Iceland is a country in the making, a vast volcanic laboratory where mighty forces shape the land and shrink you to an awestruck speck. See it in the gushing geysers, glooping mud pools and slow, grinding glaciers. Experience a fjord or crunching across a dazzling-white icecap….
The real value of the economic crash, one young woman told me, was that “people are rethinking, Who am I as an Icelandic person?” A number of people suggested to me that the nation, as a whole, was going through a period of intense introspection and that the consensus seemed to be that Icelanders needed to return to their roots. “Everyone is knitting” is how Steinunn Knutsdottir, a drama teacher, put it. “People are also making jam.” I thought that Knutsdottir was joking, until one day I saw a woman standing directly across the street from my hotel, perched on a chair, yarn in hand, stitching some so-called “knit graffiti” into place around a tree.
“Knitting is the opposite of idolizing money,” Ragga Eiriksdottir explained. “Knitting embodies thriftiness and is something old that has been with the nation forever. In the 1800s, the state actually published documents that outlined how much citizens should knit. It was said, for example, that a child from the age of 8 should finish a pair of socks each week.”
“I’ve got my own religion. The UN asked people from all over the world a series of questions. Iceland stuck out on one thing. When we were asked what we believe, 90% said, ‘ourselves.’ I think I’m in that group. If I get into trouble, there’s no God or Allah to sort me out. I have to do it myself.”—Bjork (via travors)
In the past few centuries, Icelanders generally were hungry and basically lived in the ground. Nonetheless inside every little turf farm you’d find a perfectly literate family and perhaps a poet and author.
Iceland may look like a country on the moon, and likely the harshness of the landscape is a contributor factor to the fact that Iceland boasts one of the world’s most literate populations. In this podcast from NPR’s Planet Money Reaktion author Sigurður Gylfi Magnússon, whose book Wasteland with Words is a social history of Iceland, has a cameo discussing the state of publishing in Iceland’s troubled economy. Worth a listen!
Iceland looks very much like the Azores islands! Except for the very cold weather, I think it's because of the vulcanic environment ;)
Keep going with the awesome job, I love Iceland and your blog! ;)
Iceland and the Azores have quite a lot in common. They are nearly straight south of Iceland. We have a similarly sized population. Both sit on the Mid Atlantic rift causing volcanic and seismic activity. Oh yeah and we love sheep.
I’ll go there once I can afford a yacht. Thanks for following!
Hraunfossar is a very unusual sort of waterfall. Since the lava in this valley isn’t very old, it is porous. This means the water flows easily through the spongelike lava instead of over it. Above the waterfall you will find no river at all. Underneath the lava layer there is an older and much harder layer which the water flows on top of. These pictures illustrate it very well. There’s another closeup of the waterfall here.
I have been seriously thinking about moving to Iceland with the intention of working there long enough to get a handle on the language. While English is my first language, I'm also fluent in French and semi-fluent in a few other languages. I was wondering if this could be considered helpful in finding a job in the tourism market?
And a completely unrelated question, Welsh (and other Gaelic languages) seem very similar to Icelandic/Norwegian/Swedish. Is this just a coincidence, or do they have a similar structure?
Of course all language skills are well appreciated by tourism companies. For any tourism job, English would be an absolute necessity. Other languages sought after languages are French, German and Spanish. We get plenty of visitors from these countries and they often avoid English. Knowing Icelandic is always a plus but definitely not a requirement.
With some language skills it should be possible to find a summer job in tourism. Winter jobs are harder to come by as there are much fewer travelers in winter. Young people from Nordic countries should check out Nordjobb to find a job. Others are probably best off contacting companies directly. Icelandic Mountain Guides have a bit of a French emphasis and maybe some sales jobs or guiding.
Icelandic and Gaelic have some minor relation yes. Although Iceland was probably first settled by Vikings, it had probably been visited often by the Papar from the British Isles. The Scandinavian Vikings also had Gaelic slaves they’d picked up on the way. You can read more about the Norse Gaelics and their influence on the language on Wikipedia.
I'd like to know if an icelander does not speak norwegian can he understand a norwegian speaker? becuse thiese languages sounds so similar to me
All of the Nordic languages, Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and Faeroese have a common origin and are very similar. Icelandic and Faeroese (Faeroe Islands) became mostly isolated around 1000 years ago and have changed little since. For this reason Icelanders can read and understand 1000 year old texts from any of these countries, even though today’s inhabitants might be incapable.
Norwegian, Swedish and Danish are today all very similar. These countries took turns ruling each other to some extent through wars and royal marriages. Since Icelandic was cut off, they’ve all been heavily influenced by German and French, both through trade, wars and again royal marriages. Still despite the similarities, people don’t always communicate easily across the borders. They can all read each other’s texts, but pronunciation varies quite a bit. Swedes and Norwegians usually understand each other, but the Danes are further off.
Icelandic and Faeroese are very similar despite minimal contact. Both seem to just have stayed as they were. So today an Icelander and Faeroese can read each other’s languages and communicate.
Icelanders study Danish in school for 4-7 years. We don’t necessarily become fluent during this time, but we can easily read Danish and only need to spend a short while there, studying or working to become fluent. And actually, due to the similarities the same goes with all the other Nordic languages. Icelanders can easily read all the Nordic languages and are quick to become fluent if needed. Since you ask about Norwegian in particular, than of Swedish, Norwegian and Danish, Norwegian is the closest to Icelandic. So even though I for example have studied Danish for 7 years and lived in Sweden for 1 year, I still understand spoken Norwegian the best and they tend to understand me. I think it is mainly the pronunciation similarities that help.
A sad thing, I think, is that people from all of these countries very often turn to English when speaking together. Everybody speaks decent English in these countries, but it only requires a little more effort to communicate via your own language and by picking up words and words.
I love your blog! I visited Iceland just over a month ago and really fell in love. It's such a beautiful and unique country, with truly amazing people.
I was wondering if I could ask you about Asatru in Iceland? When I was there everyone joked about really being "Pagan" and the couple of pagans I did meet said it was the fastest growing faith in the country. I think it's a beautiful religion, but how is it viewed by others in Iceland? And why/are more people being drawn to it?
Ásatrú is today’s version of the ancient religion practiced in Iceland and elsewhere in northern Europe, until Christianity took over. Catholicism became Iceland’s official religion in the year 1000 AD and until 1550. Now I say Ásatrú is today’s version and that is because we don’t know precisely how it was practiced before or even if it had a specific name. The word Ásatrú first emerged in 1870 and means God Religion or Belief in Gods (Gods in plural). Nearly all of our knowledge of the religion comes from the Eddas, precisely Hávamál and Völuspá.
Hávamál, a very very long poem, gives advice on how to be a good and successful man. The advice goes into every aspect of life, advising on drinking habits, relationships and you name it. My favorite line is “Vits er þörf þeim er víða ratar” which means “Knowledge is needed for those who widely travel”.
Völuspá (Prediction of the Völva), another poem, is Ásatrú’s version of the Genesis. In the poem, the Völva explains to the god Óðinn, how the world began and how it will end. The story is not that different from the Genesis.
Regarding today’s practice of the religion. Yes it is growing. How fast I don’t know. I don’t think the majority of its followers are “true believers”. Due to discontent with the Lutheran church still having a unique role in Iceland as the official religion, many have been leaving the church recently. I’d guess a very large portion of new pagans would be best described as atheists who have unregistered from the Lutheran church and feel it is interesting to support Ásatrú. But another factor is that Ásatrú is very open. Nobody expects you to go to church or say your prayers. The way you practice the religion is up to you. Most Icelandic pagans are registered in Ásatrúarfélagið (The Ásatrú Organization), although they organize some “blót” and ceremonies, it functions more as an organization than a church. Ásatrú is more a way of life, than a religion. Most of the major ideas are comparable to the life rules/recommendations of other religions. Ásatrú is just much more flexible than most others. The Æsir (gods) don’t mind if you worship the Christian god as well. You can worship all the gods you want.
Tourism companies were worried that the Grímsvötn eruption might have a negative effect on travels to Iceland. What a crazy thought, that’s like thinking that a lot of water in Niagara Falls will reduce tourism… Anyways May was close to being a record month with 37,212 travelers. To put that in perspective, that is 0.36 travelers per square kilometer. Very useful information.