If you, good reader, happened to open up this article and decided to wash your eyes over it, you may be thinking: “What, I ask, is this informal stuff you are referring to, sir? And, why is this so-called stuff about Iceland?”
Let me ask you then, good reader; Have you ever watched the Olympics (on television or in person, if you’ve ever been so lucky) and seen Slovakia announced in that big Opening Ceremony pageant-type parade, and simultaneously realized that you know absolutely nothing about Slovakia? Or, have you ever heard someone speak in another accent and asked, “Where are you from?” and them answering Laos brought up a whole other set of ICE immigration questions for Leilana, or worse, plain old mental vacancy?
Even if you’ve heard your uncle Tommy tell people all the things he knows about Brazil with their samba and their partying and their big arses, and his comments about the beautiful Spanish they speak, and in your head you were thinking, “Ehhh, I was pretty sure they spoke Brazilian,” then this will be a great place to start for you!
The idea for starting a series like this came from my interest in the world’s countries, and all the little paper cutout figurines holding hands around a globe with exaggerated geographic features in my giant map book. I mean, as kids we all would sit and write endless lists of countries and capitals for hours in our favorite notepads, am I right? No? Cricket legs? Anyway, what I came to realize is that I may know where Iceland is, and that they speak Icelandic, and that there’re likely a bunch of cold white people there, but what did I really know about the country itself? Not much, frankly.
So I went head in, hard in the paint, deep in the end zone, and read up about the places I knew so little about. As it goes, the truth is that lots of my lovely American compatriots, as well as people worldwide, know so little about what other countries are actually like. how they came to be, or at least what makes them interestingly unique.
In this series of posts, I’ll be going from continent to continent, North to South America, Europe, Africa, to Asia then Oceania in that order — some of you guys are thinking He doesn’t know what he’s talking about, he can’t even remember Australia — well, that’s okay, I need you to just keep on reading. Overall, the ultimate goal is to give you all some (hopefully) interesting information the average person may not have yet learned about all the wonderful and exciting places on planet Earth, no BBC, and to shed light on even the most obscurely recognized locations.
So, if you happened to notice that boldface title up there you saw that today’s subject is Iceland. Now given the name itself, it already sounds like we’re talking about somewhere that is very cold. I mean, “ice” is spelled out in the name. It was said that settlers named it Iceland in hopes that outsiders wouldn’t come and overpopulate, that it was in reality very green and fertile. (Coughs) That was a blatant myth, however, as there has been a cold and “icy” climate there for a long, long time.
It was actually discovered by Norsemen during the Viking age and a Norwegian traveler, named Naddodd, called it “Snowland”, apparently so because it was snowing while he was there.
A later Norse explorer arrived, thinking he was an Icelandic rock-climber before his time, and later scaled a regional fjord — which if you don’t know is a thin strip of steep and rocky cliffs formed by glaciers — and reportedly saw icebergs, then calling the land “Iceland”. So, as it turns out the country got its name because of Vikings with exceptionally creative naming skills (which holds true given the fact that Icelandic last names usually are formed by the father’s first name, i.e. DeVonte, and then the name of the son or daughter depending on the child’s sex, ie. DeVontesson and DeVontesdottir).
You may be remembering that I said I’d start in North America and later wrap around the world, and so thinking, “Hold on, I may not know much about Iceland, but I’m pretty certain it’s in Europe, right?” Well, even though the people, language, culture, and overall history are all Nordic at heart, and given the fact that it’s a lot closer to Europe geographically, much of the main island is on the North American continental plate, including the capital city. Still, some of the islands sit on the Eurasian side, and besides the teeny tectonic detail, Iceland is in Northern Europe.
You might have known that Iceland’s quite a ways up north, but it is one of the few countries that lies within the Arctic Circle. The big island where most people live isn’t, however some of the outer islands to the north sit comfortably close to Santa Claus’s workshop.
Reykjavík, the big star on the map’s west coast, is the northernmost national capital city in the world, and in addition to this, the majority of all Icelanders live in or around the city and its suburbs.
Reykjavík was historically set up as a fishing village in the 800s AD but didn’t even start getting developed as an urban area until the 1800s. So, backtracking, it basically took a whole millennium, one thousand years, that’s from the first century all the way to the nineteenth one, I to XIX in Roman Numerals, for them to get started on building the city up. Most of the population is descended from male Nordic settlers that left their women behind and fruitfully multiplied with their Celtic slave mistresses, although you really can’t blame the Vikings’ wives as this was all before Snapchat stories remained visible for 24 hours, and even still before fiber optic WiFi. Although, it is surprising that the majority of a nation was birthed from foreign settlers and their slaves, isn’t it?…
Iceland recently suffered a financial crisis in the late 2000s (right?!) due to all three of its major national banks defaulting around the time of our own Great Recession that affected economies globally but has since made major recoveries.
You can’t keep Europe down for too long!
Taking some steps back, before independence Iceland was a possession of Denmark-Norway, which sounds like a name I cleverly invented by placing a “-” between Denmark and Norway, but it was a real union of European states all before independence in the 1900s. So Iceland was technically Norway up until the early twentieth century, or Denmark, depending on what side of the hyphen you choose*.
It’s reasonable to question why in the world people would want to live so near to the North Pole. Because of the warm oceanic flow called the North Atlantic Current, Iceland maintains warmer temperatures than most other places along similar latitudes, which makes the islands surprisingly hospitable.
Before the Norsemen arrived Iceland still had significant and substantial forests, which were unfortunately laid and felled like bowling pins in the subsequent years, alongside the devastating sheep that put a large portion of the local shrubbery to bed through necessary feeding. At the time of Norse discovery, the only native mammal to the islands was the arctic fox, which for being the only one isn’t that bad of a mammal to represent a country. Let’s see, arctic foxes are edgy and ferocious, if you are into that, and also cute and fluffy, if you find that more appealing.
There was a climate shift called the Little Ice Age briefly after Medieval times and shortly before the third animated movie, which hit Iceland pretty hard. It blasted the islands with more ice (as if there wasn’t enough already in the country’s name) and an ensuing tundra climate that caused famine, disease and death all throughout the population, local agro-produce and the region’s natural ecosystems.
And now to break up that looming image in your head of an icy, tundra wasteland, in the coastal areas it can get as “hot” as 55 degrees F and generally doesn’t drop below the 20s F, which to me is amazing considering its tight proximity to the Arctic. It gets colder than that in the Midwest of the USA. Icelanders can thank North Atlantic Currents for that one.
Some major volcanic eruptions in the nation’s past (I’m eying two in particular -_-) have caused ash clouds, breathing hazards and flight problems, and basically all the bad things that can happen to air, across three different continents. The volcanoes couldn’t stand being subject to just Iceland, and even they were thinking “Let’s spew ash all over Europe, Asia, AND Africa” just to get themselves noticed.
One thing that’s hard for me to imagine as an American is that Iceland has no standing military, or sitting for that matter. Interestingly enough, there was a series of Cod Wars, as in the fish, cod, which was against the Iceland National Guard and “invasive” British fishermen.
So, let’s face it, the war history in Iceland isn’t all that robust, but they are impressively considered the most peaceful nation in the world and spend the least amount of money on the military. Now to get to the truly impressive nit and grit, Iceland has the second best quality of life in the world and ranks among the top best in economic freedom (BAM!), education (BAM again!), employment (one more time!), healthcare (two times!), life expectancy (BA-BAM!), and renewable energy worldwide (also remarkable), and are on target to being completely energy independent within the century, which means they control it “on their own terms”. As far as taking care of their citizens is involved, they are definitely a great role model for the rest of us to follow.
Icelandic, the national language of Iceland, is one of the few living languages that still closely resembles Old Norse, the language of the Vikings and Medieval Norse(wo)men, and the granddaddy of North Germanic languages like Swedish and Norwegian. They even still use cool letters that have been omitted from other alphabets like “ð” and “þ”.
Despite being a usually cold country, almost all of the major sports you can think of are practiced there, and the ones you can’t are still practiced there, too. The men’s national football (soccer) team qualified for the first time ever for the FIFA World Cup in 2018, which is still big because even now in 2019 there are teams that haven’t qualified yet.
It also has the second-most World’s Strongest Man competition winners, but Icelanders appear to practice anything from golf to shooting, and snowboarding to handball, and have even produced several international chess masters. This part alone could promote a whole ESPN evening special on just Iceland athletics (hopefully they get Charles Barkley to host).
I’m hoping that this information was helpful, educational, or at least interesting for those of you reading. Personally, the fact that Björk is from Iceland is plenty interesting. Human behavior.
Of course, there is a lot more to know but you should now have at least some base knowledge when you talk to that skier visiting from out of town. This is a continued learning experience for me, and as much the history, the ecology, and the cultures of all the world are concerned I am continuously very curious. If you happen to know Iceland, please leave comments, share what you know, what you like, what I got wrong, and we’ll keep learning together. Sound good?
For the next post, our subject should be O, Canada!
Thank you, and this was stuff about: Iceland.
Vielen Dank für das Lesen!