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From NQ

Eight Things You (Maybe) Didn't Know About Iceland

Campus and Community

By Joan Sullivan

I visited Iceland recently to do research for a variety of things, including for the fall 2019 Iceland-N.L. print edition of the Newfoundland Quarterly.

I learned lots of entertaining and fun facts; here are my Eight Things You (Maybe) Didn’t Know About Iceland.

1. The phone book is organized thus: first name, last name, street address, occupation, phone number. Last names are patronymic – they use the father’s first name with the suffix -son, for a boy, and -dóttir, for a girl.

So, the island pretty much operates on a first name basis (even for schoolkids addressing their teacher, or fans chanting for an international music star – Björk! Björk!), and first names not previously used must get the official approval of the Icelandic Naming Committee.

A back view of Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran church in the capital city of Reykjavik.
Photo: Submitted

2. Imports were severely restricted until 1931, and even beer (beer!) wasn’t permitted until 1989.

This is why licorice is the default chosen sweet – they didn’t have a lot of stuff like chocolate (and when they got it, they added it to licorice).

3. Is Icelandic the hardest language in the world to learn? It’s up there. Partly because it’s hard to pronounce, and those quote-unquote “letters” don’t help. Fortunately, almost everyone speaks English. (Still, the least you could do is end queries and conversations with a simple takk (“thank you”).

4. There’s a volcanic eruption on average every four years.

Most are small, but in 2010 Eyjafjallajökull sent a stream of ash right into the jet stream, massively disrupting air travel. (This event also inspired a new palette and pattern design for Icelandic sweaters.) They have the original geyser – Geysir, in the south.

Sólfar, or The Sun Voyager, is a sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason and is located in Reykjavik.
Photo: Submitted

5. Reykjavik is the most northern capital city in the world. It’s not as cold as you might think though; winter temperatures are on par with New York. About 130,000, more than a third of Icelanders, live there.

6. Famously, the nation of 300,000 fielded a World Cup soccer (football) team in 2018. The official national sport is actually handball, though.

7. The stunning, soaring and originally controversial Hallgrímskirkja took more than 40 years to build (completed in 1986). Architect Guöjón Samúelsson, who set out to create a national style inspired by Iceland’s volcanic thrusts and pourings, died years before it was finished. The church is visible for 20 kilometres.

Creating beautiful infrastructure: tulip lamp posts in Reykjavik.
Photo: Submitted

8. Police in Iceland do not carry guns. Only the special Viking Squad is permitted to.

In 2013 they shot and killed an armed man – the first time such a thing had happened there. (The 59-year-old was barricaded in his house, and fired at them.)

Instagram and Jean Claude Roy raffle

I recorded my adventures in Iceland via Instagram, check them out @newfoundlandquarterly.

To subscribe to the Newfoundland Quarterly, and have your name entered into a draw to win Jean Claude Roy’s painting pictured below, visit online.

Martin’s Point Near Sally’s Cove
Photo: Jean Claude Roy


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