Do you know everything there is to know about Icelanders? We bet you don’t! Whether you’re a newcomer to Iceland, or a longtime Iceland-o-phile, the Land of Fire and Ice certainly has a few surprises in store for you.
1. COCA-COLA CRAZE
Icelanders love coca-cola, even to the point of including it in cooking recipes and serving it at Christmas dinner. At 30 gallons per year, they consume more of the drink than any other nation per capital.
2. JÓN GNARRRR
Jón Gnarr might go down in history as one of the wackier politicians in the world. He was a comedian, actor and punk rock er until he decided to form The Best Party in 2009 (as a joke) and run for Mayor of Capital. It was perhaps no surprise to anyone when he won the elections in 2010 and served four years as Reykavik’s Mayor.
3. ICELANDERS LOVE THEIR WEIRD MUSEUMS
Reykjavik is home to the World’s only Penis Museum, which showcases whale penises and even alleged elf penises. Last November, Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols opened up Punk Museum, in a former toilet on the crossroads of Bankastræti and Lækjargata. It documents Iceland’s punk music history, with memorabilia and photographs.
4. …AND STINKY FOODS.
Iceland has a fair share of traditional dishes, a surprisingly amount of which are really stinky. They are all salted, dried or fermented, thanks to old ways of preservation. We’re talking sheep head, sour lamb’s testicles, blood pudding, rotten shark, and a special little delicacy known as skata (skate). If you though rotten shark was bad, try putrefied skate, considered the stinkiest dish in Iceland. The Mass of Saint Thorlakur is celebrated on December 23, and is about the only time of the year when skata is eaten. You’ll probably smell a waft of it just walking around the city.
5. BUT NOT SO MCDONALD’S!
It might be impossible to believe, but there are no McDonald’s fast food joints in all of Iceland. There is, however, the remains of the last McBurger at the Bus Hostel in Reykjavik. Yes, you read that right. Just before the last McDonald’s closed its doors on October 30, 2009, one Hjörtur Smárason bought a cheeseburger and fries. He wanted to save it as a token to stored it on a garage shelf. Three years later, he checked on it, only to find that it looked exactly the same as the day he bought it. You can watch it “rot” on livecam here.
6. ICELANDERS LOVE ICE CREAM.
You might not think it in a country so far North and freezing, but Icelanders adore ice cream. Whether in blizzards or darkness or sunshine, don’t be surprised to see a queue up to the ice cream parlor. Most have a sweet tooth and will swear by their favorite ice cream joint. The tie tends to be between Brynja in Akureyri and Valdís, by the old harbour in Reykjavik. You can even get frozen milk and yoghurt at gas stations.
7. YOU CAN SURF IN ICELAND.
Yes, surfing in Iceland is a thing. The surfing community is small, but most of the best surf spots are just an hour’s drive from the capital. High surf reliability. A great challenge for experienced surfers. World-class waves and picturesque scenery make for awesome surfing conditions. Surf media around the world is calling Iceland the new Morocco. You can also go scuba-diving, swimming, all in the heart of winter! If you fancy catching the waves, book a trip with Arctic Surfers–the one and only tour operator in Iceland for surfing.
There’s also a documentary coming out soon on surfing in Iceland.
Be sure to check ‘The Accord’ that out!
8. SITTING STROLLERS ON THE SIDEWALK.
It’s perfectly acceptable in Icelandic culture to leave babies in strollers outside on the sidewalk. The parent pops in for groceries or a cup of coffee, and the babies left unattended. Most countries deem this practice odd and even dangerous–but for Icelanders, what’s the harm? The reasoning is that the babies are sleeping, they’re breathing fresh air, and after all–who’d want to steal a baby in Iceland? Icelanders have been doing this for centuries and they find nothing at all queer about it. You can imagine the trouble when they try to do the same abroad though!
9. THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT.
There are roughly 320,000 Icelanders, 2/3 of whom live in Reykjavik and its immediate surroundings. With a population so small, it’s only natural that folks would be related–which means dating was a real problem. So, Icelanders decided to invent an app that would check how far separate your gene pools were.
10. ICELANDERS LEARN KNITTING IN SCHOOLS.
Yes, knitting is a time-honored tradition in Iceland, born from those long winter nights sitting by the fire. It’s still routine on the curriculum, so each child learns it. A very useful skill preparing for those cold months.
There’s even an old poem that goes:
“Since you are almost four years old
it’s about time you were put to work.
That is to learn the three arts
to read, knit and spin.”
11. CONTROVERSY ABOUT WHALES.
Commercial whaling in Iceland is still legal with reservations. The government issues special licenses for whalers with a fishing cap. But there is a lot of controversy surrounding the issue–Icelanders tend to be divided on this issue. In general, it’s best to avoid this sensitive topic in conversation.
12. EVERY YEAR, ICELANDERS LIGHT A PEACE TOWER IN THE MIDDLE OF THE OCEAN.
The Imagine Peace Tower is an art project established by Yoko Ono. On October 8, 2007, she revealed an outdoor beam of light on Viðey Island across the harbour of Reykjavik. It’s to commemorate her late husband John Lennon, and spread a message of peace, inspiration and solidarity to the world. It’s lit annually from the date of his birth, October 9 to that of his death, December 8–as well as during the winter solstice and spring equinox, and on New Year’s Eve.
13. FIRST NAMES ARE A GIVEN.
As mentioned earlier, Iceland is small, and everyone seems to know each other. A sense of informality is widespread, people treat each other like friends or countrymen rather than strangers. Speaking of names–even the President is known by his first name–local news calls him Guðni instead of by his last name Jóhannesson.
Know another weird fact about Iceland? Share with us in the comments!
Free Roamer & Travel Writer Extraordinaire