Ever dreamed of packing up and moving to Iceland?
Meg Horan had. But unlike most people, she actually did it.
"It was something I'd been mulling over, but not very seriously," says Horan, who was working in the music industry in Sydney and contemplating a move to the UK to be closer to her family in Wales, when a friend suggested she bypass London and head to Reykjavik instead.
"'By Jove!' I exclaimed. You are right!" recalls Horan.
"So that very night I Googled Icelandic record labels, sent a Facebook message to one asking for a job, and the owner wrote back saying he ran a festival and I could go over and work on it.
"I arrived, hungover and utterly disoriented, on April 29, 2012. Until that point I'd never met an Icelander or been to the country and I knew absolutely no-one."
Four years on, she works for the Icelandic Music Export Office, promoting Icelandic music to the rest of the world, and does know a thing or two about the country whose isolation, stunning natural beauty and long, cold winters has made it the perfect backdrop for the latest Nordic noir hit Trapped. She's ready to dispel a few myths too.
What were the biggest challenges when you first arrived in Iceland?
One thing I just hadn’t prepared for was being able to say the names of my new friends or the street names. That took me a while and I literally couldn’t say the names of people I met. I foolishly agreed to tick off names on a guest list at a concert in my first week, that was a bit of a disaster... or rather, a steep learning curve!
What are the biggest misconceptions about Iceland?
Every single meme on the internet is wrong! Don’t believe the hype, people. The politics are beyond awful with cronyism and corruption rife. Please, please, please don’t believe all the misguided ‘Icelanders jailed their bankers’ trope, it’s utter tosh. There is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ country, utopia doesn’t exist, and it certainly doesn’t exist here. That's not to say I don’t love it here, but my eyes are wide open to the realities.
Do you speak Icelandic now? And if so, how hard is it to learn?
I cannot speak Icelandic unfortunately. It’s an incredibly difficult language, their grammar is bananas. I understand lots, but am shy speaking it, as the locals tend to laugh at you when you mispronounce [words]. They say it’s cute, but it makes me even more shy in my foolish attempts.
What is the food like?
Food is expensive and maybe - sorry Iceland - a little bit bland, unless, of course, you are fine-dining... which I don’t, as working in music means no money. There is a huge American influence here for loads of burgers. My favourite is probably the langoustine (lobster), which is like the Aussie crabby. My least favourite has to be the rotten shark (Hákarl) or dried fish (Harðfiskur).
How do you cope with the long, cold winters?
The thing is, this country is set up for this. All houses are heated to within an inch of their lives, candles are everywhere, lights in all the trees, and it just gets super, super cosy. At the end it can get a bit tedious, but as long as it’s cosy it’s utterly do-able. I’ve just come out of my fourth winter and I’m ok! You just need to have the right attire. Also most of the streets in downtown Reykjavik have under pavement heating so the snow and ice melts, making walking around a lot easier. It’s also a time for collaboration, for people to write, make music, and really dig deep to relieve the long dark winter.
What are the biggest cultural differences between Australia and Iceland?
There are more similarities than differences, to be honest - a very, very dry sense of humour, too much drinking. Maybe Icelanders take a bit longer to come out of their shell. They are notoriously shy at first. But, once they get warmed up, they are the best. I literally have never felt more ‘at home’ in any other country, it’s like I found ‘my people’. Maybe one difference is male affection. Icelandic men kiss their male friends hello/goodbye more, which I think is incredibly cute, because it’s genuine friendship affection.
If you've watched Trapped, you might associate Iceland with grisly murder, but is it true there is actually a very low crime rate in Iceland?
Murders and crime are very low, almost non-existent, but there is some. Reykjavik has some organised crime gangs that go around stealing bags, credit cards and expensive jackets from drunk people out on the djamm (Icelandic party).
Have you been to the Icelandic Phallological Museum (which contains a collection of 215 penises from different animals around the world)?
No. I walk past it everyday to get to work, but I’ve never really wanted to give them my money. I did, however, watch the documentary called The Final Member about the human specimen that was donated to the museum. I highly recommend that, it’s totally batsh*t crazy!
Have you met Bjork?
I’ve seen her a million times. We’ve yet to be formally introduced but I’ve been in bars, parties and work related things at the same time. I see the dudes from Sigur Rós all the time, they recorded at the studio I used to manage. Locals just leave them alone, it’s the tourists that gawk at them, hence them having houses in other countries.
Do Icelanders really believe in elves?
The billion dollar question. Yes and no? It’s safer to have a courteous ambivalence, just in case. I know some people that do, and some people that categorically don’t, it just depends on their mystical leanings. I believe in unicorns, so by default elves are out there too!
What would you advise anyone wanting to move to Iceland?
Get a warm jacket and sensible boots.
The entire series of Trapped is available on SBS On Demand. Watch the first episode right here: