mánudagur, janúar 29, 2007

the happy land

I met with NPR's Eric Weiner again on Friday after work, for a followup interview on happiness in the Land. He's not doing a radio bit on this, but he is coming out with a book on the happiest countries (and he wants you to buy it!). The second conversation I had with him was much better as he seemed to have settled in to the laid-back ways of Reykjavík after some more days here. The Friday-after-work meeting was in sharp contrast to one I had the night before with an instructor I had helped bring in to teach an investment-related class here. Like many Americans I meet here (mostly hot-tub tourists) he asked why I liked it here but then as soon as I began to answer, he cut in and tried to refute my reasons one by one. I have had now had variations of this conversation so many times with American visitors that I try to ensure the topic never comes up.

But today against my better judgment, and at the behest of some loyal readers, following are just five of the reasons I am happier in my life here than I was in my old one Stateside. These ideas are in no particular order or not even maybe the best ones. Just five off the top of my head:

I don't spend any time commuting. My new walk to work takes around 10 minutes. My old drive to work took 12 to 15, and several of my coworkers thought that was excessive and urged me to move closer to save some time.

I get five weeks of vacation, and I am expected to take it all. Five weeks, paid or unpaid, is the minimum here by law, and most Icelanders take 3-4 weeks of their annual vacation in July. This has the effect of shutting down the country. Hey, everybody's doing it! So when you come back from that, you don't have lots of emails or work piled up, because nothing has really been happening. In fact, my new employer has a policy that an employee must get their supervisor's permission to not take at least two consecutive weeks off in a year.

I don't see any signs of obvious poverty or "working poor" in my daily life. This is a big one. I used to come out of jobs in the States, be they in Boston or San Francisco or New York, and see homeless on the streets. But more commonly, just really beat-down-looking working people who were obviously struggling to make ends meet. Since I know that luck (in birth and in opportunity) played such a big part in why I was walking home from a six-figure job and they weren't, I felt a lot of guilt over this. I could have told myself that they were "just lazy", like my imported finance-instructor colleage told me last week, but I knew that in most cases that simply was not true. I don't see very much poverty in Iceland because there isn't nearly as much to see.

Life is quiet here. I'm not barraged by televisions blaring ads in my local supermarket. There is not a universally accepted idea of "today's fast-paced world" here. There doesn't seem to be a merry-go-round spinning at ever more sickening speeds. I spend Sunday afternoons in a café, reading the paper and talking to friends. People park their baby carriages outside the café, babies snoozing inside. Both the baby carriage parking and the spending time talking are considered acceptable behavior.

It's easy to get things done. I have always been able to find "the person" who can answer a question for me, because there usually is only one person. I don't ever spend time waiting on hold, or navigating voice-mail jail. Without trying, I know one of the 63 members of Parliament and could easily contact two more. I don't spend a lot of time queueing (Icelanders can't do this anyway, so good thing) or waiting in line, either. There's a sense here that all possibilities are open, and not just rhetorically.

In general, life here just feels happier. People seem more content. Kids play soccer in the streets, even downtown. Families take trips abroad every summer and sit around for coffee in the winter. So there you have it. Refute away, Americans!


Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

Honestly, I can't blame you for loving life there.

Blogger Teddy said...

Teddy nor his host will refute any of these points and will second them, in fact.

Blogger Sue said...

I want five weeks vacation a year. Well, I want it, but it wouldn't matter if I had it, because I'm too busy at work to take it. I get three weeks a year now and it's just building and building and building. Even my trips to Iceland haven't taken much vacation time because I have so much comp time stored up I can usually use that instead.

It's very tempting indeed, that Iceland. :)

Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

Fellas, I think you left out the best part - that a gaikokujin like yourself can be accepted into this shangri-la and partake of its bounty.


But that said, some of the happiest people I know live to me what should be the most unhappiest lives. So it's all what you make of the hand your dealt.

Blogger Unknown said...

No refuting here. An acquaintance of mine from Iceland (who is also a reader here) had mentioned some similar things about there vs. here when she stopped through Boston on a visit. (Your blog gave us lots to chat about, incidentally.)

For the five weeks vacation alone, Iceland for the win.

Blogger Djaddi said...

Woo hoo, 5 weeks :). I didn't know that was a requirement. That's one thing I'll be looking forward to when I move to Iceland. Of course, I'll be on 'permanent vacation' first till I find a job, heh.

From what you describe too, the unharried weekends seem quite nice.

Blogger JB said...

Wow, much less refutation than I was expecting! I must just be talking to the wrong tourists in the hot tub. Of course, the readers of IR are a self-selecting group of people with curiosity about Iceland. So that may explain the low R-number.

Jade, where are you moving from? If not from within the EEA (roughly the EU), you might have trouble. The word on the street is that Útlendingastofnun has "closed the portcullis" and no work permits are being issued for Americans and other "third-worlders". It's a highlight of Iceland's patchwork immigration policy and it's one of the things that makes me not-so-happy here.

Blogger cK said...

Wonderful post. No refutation needed. But you can have some of my envy (though I think I feel very much the same way about Saint Paul, Minnesota--280,000 people too, so an apt comparison).

Blogger Djaddi said...

Thanks for the info Jared. Yup, I am aware of the work permit issues. I live in the US and am from a decidedly third worldish country, but my wife has Icelandic citizenship. So I only need a residency permit, and not a work permit (similar to being from the EEA I guess).

However even the residency permit is taking time because they're asking for FBI background checks if people are American / have resided in the US. Those checks usually take 8-10 weeks, but these days they're taking twice as long. So now I'm waiting on this background check before my residency app gets approved.

And from what I'm hearing the IT job market is doing relatively well,so that's good :)

Blogger Erik said...

How reliable is your source regarding the "closing of the portcullis" to Americans?

I'm probably coming back again this summer, although this time for much longer. I hope the bank will be able to smuggle me in still!

Blogger JB said...

Jade: yep the IT job market is great. Write me an email if you want a referral.

That FBI requirement is new as far as I know. A couple years back, it was enough to have one from your state of residence.

Erik: I heard this via the HR department of your previous (and my new) employer. I also heard it from another source. Maybe you can play up your Icelandic family ties and get in that way. Or maybe it will all be different again this summer. Or maybe since you already had it once, you'll be okay.

Blogger Erik said...

It is sounding like my prior permit will give me an in. We'll see though.

Blogger Djaddi said...

Hi Jared!

I just saw your last post on this thread. I would like to send you an email, do you have an address on this site? Or would you like to me post an address here?


Blogger JB said...


Thanks for pointing this out! Looks like when Blogger switched me over to "Beta" my email address got dropped from the profile page. It's back on there now!


Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

Plus, no one wants to invade Iceland and it's been a while since Iceland attacked anyone. Unlike in the US where you are made to feel like "a terrorist attack is imminent".

Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

wow. this blog makes me want to cry. i went to iceland alone for five days last summer and i am trying to go back. i was very happy there. i have never wanted to belong anywhere before i visited that country.

Blogger JB said...

Beki, this is a really lovely comment. I have been uninspired on writing the Report these last months and this is the kind of comment that makes me want to write again...! Thank you!

Blogger Henry said...

I love asking people about their life and hearing how and why they do things. I do thing in certain ways in the great USA and I realize there are many ways to get through the day. I would ask you why you chose Iceland and then listen intently to your answer- hopefully learning a different point of view.

I can imagine your frustration about being asked how you feel and then they tell you why you are wrong. Hopefully we aren't all like that

Thanks for your blog - its a joy to read.

Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

I wish I could move there! I visited and lived in Reykjavik for two months in the summer of 2002 and I miss it so much. I have dreams about it still. . .being there. I am going to try to go back this summer. If I could move there I would. But I am credentialed to teach photography and english. . .not sure I'd be of much help. . .


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