsulate a key feature of the Icelandic psyche in one succinct phrase. Icelanders are (in)famous for their reluctance to plan too far into the future. This national personality trait is rooted in the physical environment Icelanders inhabit. In Iceland, your best-laid plans often just don’t pan out as expected due to some unforeseen circumstance, usually weather-related.
Þetta reddast also embodies a particular kind of Icelandic optimism and hard work that has been attributed to all manner of feats, including the 1986 meeting between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavík. Another more recent example from 2014 is the rebuilding of a road bridge in southern Iceland that had been wiped out by a flash flood in just one week.
This means that Icelanders are generally fairly recalcitrant when it comes to planning things too far in advance. A reluctance to be bound by arrangements set in stone makes sense when you don’t even know what the weather will be like in five minutes’ time.
Another example of this from Icelandic history is Síldarævintýrið, or the “Herring Rush”, which swept across many Icelandic fishing villages in the 1960s. A glut of herring led to fisheries and processing plants being established almost overnight, only to close down a few years later once stocks had been exhausted.
What we can learn from the þetta reddast mentality is not to take life too seriously. The future is impossible to plan out precisely, as Icelanders’ centuries of poverty and struggle have taught them. The other thing to remember is this: if you’re planning on taking your next holiday in Iceland, be flexible! That Northern Lights trip you’ve got booked might not work out as planned, or your geyser excursion might be cancelled due to a freak snowstorm (or failure to erupt). Do as the Icelanders do, and go with the flow!
This article first appeared in the June 2018 edition of STP’s Icebreaker newsletter.