Áslaug Ellen G Yngvadóttir
Crash Course about Iceland
Iceland, you probably already know, is an island located in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. Our capital, Reykjavík, literally means ”Smokey Bay”. It is located on a constantly active geologic border between North America and Europe – and is 11% covered with glaciers, thus making it a land of extreme contrasts. Our island is especially known for unexpected and diverse landscapes. You’ll be driving through a mossy volcanic lava field when suddenly spotting on the horizon a big massive glacier (in my mind, we are driving through Mýrdalssandur from Vík, and then seeing the largest glacier in Europe, Vatnajökull) or you’ll be seeing the the amazing eruption of a Geyser (Strokkur) (which goes off every few minutes) and then seeing a massive glacial water-waterfall (Gullfoss). We also have the largest desert in Iceland and endless mountain ranges, everywhere.
Climate & Nature
Iceland is surprisingly warm, despite it being one of the northernmost inhabited places on the planet. Here we have Mexico to thank, due to the Gulf Stream that reaches Iceland from there. The average temperature in Reykjavík is 4 degrees Celsius and in January, -0.5 degrees. However, don’t get me wrong, the weather can definitely be rough. Being an island, it’s often (not always!) very windy and rainy. But you will find out that forgiving Iceland for its weatherly faults is easy, because sometimes you look around and all you can think is, WOW. Even for me, born and raised here, I still get these moments, and each year I find out that there are an endless amount of places that I have yet to visit. So don’t worry, there’s plenty to see.
Iceland is geologically young, and contains roughly 200 volcanos of various types. Interestingly, we even got a new island by the name of Surtsey, from a volcano that erupted from the bottom of sea, starting in 1963 and growing all the way to 1967. The island grew to about 2.5 square km and rose to 1670 metres about sea level. The Island is a UNESCO heritage site, and visiting the island is not permitted, since they are keeping an eye on how the eco-system evolves.
Culture, History & Politics
Iceland was founded more than 1,000 years ago, during the Viking age of exploration and settled by a mix of Norse and Celtic people. Despite our physical isolation (our nearest European neighbour is Scotland 800 km! away) we still feel like we are a part of European culture, and we are of course a Scandinavian country. However, there is a duality within us, since we are probably the most Americanised of all the Scandinavian countries, due to the American occupation in the Second World War. We almost never go to the theatre without buying popcorn and a huge Coke-Cola, a custom learned from the Americans. The population is very homogenous, and we are quite possibly the only ”nations” in the world. This is because we all have mostly the same origins and we are very isolated. In fact, we all speak the same language, and there are no dialects!
Iceland has the oldest democracy in the world, and the oldest parliament, which was founded in Þingvellir in 930. We have been a sovereign country since the year 1918, and we left the Danish Monarchy in 1944. You’ll notice that we slithered out during the Second World War, during the time that Denmark was occupied by Germany. Our constitution is based on Denmark’s old constitution, and we consider ourselves to be parliamentary democracy (although that is nowhere stated in our constitution).
We are very proud of Icelandic Saga’s, despite that reading them in elementary school required some patience. They are about heroes who were supposed to have lived in the 10th and 11th centuries, around the time the island was settled. Most of them are entertaining and very bloody.. so if you are interested some have probably been translated into your language. They tell a story of Europeans that became far removed from continental centres of commerce and culture, and had to create their own culture.
Iceland is not a part of the European Union, but the topic sparks great debates among Icelanders, should we join or should we not? The greatest questions regards fisheries, if we join, would we be allowed to keep control over them? We are however, part of the European Economic Area, so we are a part of the free flow of money, people and labour within the EEA. Most of our trade go to countries European Union, or about 3/5, so it makes perfect sense! Today, most of the country’s revenue come from tourism and fishing. Our energy resources are vast, and hydro-energy and geothermal energy serves almost all of the country’s energy’s consumption. The energy is also used for commercial vegetable farming.
You’ll notice that Icelanders speak excellent English, largely due to the fact that very few people in the outside world actually speak Icelandic. So for us to be able to speak English is very important in order to make contact with the outside world. Most of the television shows we watch are in English, and nothing is dubbed in Icelandic – this is a great contribution for our English skills. Now kids learn English from the 1st grade, but most of the people you will speak to started learning it in the 5th grade.
Anyways, if you are coming over, we welcome you! .. and we hope you will be interested to ask more questions about our peculiar nation.
Kær kveðja! Áslaug