Five Things Not To Say To An Icelander

1. “Isn’t Iceland like actually green and Greenland is actually ice or something?”

This needs to stop. You might feel good about the fact that you know an amusing little thing about Iceland, but every Icelander you say this to will have heard it more times than they care to count by the age of six.

If you have ever looked at an atlas or a globe in your life, you may have noticed that Greenland is a colossal block of ice, the northern tip of which is as close as you can get to the North Pole before stepping off land, onto the ice sheet. Whereas Iceland sits just south of the Arctic Circle and is usually painted a mousy brown color by cartographers.

If you still feel that you need to impress a passing Icelander with a factoid about the country, try the following alternatives:
“Hey! Iceland! Isn’t that where the first parliament was held?”
“Hey! Iceland! Isn’t that where you guys eat hella whales?”
“Hey! Iceland! Isn’t that where the volcanic eruption that caused a few years of famine in Europe and eventually led to the French Revolution occurred?”

2. “Isn’t Iceland the country where the corrupt bankers were overthrown, a new constitution was crowdsourced and everyone lived happily ever after?”

No. It may have seemed so for a while, especially with the way the internet tends to find and popularize articles that sacrifice solid research and facts for buzzword-loaded sensationalist nonsense, but Iceland is not where the age of enlightened government and financial policymaking will begin, not yet at least.

In fact, this year the results of the Icelandic parliamentary vote were quite surprising. The centre-right parties – which include the Independence Party and Progressive Party – ousted the social-democrat led coalition that is responsible for the modest but stable financial recovery Iceland has undergone since the last election.

The real kicker is that it has only been five years since this exact same parties were responsible for the loose regulations and wave of privatisation that led to the collapse. And it seems that the only change to their agenda this time around is that they are also pushing for eased regulations on foreign investment in Iceland.

Further Reading:
Example story containing misleading information concerning Iceland overthrowing the “evil bankers”: Iceland’s ongoing revolution
Step-by-step deconstruction of the previous article: A Deconstruction of Iceland’s ongoing revolution

3. “Doesn’t Iceland have the most beautiful women in the world?”

No. Well, yes, maybe, I don’t know. The problem isn’t the question. You may even think you’re paying Icelanders you say this to a complement. The problem is the person asking it.

You may have seen Quentin Tarantino expound on the “supermodels” he hung out with at the bars in Reykjavík. Or maybe it was the ill-conceived and domestically unpopular ad campaign Icelandair aimed toward young European men a decade ago with slogals like “Have a one night stand in Reykjavik” and “Fancy a dirty weekend in Iceland?” Needless to say, these are gross misrepresentations of what Iceland is actually like.

Iceland has made great progress in equal rights. The most publicized recent accomplishments include a female prime minister in a same-sex marriage, full marriage, adoption and fertilization rights for same-sex couples, and a law requiring corporations to have at least 40 percent of each gender on their boards.

So, a question that so bluntly objectifies 50 percent of the country will not go down well, no matter who you’re talking to. And we all think you should grow up a bit before you open your mouth again.

4. “Don’t all you guys believe in elves?”

No. Just don’t even go there.

5. “Isn’t that where ‘B’Jork’ is from?”

Ok firstly, B’Jork sounds like a Klingon name. You should be ashamed of yourself. The proper way to pronounce her name is  “pjœr̥k.”

To be fair, Icelandic is not easy. Many of the sounds are difficult to pronounce if you didn’t spend the greater part of your childhood in Iceland. The rolled R’s (always precisely three clicks of the tongue against the bridge of your teeth), the pre-aspirated double consonants, the letter ð and the letter þ. And then there’s “Eyjafjallajökull,” the infamous volcano.

But as difficult as it may seem, you should keep trying until someone says “very good” (this might mean either “ok, enough” or “that’s actually pretty good,” you will never know which). No Icelander will ever think you are a fool for trying to learn how to pronounce the name of the place you are in or want to go to.

The amount of effort (success is optional) you as a visitor put into remembering and pronouncing Icelandic words, especially names (I can not stress this enough) will directly result in people having more time for you. And remember, there is no worse conversation starter in the whole world than “Is that really your name? I’ll never remember that.”


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