By Lydia Holt

Our living room full of boxes.

As I write this our shipping container, holding all of our worldly possessions, is down at the harbor. Having cleared customs, all that is left to do is have it delivered and begin unpacking. I can’t wait to get my hands on my lip balm—I had only just found a lip balm that comes close to the magic of Aveda Lip Saver but at a fraction of the cost when we decided to make the big move and the one tube I traveled with is almost finished. I may find the same product or something comparable, here in Reykjavík but until then, I’m happy to be getting my lip balm and all my other familiar creature comforts like our sofa, beds, pillows…clothes that aren’t the same ten things I’ve been wearing for more than a month.

I am happy to say that this first month hasn’t been all that dramatic or traumatic. This ain’t my first Icelandic rodeo so I’ve become somewhat used to no one ever saying excuse me and am moderately proud of my status as locker room ambassador to foreigners unfamiliar with the ways of the Icelandic swimming pool. I see them timidly watching me out of the corner of my eye as I approach the locker room without hesitation and they stand looking at the shoe lockers in confusion. “How do we open it? Do we get changed here? Do we really have to shower naked?” they ask with a note of panic in their voices. Poor lambs, follow me. I don’t say that part, it’s patronizing, but if I were an older British lady I totally would. There are, however, three things that have happened in this first month that stand out. One is amusing, another is surprising and the other is woefully familiar.

First up is amusement. There’s a guy that we see regularly at one of the local pools. He has a man-bun and a long beard. The husband calls him The Viking because we’re pretty sure he goes to the pool to sit all stoic and Viking-like, with his beard and man-bun, in an attempt to attract tourists. This is probably not true but it’s one of the the stories we made up while people watching as the we soaked in the hot tub. So the other day as I’m walking to the bakery (Brauð & Co.) I see him coming out of a store. Thankfully he had passed in front of me and was well on his way before I said hello, thinking he must be a friend of my husband’s that I’d met at some point. Oh the horror I would have felt upon cheerfully saying “Hi” and feeling proud of myself for being friendly and social (which is against my very nature) only to realize, as the final sound left my throat, that I didn’t actually know this man. He would, no doubt, be looking at me in confusion or better/worse yet, a smile of glee that his man-bun and beard had finally worked their magic. It took years for this kind of thing to happen to me in Brooklyn and I’m a homebody who rarely left the neighborhood so for it to happen in the first two weeks here was unexpected.

Now the second thing is quite surprising to me and makes me feel like I owe Peggy, who works from her home office in Indiana while the kids are in school and Mandeep, who works at the call center, my sincerest apologies for not appreciating all their hard work. Even if Peggy and Mandeep don’t give a flying rat’s toenail about whether or not my wifi is working, the company they work for does and Peg and Deep know how to follow a carefully crafted script designed to help them help me and handle just about any situation that may arise during the course of our conversation which may be recorded for quality assurance and training purposes. Now, when I called the phone/TV/internet company to make sure I was setting up our router correctly, I pushed 5 for English because there are enough non-Icelandic speaking folk in Iceland these days to warrant having the customer service menu in English. I thought to myself, well that’s thoughtful, and according to the menu voice over guy, the call would be recorded. He did not say why, only that the call would be recorded, that should have been my first clue that I was no longer in the land of exceptional customer service. Another voice came on and told me I was number one in the queue and then California Dreaming started to play. The Mamas & The Papas gently lulled me into a sense of familiarity and comfort. I was thinking, this is just like being on hold with Time Warner, or Spectrum as they call themselves these days. So after I finally get through we go through a bit of back and forth to figure out what needs to be connected where but finally get it sorted out. Once the connection is established and in working order I say thank you, she says okay and then CLICK. That’s it. Click. Okay, see, I was already a little miffed that we didn’t get our service on the day they said we would and that the husband had to go pick up all the equipment and I had to set it up and then old girl couldn’t even pull out some rudimentary customer service and ask “Is there anything else I can help you with this morning?” Say what you will about Time Warner being slow as hell about getting out to your house or Verizon having you on hold for half an hour but Peggy would not have done me like this because Peggy takes customer service seriously. Mandeep would have apologized about the service not being ready when they said it would be and given us a week of HBO for free or something. I have worked in customer service. I KNOW Peggy and Mandeep don’t care but they have been trained and work hard to make it seem like they care about you as a fellow human being and about your satisfaction as a customer. I felt like I was interrupting her day with my questions. Just thinking about it gets my blood pressure up. I don’t know why they record the calls over at the Icelandic Phone Company That Shall Not Be Named but it sure as hell ain’t for quality assurance and training purposes.

This last thing caught me off guard but my 41 years of experience in dealing with low-key and overt racism in the US helped me get through it without being forced to play out the two stereotypes that I try my best not to perpetuate —the entitled, obnoxious American and the angry black woman. Last week, an Icelandic friend who lives in the states but was visiting Iceland suggested I get the boys library cards. She said they have kids’ books in English and a large comic book section and all the boys need is their kennitala (Icelandic ID number). Great! We head on over to the library and approach the small desk to ask if this is where we can get library cards. There’s an older woman behind the desk. I ask about the cards and before she can ask the question I see about to come out of her mouth I tell her they have kennitalas. “Do they have ID?” Now, it might have been my imagination but her tone was dripping with condescension and if ever there was a simpering smile she was wearing it like a badge of honor. I must have looked confused because she went on to say, “It doesn’t matter if it’s in another language we just…” and she made some half-assed gesturing motion toward my children which I took to mean, they could have stolen some “real” Icelandic children’s kennitalas to get their hands on these books. Here is where my experience kicked in. I did not kick her in the shins nor call her a racist, xenophobic cow nor storm out after swearing to never step in that gotdamn library again. Instead, I smiled broadly and said, we’ll be back and calmly walked out. I didn’t go back the same day because I couldn’t guarantee that if the same woman was there I wouldn’t grab her up by the scruff of her wattle and shake mess out of her. “Was that racist?” my oldest asked. “Maybe or somebody peed in her Cheerios this morning…or both,” I answered. The next day there was a young man at the desk and he helped us out without hesitation. The woman from the day before was there too. She had on her coat and looked like she was leaving for her lunch break as we walked up to the desk. I stared straight at her, daring her to pull the same mess in front of another employee but she did all she could to avoid making eye contact with me. When my son was ready to check out, another woman happily showed him how to use the self check out system.

My sanity in a cup.

Since I first began writing this post some tiki-torch carrying white supremacists converged on Charlottesville, Virginia to show their asses. This is nothing new but it does seemed to have spurred more conversation amongst white folks about white supremacy, how saying “not it” isn’t enough and how it’s up to white folk to dismantle white supremacy. Maybe the talk will lead to action but white supremacy is embedded in the foundation of America and rooting it out will not be a simple task. In the meantime, I’ll be over here in Iceland and praying that I won’t have to choose between Texas or New York citizenship if the Union finally falls apart.

It Happened

The teacup before the tea. Photo by Lydia Holt

It happened. It actually happened. A few months ago when the husband broached the idea of moving to Iceland I was shook, as the kids say. I felt (and will probably continue to feel off and on) scared and anxious and my muffin of a husband gave me the space to feel my feelings. I poured myself many cups of tea and called my momma, because that’s what you do when the shit hits the fan both literally and figuratively. She assured me that no matter what we decided to do– regardless of if, when or where we moved– everything would be OK. Perhaps it was her reassurance that helped nudge me in the right direction but soon after that I  felt a weight lifted from my shoulders. When had I decided that I was incapable of changing my life’s course? I had locked myself into the mentality that my life could only be lived in New York and nowhere else and when I asked myself, why? I didn’t have an answer. New York is wonderful in many ways but it was bleeding us dry. Rent, health insurance, RENT and the cost of just about everything else is sky high in New York. The cost of living is also high in Reykjavík but when healthcare is dirt cheap, activities for the kids cost almost nothing and we have family here, our quality of life improves considerably. I may be stubborn as a mule but I ain’t stupid.

With that mental hurdle behind me but still not ecstatic about the move (because I may have acquired some degree of mental flexibility but I am still a New York City girl at heart), we packed and purged and purged and packed and purged. How the hell did we accumulate so much crap in our apartment? And purged some more yet somehow still managed to have enough stuff to load up into a crate and move to Reykjavík (I like to sing that last part to the tune of The Ballad of Jed Clampett a.k.a. The Beverly Hillbillies theme song — So we loaded up the crate and we moved to Reyk-ja-vííííí´k. Iceland that is. Swimming pools, lava flows). After we said our goodbyes to our dear friends and school was out for summer we headed to the Great State of Texas for a week with my family and did absolutely nothing. The boys ran amok in the backyard with their cousins, spraying each other with the water hose, and I hung out with my family, catching up, harassing each other and breathing together. We soaked up all the Texas heat we could before heading to Iceland with a pit stop in NY and after twenty four hours arrived in Iceland. Here I am, blogging in Iceland. No, for real, I really am.

Me, walking these Reykjavík streets.
Photo by Lydia Holt

The day we arrived in Iceland was the day before a friend from college who was visiting Iceland was leaving so we met her that evening for a mini-in-real-life-not-Facebook-catch-up. How lucky is that? But listen to this, we arrived on a Saturday morning and I’m writing this on the following Monday and we’ve already checked off most of our bureaucratic to do boxes. Yup, keep reading, I’ll explain.

If anything is emblematic of how small and efficient Iceland is, it is the ease with which one can get shit done. In less than two hours we had registered the husband and kids at our new address, begun the application process for my residency, got health insurance (I won’t tell you the cost of the private health insurance we got to cover us until we are eligible for coverage by the national healthcare system, it would be too cruel to my fellow Americans) and the husband set up a bank account. Go ahead, slap the table and look all agog. I know. It’s unbelievable. I still can’t shake the feeling that the other shoe is going to drop and we’ll have to go back through the whole process again and then we’ll have to stand in line for hours before sitting in uncomfortable chairs for another couple of hours, during which time our kids, who will have to accompany us because we have to prove they 1) exist 2) haven’t been kidnapped by my husband, will begin shrieking and howling in pain and boredom and when it seems they will pass out in despair, to finally get our turn in line, fill out all the paperwork, wait for our turn again and then be told that I not only checked a wrong box but used a blue ink pen instead of a black one and don’t have the proper 13 points of identification and stool sample so I need to come back after 5 to 10 business days but only if it’s a full moon cause that’s just about what it took, sans howling children, for the husband to get his residency in the states. Knock on wood, friends. Knock on wood.

Me, standing in our empty apartment.
Photo by Lydia Holt

Our stuff won’t be here for a few weeks so we’ll be staying with family for a bit. I don’t completely feel like we’ve moved here, even with the packing, schlepping and 24 hours of travel. I think it’s most likely because we don’t have all of our stuff and aren’t in our own place so it still kind of feels like any other visit to Iceland. In a few weeks, when we’re unpacking and settling in I may have a freak out as it sets in that I really moved across the ocean to a different country and I don’t speak the language. I’m hoping not to freak out but it would probably be more entertaining to you, my Kettle Talkers, if I did. If I don’t freak out, I promise to include a sensational fictionalized account of events for your voyeuristic pleasure. Until then, the kettle is on.


A week or so ago I was pondering this question: Do I get a power adapter for my cute, little, orange tea kettle or do I get a new tea kettle? You see Kettle Talkers, me, the husband and the kids are moving to Iceland this summer and some difficult decisions regarding packing will have to be made. No sooner had I written about my adapter conundrum than the kettle up and died. It began turning on by itself and then wouldn’t turn on at all. Such a good kettle, making things easy for me in this time of transition. I loathe transitions of all sorts. I hate the saying, it’s more about the journey, than the destination. The journey can be fun, yes, but often it is uncomfortable and it takes too damn long. If transporter technology were to become a thing tomorrow I’d be the first in line. Beam me up, Scotty. One for transport, O’Brien. Scratch that. Transporter travel would probably do something weird to my body rhythms and I’d break out in hives and have insomnia for days. It’s much too sudden now that I think about it. These processes are uncomfortable yet necessary, like mosquitos. They’re little biting, disease carrying jerks but if they disappeared from the face of the earth everything would be thrown out of balance.

Me, on ice at Jökulsárlón, Iceland. Summer 2016

My point is that transitions are stressful and we’re undergoing a big one. With the addition of myself and my two kids to Reykjavik we will push the population of black residents well into the teens. I haven’t combed through the city’s vital statistics but I doubt that I am far off in my estimation. I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a celebrity in Iceland but when I walk the streets people do sometimes stare and I’m pretty sure they’re thinking, “Hey, isn’t that Snorri’s wife?” because everybody knows just about everybody in Iceland, “I heard he married a black woman.” I’m not a seeker of celebrity, but as is said about greatness, some strive for it while others have it thrust upon them. I could parlay that celebrity into something I suppose. The idea of becoming a You Tuber has crossed my mind — check it out, it’s a black woman living in Iceland – but it runs counter to my core way of being. Random people would comment and some would say some pretty horrible things, because that’s what humans do, and then I would feel the need to respond and I’d hear Michelle saying, “When they go low, we go high,” in my head and I’d be like, bump that, Michelle, I need to tell Becker about his dumb-ass self and it just would not be a good look for me…. Or it could be really fun. But the whole walking around with a camera all the time thing…that’s just weird and the whole vibe is a bit narcissistic in a way that doesn’t fit with my natural shy introversion. And yet, I feed the You Tube beast myself. I have fallen down many a You Tube hole and discovered some very interesting people and places. Decisions, decisions.

Downtown Reykjavik is walkable so that’s great but going anywhere outside of that kind of requires car travel which I don’t enjoy but, I grew up in Texas, I’ll get used to it. There is one thing about moving to Iceland that will be a real challenge for me — the climate. The lack of real heat in the summer and soul crushing darkness in the winter is worrying to me, to say the least. I need four seasons to feel at peace but could make it if I had a hot summer in there somewhere. I was born in the summer in Texas so I’m not talking a little warm I am talking H-O-T hot. It is nice to have cold, snowy winters — perfect weather for drinking lots of tea and hot cider — but…. Iceland has plenty of sunlight in the summer but the heat, not so much. This will undoubtedly call for an increase in tea consumption just to stay warm but too much caffeine turns me jittery. I’m going to need a LOT of herbal tea. Let me know what some of your favorites are in the comments below.