Icelanders are not like me.
Now, they LOOK like me – given my current haircut, I could pass for an Icelander as long as nobody spoke to me (okay, I might have to wear more Euro-type clothing). And, while their language is ancient and foreign, it’s Teutonic enough that I can often puzzle out the cognates.
But – they aren’t like me down deep.
Here’s a gravestone from a cemetery in Reykjavik:
This is obviously a husband and wife – but the astute observer will note that they have different last names. Now, in Amurrica in 2019, that wouldn’t be that uncommon – but this was in the 30s and 40s.
You’ll note that there’s a third name – with a third last name – on there, as well – with a death date that looks like 1936. We’ll get to that.
Magnus is the husband, and Agustina is the wife. Magnus’ last name is Erlingson, and Augutina’s is Torpadottir. Those words mean, literally, “Erling’s son” and “Torpa’s daughter”.
That’s how last names work in Iceland – you have your father’s first name as the root of your last name, and “-son” or “-dottir” added, depending on your gender.
All around this grave, there are newer graves – of people named “Magnusson” and “Magnusdottir”. The children are sharing a burial plot with the parents. I suspect that the third name on the above plot was a child who died young, and was buried in the parents’ plot.
This means just exactly this – that you do not have a family name. You don’t give your family name to your children, and then it’s not passed to theirs. It means that you can’t say “The Joneses have lived in this town for a hundred years” – because every generation, the names change.
(There are exceptions – some folks in the 1800s had family names, and still use them. And if the wife or children want to distance themselves from the father for whatever reason, then they use Mom’s first name as the root – in this case, the children would have been, say, “Einar Augustinason” or “Margret Augustinadottir”. But the above is the general rule).
So, yeah, that’s different. I think that we can all agree that that’s different.
But that’s just skimming the surface of different – because, here we go. This is not just a TRADITION. It’s actually the LAW. You HAVE to name your children like this.
There are, as I said, some few family names that took root in the 1800s and early 1900s, after the current system being in place for the previous thousand years. But folks realized that this was causing certain families to take root, and to establish themselves – and they thought that it caused a bit of a class system to start up – so they outlawed it, although there were exceptions in which families got to keep those names once they took hold.
And not only does the government tell you that you have to name your children using a certain convention – since last names come from first names, they also maintain a list of government-approved first names, gender specific, that you have to use to name your children.
When I first heard that, I sort of thought, “well, that’s cool – they’ve found something that works for them. And apparently nobody minds.” And I still think that that is true.
But then I thought – what if they tried to do something like that in America?
Church – would be out.
America is founded on the principle that once the government starts to meddle in your affairs too much, you’re actually supposed – it’s your DUTY – to take the family rifle down from the wall and go shoot them. (You’re free to read the Declaration of Independence however you wish, but I can’t see any other way to read it). That’s really what the Second Amendment is about; it’s not there so that we can repel invaders. It’s so that we can get rid of our own government if it becomes too oppressive.
People like that ain’t about to let anybody tell them how to name their young’uns.
I then tended to notice things – simple things, like the fact that, when I went downstairs to get coffee in the lobby at 7 AM, they walked out and shut down the coffee machine for cleaning, so that nobody got any coffee for the next half hour or so. And folks just shrugged and went about their business. Nobody said “Why in the world would you shut down the coffee machine at the most coffee-intensive hour of the day?”
I started to notice that authority in Iceland is simply accepted, and that folks don’t seem to argue with it, and nobody complains at all. Then I realized that the stores open very late, and close very early – and nobody complains.
Pretty much what any authority deems, is just accepted without comment.
Americans wouldn’t put up with any of that.
I realized that these folks are DIFFERENT.
Icelanders pretty much don’t fight. They have been in “wars” – small disputes with other countries – but as far as I can tell, the last time that more than 1 person died in one of these things was the 1000s, when a total of 24 Vikings died in two skirmishes. And I can’t tell that they’ve fought among themselves, as Icelanders, at all.
These folks are DIFFERENT.
Now that I’ve said some stuff about them, I’ll talk about me. Any observation of other folks has to result in an introspection, or it’s useless. And here’s what I learned about me, after realizing that these folks don’t complain or change things.
I…am not SUPPOSED to complain or changes things.
I’m not talking about “me the American” but “me the member of Alcoholics Anonymous”. We AAs “…have ceased fighting anything or anybody” and we long ago decided that our answer to Hamlet’s question is that it is indeed nobler in the hearts and minds of men to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
We have the Serenity Prayer and the Acceptance Page.
But I realized, while watching how these Icelanders live, that (and here’s the shameful thing) I’m glad that I do, indeed, live in America, where folks do complain, and argue, and fight.
Here’s the unworthy part – I can’t get away with that stuff without getting drunk. But I’m glad that I live in a society where other folks DO that stuff, so that I don’t have the government telling me how to name my kids. And so that the hotel makes sure that there’s coffee in the morning. And so that the grocery stores actually are open before I go to work, and still open after I get off.
That one bothered me. In fact, it still does 🙂