Welcome to Iceland!

A visit to a Nordic neighbor

Photo: Hansueli Krapf / Wikimedia Commons
In 2011, Editor-in-chief Lori Ann Reinhall visited the not-so-sleepy village Siglufjörður in northern Iceland.

Dear readers and friends,

A few years ago, our editorial team made the decision to feature one of Norway’s neighboring Nordic countries each summer, and with this issue, we welcome you to Iceland!

Eleven years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Iceland when my musical partner Jim Nelson and I were on tour with tour with act Duo Scandinavica, and it was an eye-opening experience.  Eye-opening because I had not been aware of the sheer natural beauty of the landscape but also because we met an openness and hospitality that is seldom encountered elsewhere. I found the Icelanders to be extremely receptive to people coming from another country, very keen to learn new things. To this day, I remember that our audience at our performance at the Siglufjörður Folk Music Festival in northern Iceland was the warmest and most receptive—what a memory!

Since then, I have realized that intellectual curiosity and broad-mindedness are characteristics of the Icelandic people. Perhaps this has something to do with their high literacy rate—99%—and the fact that it is an island culture. For centuries, Iceland was isolated for much of the world, which has enabled them to retain the language spoken by the Vikings and a unique cultural identity.

But now, times are changing, and the Icelanders are changing with them, too. While many of us like to look back on Iceland nostalgically as the land of the Vikings, today it is a thriving modern nation at the leading edge of many industries. Recently, at the Nordic Innovation Summit at the National Nordic Museum in Seattle, we learned about companies with expertise in everything ranging from geothermal energy to a multitude of software solutions for a variety of industries, among other things. Most of all, we were impressed by the keynote address of Iceland’s president, Dr. Guðni Th. Jóhannesson. Many thanks to our business editor, Michael Kleiner, for helping me put together a synopsis of his talk, which you can view online at YouTube, as well as other sessions from the symposium.

And then there is the new concept of travel and tourism in Iceland. Once a backwater, the island nation has become a top destination, especially for Nordics and those interested in the Nordic countries. Iceland is the gateway for many of us traveling to Scandinavia and Europe and vice versa. Many travelers have opted to stop over in Reykjavík for a day or two, or we have simply put Iceland on our travel bucket lists.

Some have wondered about the impact of the influx of all these tourists: will it change Iceland for the better or worse? A few years back at a conference here in Seattle, I got the opportunity to ask the former president of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, this very question. He was very quick to answer that tourism is improving the quality of life for Icelanders with increased economic opportunities and a broadened world view. At the same time, he assured me that Iceland is doing everything it can to preserve its cultural identity, including the language. In this vein, we are happy to share a concurring opinion by Gunnar “Dr. Gunni” Hjálmarsson. Granted, it  is a bit tongue-in-cheek, with the wry humor so characteristic of many Icelanders.

It is, of course, impossible to present more than a few snapshots of what is happening in Iceland, past and present, within the scope of one small issue, but we hope you will enjoy the features we’ve selected. I want to take the opportunity to thank all of our writers who have worked to make this special issue extra special. You will find features by regular staff and contributors, including Mary Jo Thorsheim from Norway Art® and Melinda Bargreen, a seasoned critic and writer for major publications. And then there  are  the Icelanders and all the others, who have so generously taken part as guest contributors. You are no doubt already amazed by the photography of Drew Doggett that appears on the cover. From Icelandic horses to Icelandic sweaters, Icelandic art to Icelandic food specialties, this issue is truly a feast for the eyes.

I want to remind everyone that this issue marks the start of our summer publishing break, so don’t be alarmed if you don’t receive a newspaper during the month of August. It’s a great time to get caught up on your reading; remember, you can explore our digital archives at norwegianamerican.comThe break gives our staff time to do some strategic planning behind the scenes and take a needed break for both travel and some needed rest. We will be back in the fall refreshed and ready to bring you more of the high-quality content that you enjoy.

On behalf of The Norwegian American team, I’d like to wish you a wonderful month of August. We’ll be back again in September!

Lori Ann

This article originally appeared in the July 29, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.