There is so much that I like about Iceland, and I’m still hearing about or reading about new things that convince me that it really is the most civilised place on earth. Here are some Icelandic ideas and customs that I really like the sound of. (Icelandic friends, you can feel free to tell me if I am completely crazy…)
1. Knitting is taught in schools. In a country with so many sheep, woollen products and long winters, this would be a really useful skill to have. I’m sure this early exposure to creativity must have something to do with why so many Icelanders continue to be creative later in life. Also, knitting in today’s busy world encourages you to slow down and enjoy an older way of doing things, not a bad thing for kids to learn.
2. Sunshine coffee. Some Icelandic villages are situated in valleys within very long, high fjords. This means that there will a couple of months where the sun does not get high enough in the sky to be seen in these areas. Can you imagine not seeing the sun AT ALL for a few weeks? On the first day when the rays of the sun do penetrate down to the village, they celebrate by having coffee, and call it “sunshine coffee” .
3. Christmas Eve books. Books are still a very popular Christmas gift in this highly literate nation. (The literacy rate is apparently 99.9% – imagine being the one person in Iceland who can’t read!) This is the bit I love – sheets are washed for Christmas Eve and after you open your new books you get to go to bed in your specially washed sheets. How cozy is that! What a great idea.
4. Leaving babies outside restaurants. This is something that visitors to Iceland often notice and comment on, but in a shocked way like “How can you possibly think your baby will be safe left outside unattended?” Well, because it’s a good way to give them fresh air and also allow you some uninterrupted time to enjoy your meal. Really, no one is going to come along and steal the babies.
5. Cocoa soup (Kakósúpa). Basically, hot chocolate (but thicker) as a meal! Wonderful.
6. You get what you pay for. In Iceland, you pay more for things, but they are of high quality. Here, you can pay a lot for things that are really badly made and fall apart, or you can pay a little for things and you can expect them to fall apart. It’s harder to get high quality items generally. This high quality mentality also comes through in the way that Iceland doesn’t “do” cheap, tacky tourist attractions.
These next ideas all highlight what a fair, equal and non-judgmental society Iceland is. Ok, so it’s not perfect, and women are still paid less than men, but it’s better than most places in terms of treating people as individuals and letting them do their own thing.
7. Husband’s day. This is a timely one as it was only last week. Here in the UK, the way women generally speak about men is to describe everything they do as “useless”, and there is a lot of “typical man” disparaging sentiments . The idea of having a special day where it would be perfectly normal to buy your husband flowers and cook him a special meal would be laughed out of town. Yet in an egalitarian society like Iceland, even the men get their own special day. 🙂
8. Not judging single mothers. Iceland does have a high proportion of babies born outside wedlock. People aren’t judgmental about it. Apparently, it is because there is a long tradition of single mothers, as throughout history, most of the men were involved in fishing and had more chance of dying young and leaving them on their own.
9. Calling people by their first names. This is partly due to having patronyms rather than surnames, and partly down to treating everyone the same regardless of their age or job. The equivalent of “Mr” or “Mrs” is rarely used, and children can even call their teachers by their first names.
10. The swimming pool culture. I’ve mentioned this before as a great thing to do as a tourist to see real local life. Unfortunately, in my country a lot of people wouldn’t dream of sitting in a pool/hot tub with people they work with or even with their friends. They would be too self-conscious about themselves and find it too weird to see others in their swimming costumes or shock horror, naked in the changing areas! In Iceland, it’s no big deal, just a nice relaxing way of socialising, and I’m sure there are health benefits for all the oldies that do it.
Does your country have ways of thinking or customs that you are particularly proud of? Is it naive to think other countries have better ways of life than your own?
Update: This post has had more views than any other on my blog. For that reason, I followed up with 10 more good reasons to live in Iceland and to present more of a balanced view, 10 things to put you off living in Iceland.