Real: Places People Stories

9 Things I Bet You Didn’t Know About the Icelanders



Like any other country, the Icelanders has some odd and peculiar things. Here are nine thing you probably did not know about them.

1.    There are no surnames or family names in Iceland

For the majority of Icelanders people have last names that are comprised from their father’s (or mother’s) first name with the addition of -dóttir (-daughter) or -son. For example if my father’s first name is Gunnar, my last name would be Gunnarsdóttir (Gunnar’s daughter). This means that a member of a family will have a different last name to both of their parents and their siblings of a different gender. Women also do not change their name when they get married, because they obviously do not become the ‘son’ of their husband’s father.

This also means that they call everyone by their first name. May it be, teachers, doctors, or famous people.

That being said, there are a few family names in Iceland, mostly Danish. Some of them have lasted for decades but these family names are not that common and mostly originate from foreigners marrying into an Icelandic family.

2.    Beer was banned for Vikings

For a country where the inhabitants love alcohol, it might come as a surprise that beer was banned in the whole country up until the 1st of March 1989. Still today, people celebrate the 1st of March each year by drinking a few pints of beer.

That being said, alcohol can still only be purchased in state-owned liquor stores.

3.    Icelanders speak on the in-breath

We also speak on the in-breath in Norway. As well they do in other Nordic countries. But you will also notice that they do when visiting Iceland. Mostly common it is to hear the word ‘Já’ or ‘Jæja’  spoken on the in-breath (Yes or Well). Try it!

4.    BBQ and eating ice-cream all year round

It may be freezing and a storm outside, but Icelanders are known to have a BBQ in any kind of weather. In rain, in sunshine, they still want to have their lamb, meat, fish or whale grilled with proper coals.

Furthermore, they eat ice-cream all year round.

5. Sauces and gravies in Iceland

On top of the BBQ meat, or whatever they might eat, the Icelanders love to smothered it with sauce. Basically, they have a sauce for everything. They like to drench all their food in sauce.

Icelanders have a specific sauce for pizza, pita, fries, chips, hamburgers, hot-dogs, obviously various different ones for fish, meat or poultry – brown, cheese, mushroom, coca-cola, bernaise etc… And for ice-cream: chocolate, luxury chocolate, caramel, liquorice, red (fruity)…

People do this in other countries – but not to the same standard. The toppings for a traditional hot dog in Iceland includes 3 different types of sauces: ketchup, hot-dog mustard (different from other mustard) and remúlaði (mayo based sauce, mainly for hot-dogs). In addition they put 2 types of onion with it (raw and crunchy).

6.    Mothers leave their babies sleeping outside

It is a common sight to see mothers meeting up with their friends in cafés where they will sometimes leave their baby in the pram outside the café, where they can watch it through the window. That way the baby will not wake up from the hustle and bustle of the café. Furthermore, the fresh air will do it good.

You might be worrying hearing this. However, there is hardly any crime in Iceland, at least not knife and gun crime. Corrupt bankers are a different story. Not even policemen carry guns.

7.    Iceland is the best in the world, per capita

At least that is what they claim, and ‘Per capita’ is one of the most used phrases in Iceland. Icelanders suffer from a small nation complex. To make up for it, they claim we are in fact ‘The Best Country in the World’. People will claim this to be true and get mockingly upset if you disagree. To justify this, they recite one article or another where Iceland comes out on top – always per capita.

Icelanders have the most beautiful women in the world, per capita (because they won Miss World 4 times, which is a lot for such a small nation). Icelanders have the best handball team in the world, per capita (incredible how good they are in this team sport, considering how few people they have). Icelanders produce most music and bands in the world, per capita. Icelanders have the strongest men, the happiest people, the safest country, the cleanest – and of course, the prettiest landscapes (even though that isn’t per capita).

The list goes on and on. It’s even a catch-phrase: Ísland, best í heimi (Iceland, best in the world). Maybe it is for ‘put Iceland on the map’ as people around the world seem to know so little about it. It is all said in a joke, of course – but behind every joke is a meaning!

8. Nudity is normal

Nudity is a very normal thing in Iceland. For many other nationalities, people will find it peculiar to strip naked and shower with other people before entering public swimming pools. Icelanders also bathe naked in hot springs and jump naked into the sea.

9.    Cars and monster trucks in Iceland

Foreigners that come to Iceland seem to be very perplexed over Icelandic cars – and where they are parked. There are definitely many big Super Jeeps, with extra big tyres, apparently all over the place!

These monster trucks are not all due to inferiority complexes of their owners but are in fact needed to cross harsh terrain in the countryside. If you leave the paved ringroad in Iceland, you might find yourself on a dirt track, crossing glacial rivers – and then you need to have a 4WD. But it is not only the size of these cars that people notice, it is also the fact that people seem to park their cars everywhere. There is even an Icelandic facebook site that posts pictures of the worst parked car on a daily basis. This is probably due to the fact that Icelanders are very used to having a lot of space around them, so some people become sloppy at parking their car.

Have you ever meet and Icelander? Did you noticed something specific about them and their culture?

Source: Guide to Iceland


Author: Frue på tur

Mitt navn er Hanne Hellvik og er personen bak Frue på tur som er en reiseblogg.

4 thoughts on “9 Things I Bet You Didn’t Know About the Icelanders

  1. I love learning all these interesting facts. Thanks!


  2. Haha.. very very interesting read!
    Best article I have ever read (per capita) :p Jk.
    Very well written. Now I feel like visiting the place!


  3. Hello Hanne. One thing you didn’t say. Icelanders read and write and read, a lot! In fact it is said that, in Iceland, half the population writes books that the other half of the population reads.


  4. I learn new things from your blog everyday Hanne! I recently learned that most people in Burundi do not share the same last name though born to the same family; they’re mostly derived from sources like religious belief and their surroundings! 🙂 xo~ Lena


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