Þetta reddast! Oh. Great. Thanks.

by Charles Gittins

Þetta reddast, the quintessentially Icelandic phrase that every expat and most visitors to the country will have come across, is often translated as ‘don’t worry, everything will be fine’.

At its best, it does indeed mean that – it is a cheery, optimistic invitation to throw off the worries of life. But at worst, the phrase is an unfeeling weapon of infuriating psychological torture.

‘Throwing off the worries of life’ is the operative phrase motivating my rant (you have been warned!). Worries are a part of life – money, love, the dishwasher breaking down – and need to be dealt with. Decisively, effectively and – wherever possible – proactively.

They are not best addressed with a two-word throw-away remark which, rather than ‘everything will be fine’, can often be translated as ‘I couldn’t care less about your problem right now. Shut your noise and let me watch Landinn in peace.’

Þetta reddast is supposedly part of what makes Icelanders so cool. The insouciant, battle-hardened Icelander doesn’t bat an eye at the minor vicissitudes of life. He or she simply utters ‘þetta reddast’, cracks open another beer and places their faith in their lucky stars. And, on paper, this is pretty cool.

But life isn’t like that. Life brings challenges which need to be addressed. The þetta reddast brigade seem to think it is acceptable to sit back and let somebody or something else shoulder the burden. The reddast in þetta reddast is in a grammatical form known as the ‘passive voice’, and for good reason. “I am not going redda this. It’s going to have to redda itself!”

If our þetta reddast friends don’t delegate their problem, then they deal with it themselves at the last minute – in a state of utter panic, disorganisation and frenzy, unapologetically dragging others into the stressful swirling vortex of their in-the-nick-of-time life management. Not quite so cool, to my mind.

Þetta reddast – as a phrase – has so much potential. My heart sings when I hear it. “Fantastic!” respond I. “Hurrah! Everything will be fine! Now let’s discuss exactly when and how everything will be fine. What practical steps can I take now to ensure everything will be fine?”

At this point, the face of your Icelander will drop. Þetta reddast is meant to be the end of a conversation, not the beginning of one.

Personally, I like to have a good go at getting life right. I like to plan, discuss and organise. I like to try and solve problems before they become crises. Call me a square, I don’t care.

In my efforts to deal with what life throws at me, I find þetta reddast my most bitter enemy. It is carte blanche to not care when somebody has asked you for help. And sometimes it makes me want to scream.

All this is, of course, something of an exaggeration, but I do often experience þetta reddast as a rejection, a disengagement. I didn’t come to you for a chirpy fart of mindless optimism. I came to you for actual, practical information and help (or a good natter about my feelings and a shoulder to cry on). Try responding to an Icelander’s ‘Þetta reddast’ with ‘OK. How exactly?’ – their face is always a picture.

Þetta reddast is the ‘triumph’ of the reactive over the proactive. The ultimate discharge of personal responsibility.

It can be a beautiful two words, used in moderation and for relatively unimportant things – the Icelandic version of the British ‘stiff upper lip’. But when it becomes a catch-all mantra, the phrase becomes sinister, inconsiderate and extremely annoying.

Of course, I’m not advocating banning þetta reddast – perish the thought! I would just urge Icelanders to replace it once it a while with: “Oh, I have an idea how we can solve this problem: [insert possible solution – good or bad, that’s not the point – here].”

It would make at least one highly-strung Brit very happy.

Charles Gittins

Charles Gittins

Charles has worked as a journalist since February 2015, writing English-language news items for mbl.is. He has a Master’s degree in Modern Languages from Oxford University (UK) and a BA degree in Icelandic from the University of Iceland. @CharlesGittins

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