What you should know about Iceland but won’t find in Baedeker

It is not my intention to educate you and inform you about everything which has to do with Iceland. I’ve decided not to ruin the Baedeker business at last. But I am also convinced that on your trip to Iceland, you will find some information from my blogs useful. And information which is not useful, is from my other favourite cathegory-absurd and interesting. The last remaining bit of it, you can boast of in a pub quiz, or any kind of knowledge quiz, you might take a part in in the future. Of course, only in the case that the quiz is going to be about elves, Icelandic name formation, or attitude of Icelanders towards ‘differentness’.

In fact, I know a few people, who will appreciate this kind of information highly. Occasionally, they enrich me with similar stories and facts, which other might find useless in their everyday mundane life. Does not really matter, still we love them, they amuse us, broaden borders, and expand our small worlds. To them, and to you, who are new-weird info lovers too, I dedicate these 7 observations and discoveries of my own, which you should know about Iceland.

6. Iceland and its creatures

They are so popular, that there were disputes whether to build a road leading through the area, where the elves are supposedly living. Iceland is a mystical place. That might be the reason, why so many different creatures live here. (According to unverifiable information). Elves are the top creatures, they are invisible, and as you can not really prove their nonexistence, logically-they MUST exist. (yep, go for it and reread the last sentence if you like) They are called Huldufolk by Icelanders, meaning “invisible people”, and Icelanders believe in them so much that they don’t hesitate to halt the construction of a road leading through their land. The Ministry of Transportation stated (yeah, official statement it was): “The construction will be put on hold, until elves and other wights don’t move to a different area.” And so it was.

I’ve stopped doubting the overall popularity of elves, when I happened to participate at a lecture held by a Belgian girl at my German class in Germany. Elves were, of course, the core topic of her lecture. For a better idea, I attach a picture of them and some trolls in their habitat.

7. Icelandic Skyr

There are more interesting things than skyr, which fall into the category ODD, and which Icelanders are fond of. Rotten shark, caramelised potatoes, those are examples of Icelandic cuisine that stand out for sure. The cuisine in here is specific enough to give sufficient information for a whole blog on its own.

We got caught by something else though. Get this: sun comes up, 13 degrees outside. The best time for shorts and some ice cream. Icelanders love ice cream, and surveys say that (together with other Nordic countries) they are the most devoted consumers of it. But what is the most promoted gastronomic product? Skyr. It tastes somewhat like our yoghurt, but it is made in a different way. It is full of protein and probiotic cultures. Typically, it is eaten for breakfast, and there is a great variety you can choose from. All kinds of flavours, or just a plain-classic one. Originally, it was popular all over Scandinavia. It was actually the Norsemen, who brought Skyr to Iceland. But that is now also the only place it has stayed popular in.

8. Icelandic beer

Beer and liquor is a story on its own here. You can buy alcohol in special shops ‘Vinbúdin’. Those are open only till 6PM, and in the more remote parts of the island, they are as rare as the trees. If you don’t prepare yourself for this reality, you will have to get by with light version of beer, which you should be able to get in the shops with no problem. But for someone who normally drinks German beer, it tastes like nonalcoholic beer. With a better flavor though, price and amount (330ml) aside, we have to admit, we’ve liked most of Icelandic beers. Our private competition of beer tasting was won by Einstok from Akureyri, which has also won some more objective and recognized prizes in the world than the one from us.

9. Icelandic names

This paragraph is a must be, and I am sure that this information you can find in every blog about Iceland. If you are already aware of these facts, feel free to skip to no.10.

In a phone book and other name lists, you will find first names instead of surnames. First names are the ones that count in Iceland. Some people have ordinary last names too, like Hansen, Olsen, Blondal or Thorarensen. Using first names was legally established in 1996 by law, which also rules that Icelanders cannot have more than 3 names in total. Forename is strictly regulated by legislation. It must exist in registry of approved names, and if it is not previously used, it must be approved by the Icelandic Naming Committee. The most popular male name is Jón, and female name is Guðrún. The middle name comes second, and there is much more freedom and flexibility when chosing it. The last name, similar to our surname, is formed by adding a suffix to patronym (eventually matronym is possible too). The suffixes are: -son in case it is a boy, or –dóttir, if it is a girl. You add it to the first name of the father, or mother, or both parents’ names in genitive case. This name stays your whole life the same, and stays yours only. Offsprings do not take it. An example: Guðmundur’s daughter is Björk. So her whole name is Björk Guðmundsdóttir.

10. Iceland as a tolerant country

June 11 2010 the Icelandic Parliament changed the definition of marriage into a union of two individuals, making thus same-sex marriage legal. Since that moment, LGBT and heterosexuals have the same rights. Article 233 of General Penal Code of Iceland says: “Anyone who publicly mocks, defames, denigrates or threatens a person or group of persons by comments or expressions of another nature, for example by means of pictures or symbols, for their nationality, colour, race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, or disseminates such materials, shall be fined or imprisoned for up to 2 years“. The law is not talking only about violance as such, but about any hateful manifestations towards another person.

To be concerned about the issue of homesexuality among the elves and do research on it, that is really possible only in such an open minded and tolerant country as Iceland. A country it is, with no problem talking about homosexuality, nor the elves. Just btw., scientists from an Icelandic University came to a conclusion that almost half of the Elf population is homosexual. Don’t ask me how…

11. Water in Reykjavik

Water in Reykjavik does not smell good. Or does it? It depends what your perception is. The smell will come as a surprise to you, if you didn’t come across the information about it before your visit. I remember how it felt, when I couldn’t figure out what that smell in our bathroom was for the first time. If you cannot imagine what I am talking about, just remember one of Slovakia’s smelly water springs, which smell like rotten eggs. (Called ‘vajcovka’ meaning ‘eggwater’) No worries, water is just fine and wholesome. You can take a shower and drink it too. It just feels funny until you get used to it.

12. Icelandic weather

Weather is a constantly recurring topic everywhere, isn’t it. Everyone is talking weather. Iceland is no different, even though tourists have a tendency to talk weather more than the locals. Those got already used to it, and look at it from a broader perspective. Try to complain about it! They will surely tell you to wait for couple of minutes (time varies with where you are). That worse is only to come. Incessant downpour, cold, fog. Everyone has heard about this dark side of Iceland. Well, so have we. None of it happened though. We had sun waking us up each morning, and the temperatures were exceptionally high for the time of the year. When standing on the glacier, we hat to get rid of our top layers quickly, as the temperatures rose to 15-17 degrees. At least we got the idea, why the glaciers melt and shrink 20cm a day.

I know, I know. The exception makes the rule. But I have a feeling that the shitty weather is one of many rumoured “wisdoms” about Iceland anyway. People like stories, myths and legends. So I am not completely sure, if Icelandic weather is not another case of those. Please don’t take any of my last lines too seriously though.

There is one ‘But’. But! The wind! That is undeniable. It is a very inseparable component of this island’s nature. In the dry period, which we experienced, it is very unpleasant. Apart from causing sand storms, and carrying away all the newly formed top soil (as mentioned in previous blog), the strong wind impedes the reforestation of the island and gives a poor impression of Icelandic weather in the tourists’ eyes.

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