When you come to Iceland for the first time, there are many things that will surprise you. The wind and weather are almost always a shock for tourists and visitors alike. And little things like the words and expressions we use give small insights into our culture and way of thinking. A favorite phrase among Icelanders is “þetta reddast”. If you search on Google for a quick translation, you’ll discover that þetta reddast (pronounced thet-ta red-ust) means something along the lines of “it will work out”. This general reassurance is a philosophy that Icelanders live by. A sort of national slogan or motto, if you will. You’ll hear it all day everywhere. It’s just one of those ubiquitous phrases that we use without really thinking about it.
The expression is commonly used in a casual, upbeat way. As in, don’t worry, it will all be fine. Maybe you had something go wrong, like a flat tire on your car rental or being stranded in the middle of the Ring Road. The ironic thing is, there have been many events in Iceland’s relatively short history of things definitely not turning out okay. Disastrous natural phenomena like volcanic eruptions have wreaked havoc on the lives of Icelanders for centuries. One particular catastrophe, where 20% of the population lost their lives, springs to mind. Life here was very hard for a very long time.
A Land and People Shaped By Fire and Ice
So culturally, is Iceland a little bit like the Caribbean of the north? With our easy-going, laid-back attitude one might wonder this. An island nation where people are relaxed and take everything in stride with a great sense of humor. If you didn’t know any better, you might think I was describing Jamaica or another Caribbean nation. It’s kind of the Icelandic version of the Swahili “Hakuna Matata” or the Australian “No worries, mate”. Despite everything that could go wrong (or has), we’ve developed this feeling of “well, it will all be fine”.
Perhaps it relates back to Iceland’s history and culture. Iceland was settled by the Vikings in late 800 AD. Since then, we’ve been an island that has experienced famine, long, hard winters, and other decidedly unpleasant times. At one point in our history, 30% of babies didn’t live past the age of one. So you can imagine why we would want to inject some sort of optimism into an otherwise dreary environment. The unpredictability and harsh elements of Icelandic weather also probably helped forge the þetta reddast mindset. When storms sweep in and destroy your village or ruin the livestock that is your sole source of income and food, it’s easy to feel like things are out of your control. You really have no choice but to adopt the belief that it will all be okay.
The phrase can also be used to comfort someone. Sometimes you’re just not quite sure what to say, and þetta reddast is a catch-all for those slightly awkward moments.
Icelandic Culture: The Thetta Reddast Philosophy
So when you encounter trouble in Iceland and you hear þetta reddast, remember that no one is trying to blow you off. They just know that somehow, everything will be okay in the end. It is well known that we are all products of our environment. Iceland’s history, climate, and geology have certainly shaped our outlook on life for better or for worse. If you come here and something goes wrong, just pause for a moment. Take a deep breath, and remember þetta reddast: it will all be fine in the end.