20 Intriguing Fun Facts About Iceland

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Credits: UEFA Nations League

Iceland is not only the country of wonderful breathtaking landscapes. It’s inhabitants share a rich and fascinating culture. Here are 20 fun facts that will make you want to visit Icelanders and their intriguing island. Enjoy!

 

Food

NEVER SAY NO TO ICE CREAM

Cold temperature does not discourage Icelanders from standing in line at the Ice cream shop regardless of the season. You will find an Ice cream shop in almost every neighborhood in the capital area. Try Ísbuðin Valdís, Joylato or Brynja, our favorite ones!

 

NO MCDONALD’S OR STARBUCKS

Fast food restaurants do exist in Iceland but you will not find a McDonald’s or Starbucks anywhere unlike in most other cities. Although, the consumption of Coca Cola per capita is higher than in any other country!

 

BEER WAS ILLEGAL FOR 74 YEARS

Yep, there was a ban put on alcoholic drinks in Iceland in 1915. In 1935 the ban was partially lifted where stronger spirits were legalized but beer was not included until March 1, 1989. Still, to this day, the 1st of March is the Beer Day and it is very well celebrated by the locals.

 

TRADITIONAL FOOD IN ICELAND CAN BE QUITE SURPRISING…

These include hákarl (fermented shark), súrir hrútspungar (boiled and cured ram’s testicles) and lundabaggi (sheep’s loins also cured in lactic acid). These delicacies are mostly found during the annual festival of Þorrablot, celebrating the 4th month of winter according to the ancient Norse traditions and calendar. Oh, in Iceland, when someone thanks for the food, the answer will be “Verði þér að goðu!” Which can be translated into “Hope the food will do you well”! We will see about that…

 

Country

YOUNGEST LAND, OLDEST DEMOCRACY

Iceland has the world’s oldest extant parliamentary institution, Alþingi Parliament formed in 930. Which is remarkably interesting since Iceland is the last land in history to be populated. It is also, geologically, the youngest country to be formed.

 

ONE OF THE MOST ECO-FRIENDLY COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD

Roughly 90% of Icelandic homes enjoy heating and electricity from renewable energy and natural geothermal resources. This is one of the main factors that make Iceland rank one of the greenest environments in Europe.

 

ICELAND IS THE MOST PEACEFUL COUNTRY

First of all, the country does not have an army, navy or air force. Iceland has only waged one war, and it can barely be called war. Its name is “Þorskastríðið”, The Cod War, political disputes between the governments of Iceland and the UK over fishing grounds. The only weapons Icelanders used were scissors, to cut the enemies fishing nets…and WE WON! Also, the crime rate is very low in Iceland, hence, the police do not carry guns. The only officers permitted to carry firearms are on a special force called the Viking Squad, and they are seldom called out. One man has been shot by the police, ever.

 

IMPORTANT MAIN ROAD!

The “Ring Road”, road number 1, is the only national highway and goes all around the country. When it closes for bad weather conditions, there is no way around. One needs to wait for the main (and only) road to re-open!

 

Language

NAMING COMMITTEES

The government of Iceland has a naming committee for newborns. The Naming Committee approves the first names of all newborns in order to preserve the traditions and culture. The Icelandic Naming committee maintains an official register of approved Icelandic given name. Fun fact; the country also has a non-official government body, which two members are appointed by a government agency, regulating the name of horses, The Horse Naming Commission.

 

NO SURNAMES OR FAMILY NAMES

The Icelandic phone book lists people by their first name and the reason is that Icelanders do not use family names. Instead, they use the traditional Nordic naming system where the last name is taken from their father’s (or mother’s) first name with the addition of -dóttir (-daughter) or -son.  Jón Ólafsson’s offspring, for example, might be Einar Jónsson and Sigríður Jónsdóttir.

 

ICELANDERS SPEAK ON THE INHALE

This may be a surprise to some Icelanders (only because it is so natural) but we often speak on the inhale, mostly when saying Já (yes). The reason is a mystery but if you pay attention; you’ll notice and hopefully get a giggle.

 

A VERY PROUD NATION

The official written and spoken language in Iceland is Icelandic. It comes from the Old Norse and changed so little through time that students still read manuscripts written hundreds of years ago. On the 16th of November is “Dagur Íslenskrar Tungu”, The day of the Icelandic tongue (language).

 

Nature

NO MOSQUITOES

Yep, you can relax and enjoy a summer evening in Iceland without worrying about getting bit by these annoying insects. The weather stays too cold and windy during the summer to welcome them! There are also no reptiles or amphibians naturally in Iceland, hence there is none and is prohibited to own a pet lizard, turtle or snake.

 

THERE IS NO NIGHT DURING ALMOST 3 MONTHS

Because of its geographical position, Iceland gets extremely short days during the winter (only 4 hours) and no night between the end of May until the end of July. During the summer, the annual Arctic Open Golf Tournament in Akureyri, offers golfers to compete under the midnight sun, attracting players and watchers from all around the world.

 

Culture

GEOTHERMAL POOLS

Icelandic people use outdoor swimming pools in the winter just as much as in the summer as they are all heated with geothermal power all year round. Going to the swimming pool for an Icelander is like going to church for some. It’s a place where locals come together, chill in the Jacuzzi and catch up with other locals. And of course, it’s a blast for the kids with all the water slides.  Pools are very important in the Icelandic culture, and this, no matter the time of the year, the weather or the time.

 

ICELANDIC BABIES NAP OUTSIDE

Also no matter the season, it is very normal to see strollers and prams outside a coffee shop or a home as parents often let their babies nap outdoors (bundled up of course).

 

ICELAND IS A READING NATION

There is a word in Icelandic Jólabókaflóð, which means the Christmas book flood. Many books are being published before Christmas, as books are a very popular Christmas gift in Iceland! Surprisingly, they also watch more movies in the movie theatre than any other nation worldwide

 

AN EGALITARIAN NATION

Iceland became the first country in the world to democratically elect a female president in 1980 Vigdís Finnbogadóttir and then an openly gay prime minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir in 2009.

 

THE SMALLEST NATION EVER TO QUALIFY FOR WORLD CUP FINALS

A mere year after making into the quarterfinals at the 2016 Euro cup with an epic win against England, the Icelandic football team beat the odds again by qualifying for the world cup finals in 2018.

 

LAST BUT NOT LEAST

Iceland has a total of 13 Santa Clauses called the Yule Lads, and they are all brothers and vicious Sons of the dreadful ogress Grýla and her husband Leppalúði. They also have a Christmas Cat, who eats children if they are not wearing a new piece of clothes on Christmas Day. Brutal I know!

Þorrablót – Midwinter Festival

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Hip Hip Hooray-it’s midwinter in Iceland which means only one thing..it’s celebration time again!

According to the old Icelandic calendar which was developed in the 10th century, the fourth month of winter (mid January to mid February) is called Þorrinn (Thorrinn).  The word is most likely derived from Thor, the thunder god from the Norse mythology or from the Norwegian king Thorri Snærsson.
The old Icelandic calendar is not in use anymore but some Icelandic holidays and annual feasts are still calculated from it.

 

Þorrablót (Thorrafeast)

In pagan Iceland Þorrablót was a midwinter sacrifice, held to honor the Nordic gods, however with the Christianisation of Iceland the sacrificial festival was banned. Then in the 19th century, when Icelanders gained religious freedom, Þorrablót festival was brought back but without the sacrifices. This midwinter festival is still a popular tradition in Iceland today and is a feast where locals get together and celebrate their heritage by singing, dancing and eating traditional viking food and of course lots of drinking because, how else should we keep warm during these cold winter days?

The food, often served in wooden trays, consists of uncommon delicacies, like boiled sheep’s head, rams balls, blood and liver sausages, fermented shark, traditional herring and more.  All this is often washed down with an strong Icelandic schnapps made out of potato and caraway called Brennivín, also known as Black Death.

Assuming your mouth is starting to water, most grocery stores sell tasting trays during the month of Þorri.  And you can also find some Þorra inspired menu items at some local restaurants. Last but not least, the local breweries also take advantage of these festivities to create a selection of seasonal Þorri beers! You can find them in the Vínbúðin stores, our state-owned liquor shops.

Bóndadagur (Farmers Day)

The first day of Þorrinn is called Bóndadagur (Farmers Day) and this year Bóndadagur is on Friday January 25th. On this day it is customary that the wives and girlfriends are especially attentive to their men.

So ladies, why not make your man feel like a viking for the night by treating him to the Old Iceland menu at Ísafold Restaurant, a three course menu that showcases the best of Icelandic traditional cuisine with a modern twist (don’t worry there is no rotten shark on the menu).  And if your man is a whisky fan, you can end the evening with the whisky flights tasting which consists of three different types of exquisite whiskeys on a specially designed tray.

The day of the Icelandic tongue

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November 16th, has been deemed ‘the day of the Icelandic tongue’.  The date is the birthday of Iceland’s beloved poet Jónas Hallgrímsson who fought to protect the Icelandic language from Danish influence in the 19th century.  So to honour this day we have gathered some interesting facts about the Icelandic language:

 

Ancient

Due to Iceland’s geographic location, small population and of course the nation’s efforts to preserve the purity of the language, Icelandic hasn’t changed much for hundreds of years. It still sounds much like the Old Norse, a medieval language once spoken across the Nordic countries.

We invent new words rather than borrowing them

There is actually a government committee with Icelandic linguists that work to create unique Icelandic terminology for new things rather than adopting foreign words, such as:

TV = ‘Sjónvarp’ (“vision projection”)
Computer = ‘Tölva’ the combination of ‘tala’ (digit) and ‘völva’ (seeress)
iPad = Spjaldtölva, the combination of ‘spjald’ (tablet) and ‘tölva’ (computer)

Icelandic Names

The Icelandic phonebook lists people by their first name and the reason is that Icelanders do not use family names. Instead they use the traditional Nordic naming system where the last name is taken from their father’s (or mother’s) first name with the addition of -dóttir (-daughter) or -son.  Jón Ólafsson’s offspring, for example, might be Einar Jónsson and Sigríður Jónsdóttir.

Alphabet

The Icelandic alphabet consists of 32 letters versus 26 in the English alphabet.  Some of the letters are duplicated with acute accents and in addition it includes the letter Ðð, the runic letter Þþ, Ææ and Öö.

We talk on the inhale

This may be a surprise to some Icelanders (only because it is so natural) but we often speak on the inhale, mostly when saying Já (yes). The reason is a mystery but if you pay attention; you’ll notice and hopefully get a giggle.

Devilishly difficult to learn

It’s just a hype, don’t be fooled.  Although it may not sound like it, Icelandic is in fact closely related to English.
So if you put in the time, you’ll get there.  Just keep in mind that only about 0.005% of the seven billion people on this globe speak Icelandic making it NOT the most practical language to learn.  But
Icelanders do love when you try to speak it to them in Icelandic..you may get laughed at a bit but it’s all a part of the fun.  

On that note we’ll leave you with a few common Icelandic phrases/sentences so you can start practising:

‘Áfram með smjörið’ (On with the butter), meaning = stop slacking.

‘Takk fyrir síðast’ (Thanks for last time), meaning = nice seeing you again.

‘Góðan daginn’ (Good day), meaning = Hello or Good morning

‘Þetta reddast’  (chill, It’ll work out)

‘Glugga Veður’ (Window-Weather), meaning = the weather looks good through the window but is actually not good at all

‘Gefa undir fótinn’ (Give under the foot) meaning = Flirt