7 Weird Things about the Icelanders

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Every country, culture and it’s people have quirks, and Iceland is no different. 

It all feels very normal to them, as you would expect. However, to outside eyes you might notice some strange things about Iceland. These are our top 7.

1 There are no surnames or family names in Iceland

Icelanders have a unique way on constructing names and passing these names down through the generations. 

When a child is born, they remain nameless for some time, referred to as just boy “drengur" or girl “Stúlka" until the child is formally named. Then, a name is chosen from an approved list of names, numbering 3,565 (1,853 female & 1,712 male names)

Moreover, there is a committee, the naming Committee, the “Mannanafnanefnd” that establishes this list. If a name has not been used before, it must receive approval form this committee to be used for the first time. However, if the child has a dual nationality with both foreign parents but born in iceland, then the parents are free to choose whichever name they like.

Requirements from the naming committee include:

  • Being capable of having Icelandic grammatical endings, 
  • Not conflict with the linguistic structure of Icelandic, 
  • Name must not contain letters that exist outside the Icelandic alphabet, such as the letters C, Q, and W

Then there is the surname. If you are name is “Snorri” and you have a son, you son’s surname will be “Snorrisson”. Equally, if Snorri has a daughter, she will be called “Snorradottir”.

See here the story of a half Icelandic girl named Harriet that the Mannanafnanefnd denied her to right use because it couldn’t be conjugated into Icelandic. 

Blær Bjarkardottir wins the right to her name "Blær" meaning Light Breeze, after a legal challenge
Photo: Anna Andersen

Blær Bjarkardottir wins the right to her name "Blær" meaning Light Breeze, after a legal challenge

2 Proper beer was illegal for 75 years

The irony with this situation was beer continued to be produced in Iceland, but only for export. It was even sold tot eh American military base at Keflavik. Go figure!

It was possible to buy low-alcohol “light” beer (2.25%) always, and it still is possible to buy this low alcohol “light” beer in supermarkets.

Regular beer was (above 2.25%)was illegal, and the logic behind this was that beer tasted good, and people drank a lot of it. The result would be a nation of alcoholics, and it would considered unwise to allow this. 

The sale and distribution of alcohol in Iceland is punctuated with referenda and other interesting event. For example,

  • A 1908 referendum voted to ban alcohol, taking effect in 1915
  • Full prohibition ended in 1921 when Spain threatened to stop buying fish if Iceland wouldn’t import Spanish wine. Wine was then legalised.
  • A 1935 referendum voted to legalise spirits. Strong beer (2.25%) was left out of this referendum, in a win for the temperance lobby
  • People then started to put vodka into the light beer to make it the right strength, or perhaps even stronger. This practice was outlawed in 1985.

It was vigorously debated in Parliament, but finally on March 1st 1989, forever known as “beer day” and celebrated as such, regular beer was made legal and available to purchase in the government-run alcohol stores. 

Now, Iceland has a remarkable industry in small scale craft breweries, with some delicious results! You can try out some of these on the Reykjavik by Food tour

Icelandic IPA chilling in the Glacier Lagoon
Photo: Wine Warehouse

Icelandic IPA chilling in the Glacier Lagoon

3 Parents leave babies sleeping outside

So you’re going about your business and you see a stroller outside a coffeeshop in the middle of winter. It’s somewhere below 0 degrees celsius and you think to yourself: “ that stroller must be empty”. 

It’s probably not.  there’s almost definitely a baby inside, sleeping. It turns out that babies sleep outside quite well and the Icelanders are quite happy to leave them there, and they feel safe enough to do that. 

The fact that they feel that it is safe enough to  leave their babies outside unattended in winter is a tamest to the kinds of lives that people have in Iceland. Famously, there is the story of an Icelandic couple in New York and they left their baby outside, and the police were called!

Icelanders leaving their children int he strollers, sleeping
Photo: Reykjavik Grapevine

Icelanders leaving their children int he strollers, sleeping

4 Cars and monster trucks

In Iceland, people take their cars very seriously. They are BIG. Standard cars are heavily modified to accommodate  very large tires, 35 inches all the way up to 38 or even 44 inch tyres! This is so that it is possible to drive in more extreme, winter conditions; driving up steep river banks and over deep snow, for example. 

It seems totally excessive when they are in the city, but they’re not. These cars are really used in the way they are meant to be used, and that’s truer in Iceland that anywhere else. 

Iceland Rovers offers a lot of super jeep tours  where you can see how these vehicles get used for yourself. Its a seriously fun ride!

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5 BAD parking

This is just hilarious. Icelanders are terrible at parallel parking. When they park, it’s a solid 30 cm from the curb. At least. This has not gone un noticed, and others have picked up on it, and there is an entire an Facebook group dedicated to it. Go ahead, chuckle away at these parking abominations! It´s genuinely funny, but also terrible.

https://blogs.transparent.com/icelandic/2012/08/01/parking-like-you-just-dont-care/

6 Highest coca cola consumption in the world

A lot of people come to Iceland and have this image of as being a place where people have very healthy lifestyles, all the energy is renewable and that it’s just generally wonderful. It is generally wonderful, we wouldn’t disagree with that, but there is a darker side to all of this.

According to Coca Cola European Partners, Icelanders consume 365 beverages per inhabitant, per year. That´s a lot of Coca Cola. Let that sink in for a minute.

7 They eat fermented Shark!

There are lots of strange, wierd and wonderful foods eaten in Icelandic. Perhaos the least wonderful of them all is the shark. 

Sharks don't have kidneys, and so a lot of nasties build up in their flesh. It was somehow discovered that by urinating on the shark and burying it underground, it was possible to make it safe. Nowadays, it is not produced in this way, and it is fermented via other means. 

Shark remains popular in Iceland. What does it taste like? How would we describe it? Our best effort: like a tough sponge thats been soaked in ammonia 

Hákarl
Photo: Nanna Dís

Hákarl

See all the weirdness for yourself!

We could have chosen other weird things about the Icelanders, but 7 was a good number and we’re sicking to it.  Apart for the Coca Cola and the bad parking, all of this weirdness os pretty innocuous, and then are things that you can perfectly well participate in. 

Come and check out some Icelandic breweries, try some amazing small-scale craft beer on the Reykjavik by food tour , come on a n epic super jeep adventure to a ton of natural locations sure to leave you spellbound and try pronouncing some of the names of the Icelander’s that you meet along the way!

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