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Heating up an Icelander

March 19, 2014

According to a new report by the World Economic Forum Iceland is the world‘s friendliest country. And this doesn‘t actually come as a surprise to us. There are a few factors that play a role in why we offer visitors a very warm welcome.

Icelandic national dish cartoon

Our small northern island has often been forgotten as a tourist attraction and as a part of the global community. Then a couple of events happened a few years ago that drew attention to us - the collapse of the economy and shortly after a volcano eruption that paralyzed world transportation for days. All eyes turned our way and we were just as excited as a middle child in a large group of siblings who finally got some attention from its parents, thinking negative attention is better than no attention at all! We used the opportunity to promote our country and it worked! The tourism industry has boomed in Iceland in the last 5 years, becoming the country‘s main industry and helping us out of the recession.

Hospitality is also a big part of our culture. We are spontaneous by nature and often drop by family and friends unannounced and always get a warm welcome. We are happy with the 3 hour old coffee and the dry biscuits we are offered, because the visit is about meeting and catching up with our friends, not what they can offer us to eat and drink or criticize their messy home.

If you are thinking about mingling with the locals when you visit Iceland, you will most certainly be met with a warm welcome and very courteous people. But if you are looking for a heated discussion (or want to avoid one), there are a few topics that most likely will stir things up.

Showering in Iceland cartoon

So Iceland is a Danish continent, right?

A common mistake, after all Greenland and The Faroe Islands are still under Danish regime. However, after centuries of being ruled by other countries, first Norway then Denmark, Iceland became a fully independent country in 1944. We are very proud of our independence and the accomplishments we have made since then, which is kind of why we go into defense mode when people think that we are still ruled by another country.

So be prepared to hear a speech how horrible it was when we were under Danish regime and how we have succeeded since we became an independent country. If you want to continue this discussion, you can throw in the question; “Why doesn’t the majority of Icelanders want to become members of the EU?” You will see it all connects.

Politics Icelandic History

I don‘t need to wash before going into the public pool, I showered this morning.

This is a BIG no-no!

Icelandic people are very open when it comes to nudity. We don’t mind being in a locker room where everybody walks around naked (the locker rooms are divided up into men’s and women’s locker rooms, so no worries), but to bathe in other people’s sweat and body fluids, really makes our skin crawl! In Iceland, children learn how to swim during elementary school and from a very young age it is branded into our heads that it is unacceptable to enter a public pool without washing thoroughly first. There is actually a locker room guard standing over the kids, making sure that everyone washes themselves without swimwear before entering the pools.

For other cultures, it may be crossing their line to strip and shower in front of strangers, but if you want to try out our wonderful geothermal heated outdoor pools, you just need to suck it up and wash yourself! After all, you probably don’t have anything we haven’t seen before!

Natural Springs of Iceland cartoon

So tell me, why was the government that caused the collapse of the economy elected again?

Sigh… there are always some political discussions that can become very heated and there are always two sides – for and against. This is the ongoing political discussion in the society today. Some people have given up and don’t even want to go there.

However, if you bring this up you will probably either hear about:

1. how the people have changed that are sitting in the current government and all the good they are doing and how Iceland is close to the end of the recession


2. you will hear how it is all corrupted and how we are now awaiting another collapse in the economy and everything is going to hell. Best if you could find one from each side – then you will see some real action!

Small population of Iceland comic

The water here tastes weird!

…followed by a speech about how Iceland has everything purest and cleanest ... IN THE WORLD!

Oh, I know a guy from Iceland named Jón, maybe you know him?

Although we are a small population it doesn´t mean we all know each other! Jón is also a very common name in Iceland, so if you say that his last name is “Gunnarsson”, it probably won’t help.

The funny thing about this kind of discussion is that if you then continue, telling the person where you know Jón from, where he works or used to work and that he has a sister named Guðrún, it will probably end with the person saying “Ohhhh, that Jón, yeah I actually do know him, we were in the same class in high school” or “…his sister is actually married to my cousin” or something like that.

Although we want to believe that our society isn’t that small… we are usually wrong.

Text: Eva Dögg Þórhallsdóttir
Drawings: Elise Øygaren