Like any other place in the world, Iceland and its inhabitants have some odd quirks that might seem a bit unusual to an outsider.
Icelanders don’t have family names
The vast majority of Icelandic people have a last name that is comprised from their father’s (or in some cases their mother’s) first name with the addition of -dóttir (-daughter) or -son. These are called patronymic names, which differ from the typical western family-name system. For example, my father’s name is Magnús there for my last name is Magnúsdóttir (Magnús’s daughter). This means that children will have a different last name to their parents and siblings of a different gender. Also women do not change their last name when they get married.
Because of this we also call everyone by their first name, be it our teachers, our doctor or our president Ólafur Ragnar. Using titles such as Mr, Mrs, or Miss is very uncommon, so don´t be offended if you are called by your first name in Iceland.
Best in the world per capita
Often when hearing news about Iceland the phrase ‘Per capita’ is often used. Icelanders suffer from a small nation complex. To make up for it we clam we are in fact ‘The Best Country in the World’. To justify this, we recite some article where Iceland comes out on top – always per capita.
Iceland has the most beautiful women in the world, per capita (Iceland has won Miss World 4 times, which is a lot for such a small nation). Icelanders have the best football team per capita. Icelanders produce the most music and bands in the world, per capita. They have the strongest men, the safest country and the happiest people, all of course per capita..
Beer was banned
It may come as a surprise to you, as Icelanders are well known for their love of beer, that until the 1st of March 1989 beer was banned in Iceland. Iceland held a referendum on a proposal to outlaw all alcohol from 1915 and about 60% voted in favour. It was the Icelandic parliament that voted to legalise beer after debates that were televised live and attracted huge audiences. Ever since we celebrate the 1st of March as Bjórdagurinn (Beer Day).
Speak on the in-breath
Even though speaking on the in-breath (ingressive sound) is also done in other Nordic countries as well it is something a lot of foreigners will notice and mention when coming to Iceland and listening to the language. Most common to hear are the words ‘já’ or ‘jæja‘ (Yes or well).
The love for ice cream
Despite the fact that our winters are long and our summers not that warm, Icelanders eat ice cream all year round. The nation even loves ice cream that much that The Government Office of Iceland saw the need to make an official traffic sign with ice cream. The sign on the picture refers to a place that sells ice cream that is made or produced on the spot. Icelander also have a very strong opinion on which ice cream is the best and which ice cream store is the best. So don’t go buying just any ice cream in Iceland.
Babies sleep outside
The fact that Icelanders live to an average age of 82 years old, more than 10 years longer than the global average, there must be more factors to consider than the Viking DNA. Like the fact that infants nap outdoors in all weather. Reykjavík’s biggest shopping street filled with babies leaping in their strollers in the summer time, but they’re there also in the winter. If they are not on the street, they’re on balconies or in the backyard.
The custom of wheeling your baby outside to sleep is such a big deal in Iceland that Icelanders who live in big apartment buildings sometimes keep a special carriage on the balcony – for napping only.
Attitude towards nudity in Iceland is pretty relaxed. Nudity forms a part of the nation’s identity through the rich swimming pool culture, protests and even through tradition.
If you are thinking of going swimming in Iceland you must be prepared to get naked in the showers as although it is mandatory to wear swimsuits in swimming pools, it is also mandatory to shower naked before entering the pools. Don´t think you can bypass this by wearing your swimsuit underneath your clothes because there are even bath guards that check that you are definitely washing your body well enough before entering the pool.