Friday, June 22, 2012
On (Not) Passing
With streets as pretty as these, is it any wonder Reykjavik is well dressed?
On one of my first nights in Iceland, Isa, a new friend named Laura, and I went out to dinner and were interrupted by a drunk Icelandic man. (There are many of these in Reykjavik). He began talking to us and we asked him how he knew to approach us in English. He pointed to Isa (who is a redhead) and said that he could tell she was Irish. He pointed to Laura (who has brown hair and is very tan) and said she was Spanish. Then he pointed at me. “And you,” he said. “You’re just American.”
These comments were obviously mostly inaccurate. They were also problematic, not to mention slurred. Nevertheless, I took them quite seriously and have spent the last two weeks trying to make up for this blow. Before spending much time here, I was under the incorrect assumption that I could pass for Icelandic. I thought it was a question of coloring, only to learn it’s actually one of face shape. There's apparently quite a difference between looking Scandinavian and looking Nordic, and my Danish roots just don't cut it. I'm finding, however, that it's also often a question of fashion.
As I’ve walked around Reykjavik over the last two weeks, I have come to accept that I will never be as hip as Icelanders. They walk around in open-toed sandals despite the 50-degree weather and wear a conglomeration of clothing from over-priced vintage stores that I can only describe as “European 90s in Space”. They are beautiful. I have never seen anyone pull off suspenders like an Icelandic man can.
The hippest fashion accessory seems to be a baby. I have no idea what the statistics are on pregnancies in Iceland, though I do know it is much more common here for young couples to have kids but never get married. There just seems to be a large contingent of beautifully dressed blond women in sweaters and yellow tights with a picturesque baby propped on their hip.
Striped over-sized sweater: check. Small vintage bag: check. Leggings: check. Baby: check.
I wish I had more photos to show you of these fashion choices, but somehow I think whipping out my camera to document them would probably not help my obvious American appearance.
Infinitely cool over-sized mustard jacket: Check. Icelandic sweater: check. Baby: check.
I've been on the search for the perfect Icelandic sweater since I arrived, and, though it may not be perfect, I recently purchased one (as well as a pair of secondhand boots) at a Red Cross store downtown. For weeks now I've been scoffing at the price of sweaters (it's rare to find them for less than $100), but I found one that's an "old design" and has holes in the elbows for $17. I'm currently working on fixing these holes but it hasn't stopped me from wearing it in the meantime.
Infinitely cool bright blue skirt: check. Scandinavian top bun: check.
Amazingly, I've found that I can (occasionally) pass for Icelandic in certain outfits. (And they are not often combinations of clothing I would tend normally put together). I measure this by the number of people in cafes and shops downtown who speak to me in Icelandic. Of course, when someone speaks to me in Icelandic, I get way too excited and quickly blow my cover. "What made you think I was Icelandic?" I desperately asked one guy ringing me up at the grocery store the other day when he announced my total. “It’s raining and you’re not wearing a raincoat, so I didn’t think you were a tourist.” He told me.
I’ve noticed that when I wear my new Icelandic sweater, one of the long skirts I have with me, a secondhand/vintage blue dress, my oversized olive green jacket, or my hair in side braids or what I term the “the Scandinavian top bun”, I am spoken to in Icelandic about 50% more often. No joke.
This baby is saying "Don't even try, Nell. You will never have as unique a twisty/braid hairstyle as I have right now. Also, my 6 year-old sister is wearing shorts over tights."
You’d think that after living out of a suitcase for almost a year (and in many places where I have no hope of "passing"), I'd have given up by now, but instead it's left me having (literal) dreams about what awaits me in my closet in Burlington. (All of my dreams in Iceland have been very strange. I blame it on the fact that I’m always sleeping when it’s light outside).
Now I just need to find myself a baby.
p.s. Icelanders are not usually this patriotic. Most of the photos above were taken on Icelandic Independence Day on June 17th. (A great excuse for people watching).
Icelandic babies don't usually dress like the girl above (she was in a traditional costume for Independence Day), but how cute is that?