There is not much that the average person knows about Iceland — maybe the fact that it’s one of the most sparsely populated islands and other boring facts from geography textbooks. At the same time, we bet you didn’t know that there had been a dry law (a law that prohibits the sale of alcohol) until 1989 in the country and that it is forbidden to walk in nature and drive a car wherever you want.
Bright Side visited several blogs dedicated to this northern state and talked to Anastasia Andreeva and other authors to reveal the secrets of living on this cold piece of land.
- In 1908, the country’s residents voted to ban all alcoholic drinks and 7 years later the law went into effect. This lasted until March 1, 1989. The ban had originally prohibited all alcohol, but in 1922 wine was legalized and in 1935 all alcoholic beverages except beer with more than 2.25% alcohol content were legalized. Since then, March 1, 1989 is considered their national Beer Day — the bars are open until the next morning on this day and people drink as much beer as they can.
- Hákarl is an Icelandic national dish. It’s made out of Greenland shark meat, which is toxic. People describe it as “tasting like death.” All because this fish doesn’t have kidneys. The shark is dug into the ground for 6-12 weeks after which it is kept in the open air for 2 months.
- A kid’s surname in Iceland starts with the name of a father, adding the suffix ’son’ (son) or ’dottir’ (daughter) after it. If there are 2 kids of different genders in a family, their surnames will be different.
- Buses in Reykjavik go on schedule until 1 AM on weekdays and until 3 AM on the weekends. The fare in the capital costs around $4 and you might not get change if you pay by cash. So, it’s better (and easier) to use a special application.
- Iceland doesn’t have a single McDonald’s restaurant. This chain was in Reykjavik until 2008, but they decided to leave the country after the economic crisis. Afterward, its place was taken by local networks or more nimble world competitors.
- The only Phallological Museum in the world is located in Reykjavík. It exhibits the genitals of mammals living in Iceland, and outside of it. The collection includes everything from a mouse to a blue whale, and even a human has been part of the exhibit since 2011.
Let’s talk about myths that many people believe in:
- “Icelanders all know each other that’s why people leave their keys in their cars and don’t lock their houses”- this is not about Reykjavík for sure. No one is safe from bad people, Icelanders lock their homes, and cars, and generally have become less gullible. The crime rate here is, of course, lower than in many countries, but there are bad people everywhere. There have been a series of break-ins in our district recently where someone stole people’s valuables. They have even stolen coral from the aquariums in some houses. So this myth is nice, but doesn’t 100% correspond to reality.
- You can’t set up a tent wherever you want — you can only do it in special campsites. The only exception is when you are going by foot or by bike and are physically not able to reach the next campsite. Almost every piece of land belongs to someone here and you need to ask a farmer’s permission if you want to stay overnight next to his farm.
- “Elves and trolls! Most residents of Iceland believe in elves and trolls and seek advice from wizards when they need to build a road or a house.” Are you serious? Perhaps there are still people like this living in some very remote areas, but I am sure we can count them on one hand. If you tell this myth to an average Icelander, they will laugh at you.
If you ever plan to visit Iceland, learn the rules of behavior in this country, For example, one blogger from Russia violated all these rules and laws:
- Off-road driving (off of official roads) is strictly prohibited. Let’s say you are driving in the south and suddenly saw a desert with black sand and you get a strong desire to drive across it — you can’t do it! If you get caught, you’ll have to pay a fine of approximately $1,200.
- You can’t walk on moss either. It takes a lot of time (like decades) for moss to grow and rehabilitate after it gets damaged. So fight your impulse to jump on soft moss.
- Earlier it was said that there are 2 seasons in Iceland — winter and summer. Well, basically, they are right. However, the main myth about Iceland is its weather. All my friends and people who come here have the impression that it is always cold, rainy, and foggy here. In fact, I see the sun much more often in Iceland than in my hometown of Saint-Petersburg.
- If you regularly visit a swimming pool in sunny weather, you might already become a tan and happy person by the middle of May. Foggy and rainy Iceland just looks good in photographs, its sunny summer is even more wonderful!
- Here is where you can find the most isolation — Western fjords don’t have many tourists, even in the summer. Icelanders themselves go there and to the Eastern fjords too, where it’s the warmest in the summer. However, the Western fjords are my favorite part of Iceland, because they were the first place in Iceland where I went 4 years ago.
- This is Grótta — Reykjavik’s (or Seltjarnarnes’ to be more exact) most reachable lighthouse. Seltjarnarnes is not a part of Reykjavik, but a separate township. This is where crowds of tourists come to enjoy the northern lights (when they don’t really want to leave the city).
- My recommendation: if you are in Reykjavik and want to enjoy the northern lights without hundreds of people around and traffic jams, go to the golf course, which is located on the opposite side of the peninsula from the lighthouse. It’s pretty dark there and the number of people will be several times less. Moreover, you won’t have to get stuck in a traffic jam for 20 minutes after the sky show is over.
- Open pools are Icelanders’ great love and pride. There is a swimming pool in each district of Reykjavik. My favorite one is Vesturbæjarlaug. Everything is good there — hot baths, massage, and the pool itself. Reykjavik’s biggest swimming pool is Laugardalslaug. The swimming lanes are 50 m long there, there is a pool for kids and a hot bath with seawater.
- It’s worth noting the thermal beach in the city too. You can swim in the ocean and sit in a hot spring there. There is also a sauna and dressing rooms with showers — Icelanders are very scrupulous about cleanness and hygiene. You have to take a shower and wash all the areas indicated in the picture before visiting the pool and wipe dry before returning to the locker room.
- The phrase “We are going to our country house on the weekend” sounds strange and funny in Iceland. But a country house is a country house and you shouldn’t expect much from it — the toilet is outside and there is no water running from the tap. The good thing is, you can burn candles in the evening and put together a puzzle with your family (because there is basically a very weak signal for mobile internet and you have to find some kind of activity to fight boredom).
- If Reykjavik is considered a quiet city (much quieter than big megapolises), the quietness in the country house is beautifully deafening. It’s only rarely that passing cars are heard from afar and you will occasionally hear the swans that are crying from the lake.
- Every year on October 24th, the women of Reykjavik leave their jobs at 14:55 to participate in a demonstration against the unequal pay for women and men. Even with the highest levels of gender equality in the world, women in Iceland earn on average 15–20% less than men.
How did you previously imagine Iceland and Icelanders before reading this article? Did your ideas coincide with real facts?
Preview photo credit 2hungrymamas / Instagram