A few years back I had the opportunity to have dinner with the President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, at his house just outside Reykjavik. This incredible experience was in conjunction with a tourism campaign being run by Inspired by Iceland. The campaign involved Icelandic residents inviting tourists to join them in their homes and experience their country and culture as a local. I was honored and truly grateful to have been selected to join the President for an evening of dinner and conversation. The fact that the President was participating in the campaign for his citizens speaks greatly to the connection the office historically maintains to the everyday people of Iceland.
The warmth to which we were welcomed is no surprise. Icelanders are know for their welcome embrace and willingness to open their doors and share their culture with others. This was demonstrated when the First Lady asked the media that were covering our trip to wrap up their coverage so that we may feel like we were in our own home stating, She said, “When we have guests in our houses in Iceland, we want them to feel like they are in their own homes”.
We were given a personal tour of the modest grounds with particular pride taken in showing us the greenhouses from which the ingredients for our dinner had been grown. I was taken aback by general openness of the President and First Lady to answer our questions without general fear in their answers of political misspeak. Just honest and candid responses. It was quite refreshing and once again demonstrated to us the genuine hospitality one can expect when interacting with Icelanders.
After a wonderful dinner which included traditional Icelandic pancakes prepared in the style of the President’s hometown, we enjoyed a light and candid coffee with the President. Iceland may be a tiny country, but it still struck me to be sitting across from a sitting President and feeling so comfortable. A testament once again to the warmth of this wonderful country.
As the evening wrapped up, I was invited to spend the following day with a local family. Ordinarily, there are expectations when traveling that one judges their experiences on. Going to meet this family, there were no expectations aside from the simple act of strangers coming together. There would be no ‘epic’ photographs for me to post to social media. And I will say after spending the day with the family, it remains one of the most memorable experiences of all my world travels. We sat for hours, talking about whatever the conversation flowed. I left their house smiling. To this day I can’t explain why. It was a powerful moment that I struggle to even explain. It must be experienced. And with that I say, take some time and visit Iceland. But when you do, think about breaking away from the gorgeous natural landscape of Iceland and spend some time with the equally enriching people of Iceland. You will not be disappointed.