An American in Reykjavík: The Seattle of the North Atlantic
Matt Eliason has just moved to Reykjavík, Iceland from Chicago, Illinois. In his regular column for Iceland Magazine he chronicles his first impressions of the country, its people and traditions.
I often get asked by friends and family back home, what American city most accurately compares to my temporary residence of Reykjavík, Iceland? My immediate answer is always, there is no city, or country for that matter, which remotely resembles the city of Reykjavík or the country of Iceland. However, the more I thought about it, the more eerie similarities I began to notice between the “Viking Nation’s” capital city of Reykjavik and the west coast American city of Seattle, Washington.
Singing in the Rain
One unfortunate, but unavoidable similarity between the two cities is the dreary weather patterns that define both of these coastal areas. Since moving to Reykjavík my clothes have been in a constant state of "dampening" due to the frequent rain showers that seem to appear at a moments notice. The saying goes, "If you don’t like the weather right now, just wait five minutes," as Reykjavík's weather conditions are highly inconsistent and unpredictable. There are an average of 150 days with rainfall each year in the capital, although showers are usually brief and scattered.
Seattle is also known for its bland, grungy climate. With 150 days a year producing some sort of precipitation and over 200 days a year producing cloudy forecasts, the Seattle climate bares an uncanny resemblance to the dampening conditions of Reykjavík, Iceland. This is largely impart to the similar coastal placement of the two cities, which attracts rainfall from the large bodies of water located adjacently to the west. Therefore, if you are walking the streets of Reykjavík, or sidewalks of Seattle, make sure to pack your raincoat because you never know when you are going to get caught in a downpour.
Despite their northerly geographies, both Reykjavík and Seattle have relatively mild winters. During the Reykjavik winter months you will rarely see the temperature drop below freezing, and it really only snows for one month during the winter. Seattle's winters are also relatively mild compared to the rest of the country. Daytime highs are about 45 degrees and lows are 35. Seattle was even declared "The wussiest winter" in the United States. Thus, the constant rainfall may cause some inconveniences for "Seattleites" and "Reykjavikers," however, as a native Chicagoan I feel no sympathy for these weak winters that softly grace these two coastal towns.
While the weather may not be perfect in either seaside town, a positive side-effect coming from the dreary atmosphere is the distinct music styles exported out of both cities. Seattle is renowned for its role as the grunge rock capital of the world. Bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and the Foo Fighters gave this west coast city an identity for producing anti-establishment rock bands that dominated the airwaves during the 1990s. Furthermore, the Seattle indie rock scene has continued the emerald city's storied tradition, with bands emerging like Death Cab for Cutie and Modest Mouse. Maybe the rainy weather forces everyone to stay inside and practice their instruments, but there is something peculiar about Seattle that brings out the best in young musicians trying to make it big in the rock music culture.
Reykjavik is also known for its indie rock scene with musical performances frequently taking place all over the dive bars of the downtown area. Iceland is obviously known for its more famous exports Björk and Sigur Rós, however, the number of indie rock bands coming out of Reykjavik is abnormally high considering the city only has 118,000 people. The most recent band to make it big is Of Monsters and Men, whose hit Little Talks has over 7.5 million views on YouTube. Pollapönk is another Icelandic indie band making waves after recently representing Iceland at the Eurovision Music Contest with their hit No Prejudice. We can't talk about Icelandic music without mentioning the heavy metal scene. While I am not in this demographic of extreme rockers, metal heads from all of the world are taking notice of Reykjavik's heavy metal influence. The similar music styles that encapsulate both cultures is shockingly homogeneous, and plays a large role in the identity of Seattle and Reykjavik.
Home Field Advantage
Supporting the local team is a passion that holds greater significance to specific communities. Since moving to Reykjavik, I have experienced the loyalty and passion of the fans first hand while watching some of the local sporting events. Maybe the loyalty stems from living in a smaller, more isolated location, which gives Icelanders a greater sense of pride when they see their team do well. Regardless of the reason, Icelander's support their fellow countrymen with fierce allegiance.
This unfaltering sense of city pride is also evident in Seattle, where the local soccer club, the Seattle Sounders, has garnered unwavering support. In addition, the city of Seattle unites behind their beloved Super Bowl Champions, the Seattle Seahawks, with fans that are known as "the 12th man" for their noise and passion. Why do the people of Seattle love their sport teams so much? I think they realize that their moral support actually makes a difference on the field. The Seahawks only lost 1 game at home the entire year, and the fans support had a lot to do with that success.
Looking at Reykjavik and Seattle from a sporting prospective, the citizens of both cities exemplify their support for the local team through passionate displays of encouragement. There is a bond that connects the local teams of these communities with their supporter groups. And for this reason, the identity of these two towns becomes intertwined. In short, Reykjavik and Seattle are both great sports towns.
After telling my Icelandic friends about the Reykjavik-Seattle comparison, I was informed that Seattle, Washington actually contains the second highest population of Icelandic-Americans. With the exception of California, which is a much larger and more populated landmass, the emerald city of Seattle possesses the greatest number of Icelanders - which makes perfect sense. People tend to gravitate towards "the familiar," and the easiest way to adjust to a new country is to find a location that bears similarities to your native land.
I believe Seattle became a settling ground for Icelanders because many of the city's quirks reminded the Icelandic-Americans of their native Reykjavík. While New York City is just a 4 hour flight from Keflavik Airport in Iceland, a flight from Iceland to Seattle is upwards of 10 hours. However, New York might as well be a different planet from your typical Icelandic town. Meanwhile, the extra six hour trip to Seattle is worth it to Icelanders migrating to the states becauase the climate, sense of hometown loyalty, and local music scene more closely resemble the culture in Reykjavik, Iceland. Therefore, I declare Seattle as the "American Simile" to the Icelandic capital of Reykjavík.
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