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About Alda Sigmundsdottir
Alda Sigmundsdóttir is an Icelandic-born writer, journalist and speaker. She is the author of several books about Iceland, on topics ranging from contemporary issues to mythology and ancient beliefs. She has travelled widely and given talks on Icelandic affairs, and is a regular commentator on those in the international media.
Catch up with Alda on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, or on her website aldasigmunds.com, where you can also sign up for her monthly newsletter.
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Among the fascinating subjects broached in The Little Book of the Icelanders:
The appalling driving habits of the Icelanders
Naming conventions and customs
The Icelanders’ profound fear of commitment
The irreverence of the Icelanders
Why Icelandic women are really men
How the Icelanders manage to make social interactions really complicated
The importance of the family in Icelandic society
Where to go to meet the real Icelanders (and possibly score some free financial advice)
Rituals associated with weddings, confirmations, graduations, and deaths
… and many, many more.
One chapter leads to the next, creating a continuous chain of storytelling. It feels as if you’re sitting in the author’s kitchen, enjoying a cup of coffee and conversing with her about the quirks of her countrymen, every now and then bursting out laughing. [...] I’m going to heartily recommend The Little Book of the Icelanders, both to fans of Sigmundsdóttir’s blog and those unfamiliar with her work.
- Iceland Review Online
There aren’t many books I’d recommend reading over morning coffee but The Little Book of the Iceanders is one of them. [...] I laughed at the essays in this book, not because I was laughing at Icelanders but because I recognize much of the behaviour in myself and members of my family. It felt good. It’s not just the sanest, most impressive characteristics that we pass on and share but also some of the zaniest. As I read this book, I frequently thought, yup, I’m definitely part Icelandic.
- Lögberg-Heimskringla, Canada
Among the topics addressed in this book:
• Why now? - Reasons for the tourism boom in Iceland
• The impact of tourism on Iceland’s housing market, health care system, law enforcement, search and rescue operations, and more
• Klondike fever in the Icelandic tourism industry
• Touring Iceland and staying safe: the main dangers of travel in Iceland
• Out driving: essential things to keep in mind on Iceland’s roads
• What they think of us: complaints that tourists of different nationalities have about Iceland and Icelanders
• What we think of them: tourist behaviours that really, seriously irk the Icelanders
• Crazy stories of tourists in Iceland
• The environmental footprint: depletion of natural resources, pollution, and the physical impact of tourism
• Taxing tourists, or not - the endless debate
• How the locals really feel about the tourist invasion
• The truth about those Iceland myths: jailed bankers, refusal to bail out banks, believing in elves, incest app, promiscuity, disgusting food …
… and much, much more.
The international media has had a particular infatuation with the Icelanders’ elf belief, generally using it to propagate some kind of “kooky Icelanders” myth. Yet Iceland’s elf folklore, at its core, reflects the plight of a nation living in abject poverty on the edge of the inhabitable world, and its people’s heroic efforts to survive, physically, emotionally and spiritually. That is what the stories of the elves, or hidden people, are really about.
In a country that was, at times, virtually uninhabitable, where poverty was endemic and death and grief a part of daily life, the Icelanders nurtured a belief in a world that existed parallel to their own. This was the world of the hidden people, which more often than not was a projection of the most fervent dreams and desires of the human population. The hidden people lived inside hillocks, cliffs or boulders, very close to the abodes of the humans. Their homes were furnished with fine, sumptuous objects. Their clothes were luxurious, their adornments beautiful. Their livestock was better and fatter, their sheep yielded more wool than regular sheep, their crops were more bounteous. They even had supernatural powers: they could make themselves visible or invisible at will, and they could see the future.
To the Icelanders, stories of elves and hidden people are an integral part of the cultural and psychological fabric of their nation. They are a part of their identity, a reflection of the struggles, hopes, resilience and endurance of their people.
All this and more is the subject of this book.
While this is the first time the book appears in electronic form, 12 of the stories were previously published in physical form on two separate occasions. The book has been out of print for about four years. In the digital edition, an introduction has been added, as well as a “field guide” to the various apparitions that appear in the book, and three more stories.
From a review in the Reykjavík Grapevine:
"[T]his short collection of folk tales is a fascinating introduction to Icelandic myth for the uninitiated anglophone. Fascinating and confounding in equal measure. [...] Icelandic Folk Legends is a vivid portrait of pre-20th century Iceland – as much in terms of living conditions and landscape as of imagination, values and belief. Part of its appeal is that the tales spring from the magical imagination that Iceland’s varied and unforgiving landscape inspires. Beyond that, however, the questions they raise offer a fascinating window onto the values espoused by close-knit, rural communities as they struggle with the natural and supernatural forces that threaten their everyday lives."
This is a must-read book for anyone interested in the Icelandic people, their culture - and of course their language.
In these 50 miniature essays, Alda Sigmundsdottir writes about the Icelanders in centuries past in a light and humourous way, yet never without admiration and respect for the resilience and strength they showed in coping with conditions of adversity that are barely imaginable today. Their ways of interacting with the natural world are described, as are their sometimes tragic, sometimes ingenious, means of dealing with maltreatment and injustice from the church and other rulers. These forms of oppression include a trade monopoly imposed by Denmark that lasted nearly two centuries, a ban on dancing that lasted for a similar length of time, the forced dissolution of households when the breadwinner of the family died, the tyranny of merchants granted exclusive right to trade with the Icelanders, and the dreaded decrees of the Grand Judgement - a court of law that was set up to punish various offenses, real or imagined.
Yet it is not only the “big picture” that is described in this book, but also the various smaller aspects that shed light on the daily life of the Icelanders of old. These include their ingenious ways of coping with lack, of preserving food, of finding shelter, of creating or admitting light into their homes, as well as the innumerable and sometimes wacky superstitions attached to various life events, big and small. The hilarious customs of hospitality and visiting are also described, as are some of the sexual activates of Icelanders in the past, their belief in elves and hidden people, sexual interactions with hidden people (!), ways of dealing with grief, interactions with foreigners, and much, much more.
Today’s Iceland is a modern, cosmopolitan place, with one of the highest standards of living in the world. Yet less than a century ago, this paragon of equality and peace was the poorest society in Europe. The conditions of life described in this book are therefore not very distant from the Icelanders today, and many of the aspects described are still very much reflected in Iceland’s unique culture. For example, the harsh climate and isolation of the past meant that there was a serious lack of grains for food. Consequently the Icelanders devised ways to make breads and cakes that used very little flour. The Icelandic “pancake”, similar to a French crepe, is still very much a part of traditional Icelandic celebrations, as is the “laufabraud” - a wafer-thin, deep-fried bread that is traditionally eaten at Christmas. The Icelandic language is also rich with throwbacks to the past - for instance the Icelandic word for “windfall” is “hvalreki” which literally means “beached whale” - this because a single beached whale in the old days was usually enough to feed an entire district, or one household for a full year, something that was immensely welcome in a country where food was in short supply.
In short, The Little Book of the Icelanders in the Old Days is not only a funny, witty and wise expose on the Icelanders’ daily life in the past, it is also essential to understanding the Icelandic national character today.
In this book, Alda Sigmundsdóttir invites you on a journey of Iceland’s magical Yuletide season, all the way to New Year’s Eve, and beyond. You will learn about the special foods, traditions and customs that makes Christmas in Iceland so special, and meet a colourful cast of characters that are such an integral part of the Yule. In her inimitable style, and using examples from her own life, Alda gives you not only the modern version of Christmas, but also the historical and cultural background to many of that traditions that are still observed today.
Sample from the book:
“Quick question: did you receive this book as a Christmas gift?
If you answered yes, you will have been party to one of the best-loved Icelandic Yule traditions: giving or receiving a book for Christmas. This tradition is so entrenched in Icelandic society that it feels like it must have been around forever. Not so. It began during World War II, when there were strict limitations on imports, though for some reason the restrictions on imported paper were less severe. The Icelanders were flush with affluence at this time—WWII was referred to as the “blessed war” since the British and later American occupation had brought jobs, and therefore money—but they had few things on which to spend their unprecedented wealth.
Except, well, paper. Only, there was not a whole lot you could do with paper, except … print books? Perfect, since the Icelanders were already intensely proud of their literary heritage, associating it with the glory days of the Sagas and Eddas, before the nation was colonized and driven into poverty and humiliation. In no time at all books became extremely popular gifts, and indeed were THE gift to give at Christmas.
This custom has remained, and today Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country in the world, almost all of them in the six-or-so weeks leading up to Christmas. This deluge of books that hits the market at that time is known as jólabókaflóðið, or the Christmas book flood.
Make no mistake: jólabókaflóðið is a big deal. Each year the latest releases receive a massive buzz, in the media and everywhere else—folks discussing which titles are good and which are lame, which are likely to sell and which are not, which book covers are exceptional and which are horrid, which books they can’t wait to read and which they plan to skip. Indeed, one of the most eagerly-awaited publications annually is not a book at all, but rather the yearly Bókatíðindi (Book News) catalogue that lists all titles published in that particular year (provided their publishers have paid for a listing—most do) and which is delivered free to each household in the country. In recent years Bókatíðindi has featured upwards of 600 published titles, though with eBooks and audiobooks added, that number easily exceeds 700 in a given year. Which perhaps does not sound like much in countries with one thousand times Iceland’s population, but when you factor in that Iceland’s population is a mere 350,000 souls, it is a whole lot.”
Living Inside the Meltdown is the first published collection of interviews with ordinary people about Iceland’s economic meltdown. In this selection of candid interviews, ten individuals share their thoughts, feelings and experiences of living through those extraordinary days.
How did a police officer feel who had to take a stand against protesters during the ensuing political crisis, which culminated in the Kitchenware Revolution. Did he sympathize with them, or was he opposed? Did he want to join the protesters? And looking back, how does he view this time?
How did someone who worked in a bank feel going to work on the day the bank melted down? What was the atmosphere like? What was her workday like?
What about those people who were students abroad when currency controls were suddenly implemented and who were cut off from their financial source? Some of them had small children – how did they cope in a foreign country with no access to money?
What about small business owners, who suddenly had to pay for orders up front because no one trusted them? And what was it like for foreigners who lived in Iceland and who had a limited understanding of what was going on. Were they afraid? From where did they get their news?
The answers to those questions, plus many, many more, may be found in this book.
“If you take anything away from this review, let it be this: You must read this book. [...] If you are currently living through the recession (this goes for people anywhere in the world, but in particular, in Iceland), you will be able to share in the common experience of these people’s stories. [...] The book isn’t a collection of rants, nor is it an all out sob-fest, but rather gives accounts on the same topic, the collapse, each with its own story and insight.” – Iceland Review
Welke fascinerende onderwerpen komen allemaal aan bod in Het Kleine Boek der IJslanders?
Het verschrikkelijke rijgedrag van de IJslanders
Gewoonten en gebruiken rond naamgeving
De diepgewortelde angst van de IJslanders om zich ergens toe te verplichten
De IJslandse oneerbiedigheid
Waarom IJslandse vrouwen eigenlijk mannen zijn
Hoe de IJslanders het voor elkaar krijgen sociale aangelegenheden heel ingewikkeld te maken
Het belang van de familie in de IJslandse samenleving
Waar je heen moet om de echte IJslanders te ontmoeten (en je misschien zelfs gratis financiële adviezen krijgt)
Rituelen rond huwelijk, confirmatie, afstuderen en overlijden…
… en nog veel, veel meer.
Dans ces 50 courts essais, Alda Sigmundsdottir écrit sur les Islandais des siècles passés de manière légère et humoristique, mais sans jamais se départir d'admiration et de respect pour la résistance et l'énergie dont ils ont fait preuve face à des difficultés qui sont à peine imaginables aujourd'hui. La manière dont ils ont su tirer parti de leur environnement naturel est décrite, de même que les moyens, parfois tragiques, parfois ingénieux, qu'ils ont mis en œuvre pour résister aux mauvais traitements et aux injustices de l'église et des autres dirigeants.
C’est non seulement le tableau d'ensemble qui est brossé dans ce livre, mais aussi les divers petits aspects qui éclairent la vie quotidienne des anciens Islandais. Cela comprend leurs trésors d'ingéniosité pour conserver les aliments, trouver un abri, créer ou laisser passer la lumière dans leurs maisons, ainsi que les superstitions innombrables et parfois loufoques attachées aux différents événements de la vie, petits et grands. Les drôles de coutumes liées à l'hospitalité et aux échanges sont également décrites, comme le sont certaines des activités sexuelles des Islandais dans le passé, leur croyance dans les elfes et le peuple caché, les relations sexuelles avec ces créatures (!), leurs façons de faire face à la douleur, leur comportement à l'égard des étrangers, et bien plus encore.
L’Islande d'aujourd'hui est un lieu moderne et cosmopolite, avec l'un des plus hauts niveaux de vie dans le monde. Pourtant, il y a moins d'un siècle, ce parangon de l'égalité et de la paix a été le pays le plus pauvre d'Europe. Les conditions de vie décrites dans ce livre ne sont donc pas très éloignées de celles des Islandais d’aujourd'hui et la plupart des aspects décrits se retrouvent encore dans la culture singulière de l'Islande. En bref, Le Petit Livre des Islandais du temps jadis n’est pas seulement un exposé drôle, plein d'esprit et de sagesse sur la vie quotidienne des Islandais dans le passé, il est également essentiel à la compréhension du caractère national islandais aujourd'hui.