Iceland is a large, isolated island in the northern Atlantic. Being located just under the arctic circle, and quite a distance from the rest of Europe, Iceland was insulated from Christian influence for most of its existence allowing it to function as a time capsule for ancient pagan traditions and ideas. Looking at the beautiful and rough terrain it seems obvious that only Vikings could have settled it. Sitting on top of a volcano its residents benefit from geothermal energy and have thrived for over a thousand years in the otherwise harsh environment.

Icelandic Culture

Iceland has one of the highest per capita GDPs in the world, Europe’s highest birth rate, and the world’s highest divorce rate. All of these are due to a strong sense of practical pragmatism and an instantly obvious lack of Christian culture. That is not to say that there are not Christians or that the country celebrates not Christian holidays, instead it shines through in a noticeably different interpersonal social orientation. The people of Iceland appear to be entirely without the fear of social stigma which is evident wherever they go. Directness to the point of bluntness is expected and frivolous chatter and an unwillingness to get to the point is perceived as weakness. Making commitments that you cannot keep or flaking on commitments already made is very much frowned upon. Divorce is common and the empowerment of women was largely unopposed since women had been running the country for hundreds of years anyway while their husbands were away raiding. Children are raised by parents, step-parents, extended families, and extended step-families all together. Unlike the mess that would be expected from such a scenario in the rest of European and American culture these groups tend to get along and cooperate without a real difficulty.

Names

Iceland is the only Nordic country that still builds patronymic surnames. If a family has two children named Bjork and Sigur and the father’s name is Hendrick, then the children will be names Bjork Hendrickson and Sigur Hendricksdottir. This means that parents and their children don’t share last names, and siblings don’t always either. Additionally Iceland occasionally uses matronyms so that the mother’s name is used. As a result of this many people who aren’t affiliated with each other have the same last names. Icelandic phone books alphabetize by first name, last name, and profession to help differentiate between people.

Things to do

Iceland is a live volcanic island and there is much to see and do. There are nearly 200 natural geothermal pools to relax in while laughing in the face of the subarctic. When you’re finished with that you can climb mountains, go fishing in the ocean, lakes or streams, and explore volcanoes from the inside. Its coast is also one of the world’s premiere whale watching sites. Traditional Icelandic cuisine is a little terrifying to the uninitiated as it includes such things as sheep’s heads, horse meat, and putrescent shark meat. Check more carefully and you will find hardy rye breads, wild fowl, and plenty of other delicious fresh local foods.

Guy Pierson is a writer and globetrotter, currently working as a content creator for the travel EHIC support team at Applyehic.org. Guy’s hobbies include learning new languages, eating bizarre food, and glider flying.