Eurovision – Iceland loves it!

Posted on 21. May, 2015 by in Icelandic culture


I am what I am by Helgi Halldórsson at Flickr. Pictured the ever so great Páll Óskar, one of the greatest artists Iceland ever sent to Eurovision!

It’s that time of the year again. People are slowly migrating towards the magic box in the living room, beers are cooling and grills are almost hot enough for the first course. There may be flags of each person’s favourite country, if the viewers are young there may well be a drinking game as well. You can’t say that spirits were rising: they’re already somewhere near the ceiling and aren’t coming down anytime soon –

– that is, if Iceland doesn’t fall from the semifinals. Yes, we’re not even at the grand final yet but looking at the locals you wouldn’t believe it although rest assured that Icelanders can always party harder. When it’s finally time for the big show the anticipation would make you think that something on world championship level was going on.

(EDIT: Nooooooooooooooo Iceland didn’t place for the grand final! First time since 2007 that Iceland’s not competing all the way to the end… it’s a bad year for the Nordics in general but at least Sweden and Norway are still in the game. Fight fight fight!)

I’m not even properly kidding here. The days around Eurovision are a constant buzz, expectations, hopes, eternal optimism (because Iceland is, in the Icelandic opinion, best in the world in everything it’s only a matter of time before they win the Eurovision). Advertisement time on the tv is more expensive than usual, yet every business that can will try to get theirs in. While the show is on very little happens elsewhere on the telly and why should it, no one would be watching that anyway.

The Icelandic dream of Eurovision victory isn’t entirely far-fetched either, going by the statistics. It’s placed second twice so far and been among the 15 best total 13 times, and let’s just say that the last time Iceland placed second the victory was close, so very close… 218 points for Is It True? performed by Yohanna (link) is quite impressive a score too. Alas, that year Norway sent in Alexander Rybak with Fairytale and he not only won, he made a record of most points ever given to a country. Icelanders still speak of that as an unfair defeat although I haven’t exactly found out what the unfairness was, just that Norway “stole” the victory from Iceland.


(132/365) Eurovision win by Sarah at Flickr.

What are we sending in this year? María Ólafsdóttir singing the song Unbroken (link). I quite like the tune, it’s very Iceland-typical in my opinion, a song that makes you smile despite yourself. My only gripe is that the lyrics are in English. Iceland has a regrettable habit of singing in English, even when the song itself was originally in Icelandic and had cleared the Icelandic semifinals in the mother tongue. I was especially unhappy about Sjónni’s Friends song Aftur heim being translated into Coming Home, although I admit it’s a very sweet song in both languages… here it is again, in memory of Sjónni himself who sadly passed away before ever seeing his song in the Eurovision competition.

To be honest though I’m not sure Iceland winning would necessarily be a good thing. Iceland is tiny and for the life of me I cannot think of a large enough a stage that could take on something of Eurovision scale. Building something that size would be quite useless too because what would happen after the competition was over, how would you find purpose for a building far too big, the population considered?


Hera Björk, Island by Aktiv I at Flickr. Another unforgettable Icelandic Eurovision star.

Oh well, it’s not like that’s ever going to stop anyone. If Iceland is known for anything it’s clearing unthinkable hurdles, and even when it places second everyone agrees Iceland is the best of the world anyway. Happy Eurovision to those of you who watch it – good luck Australia, first time in Eurovision this year (yes, Australia, no there’s no typo, I do mean the huge country below the continent of Asia) – and everyone, have a great time! Gangi ykkur vel!

Hulda recommendshulda078

Sometimes great Eurovision performances are forgotten, which is a shame and must be righted immediately. Here you are, some of Iceland’s best from different decades.

Þú og þeir (Sókrates) by Beathoven in 1988 (link). Awesome hair- and mustache styles! XD

Sjúbídu by Anna Mjöll in 1996 (link). Very danceable!

Congratulations by Silvia Knight in 2006 (link). Her jokes went somewhat misunderstood and she became disliked – I’m afraid that really is booing at the beginning of her performance. But hey, it’s the loudest booing in the history of Eurovision, the kind Russia can only dream about. Iceland’s still the top of the world!

Ég á Líf by Eyþór Ingi in 2013 (link). Linking to the official video because it’s so beautiful.

Five culture shocks of Iceland.

Posted on 14. May, 2015 by in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs

Save! No goal! by _becaro_ at

A culture shock will always catch you by surprise no matter how well you thought you had prepared yourself. Here are some that have given people big jumps before.

1. No ice hockey

The ice hockey world championship games are in full swing and the whole world is watching, holding its breath. The whole world? No! One little island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean does not care at all.

Really. There’s barely a note that the ice hockey world championship is even going on. Finding news about it in Icelandic takes some serious digging, whereas f.ex. the Finnish news are so full of game reports that you barely find the news articles sandwiched in between. Despite the whole country being named Iceland, Icelanders actually don’t really play or follow ice hockey so any fan of the game is going to be sorely disappointed.

What Icelanders do love instead is handball, and the passion they put into the game does not fall second to, say, my original homeland Finland’s ice hockey craziness. When important handball games are going on they equally drown out other news articles… sports are something that gets the same reaction out of people everywhere, only the favourite sport varies.

2. No alcohol in grocery stores

I remember the first time I returned to visit Finland after moving to Iceland, went grocery shopping and almost broke down crying in front of the beer section because I suddenly felt so very homesick. In Iceland Vínbúðin still has monopoly over alcohol sold in the country so thinking to buy your evening beer or wine while shopping for food is, alas, a futile plan: everything labeled beer or wine in grocery stores will be non-alcoholic.

On top of that the alcohol stores’ opening hours may pull the rug out from under your feet. You’ll be fine in Reyjavík but outside, especially in small towns, you better find out the opening hours in advance. You will also find that in some places the opening hours change for winter: in Borgarnes the store opens at 11.00 from May to September but at 12.00 for the rest of the year. Borgarnesians have it easy though: the people who buy their wine and beer at Búðardalur will have to plan around 16.00-18.00 except for Fridays (13.00-19.00) and Saturdays (12.00-14.00) during May-August, for the rest of the year the liquor store will close for Saturdays.

An alarm clock displaying the word "late". This could mean late for work, late for school, late for an appointment or meeting, etc.

Late by Evan at

3. Nordic punctuality? HAH.

While the rest of the Nordics are known for their love for schedules and even being ahead of them Icelanders seem to barely understand the purpose of a clock. Nothing is ever on time.

It’s not because Icelanders were lazy, mind you. They’re one of the most hardworking people I’ve ever come across. It’s just that time is a very stretchable thing on a little island where being late gives you no consequences, there’s always another tomorrow and trying to hurry up feels unpleasant. Yet if push comes to shove Icelanders can be amazingly fast and effective, and here’s where you see their approach to time split neatly in two parts. On the other, larger part is stretchable time on things that aren’t really that pressing such as tax papers. On the other side are emergencies, people in risk of injury or death, houses being on fire, a volcano threatening to swallow up a whole town, a glacier flood on its way. Evacuations, rescue operations etc. will be in full swing in a blink of an eye, thoroughly exercised and executed with perfection and often quite a bit of daring and sheer badassery.

By the way, it also seems to count as an emergency if you’re keeping an eye on the people working. If something’s just not happening despite waiting for a long time and sending in multiple e-mails and making phone calls, go to the place yourself and you’ll see the work being immediately completed in front of you.

4. The cost of no rabies

Also the cost of keeping the ecosystem safe from outside harm. Iceland has many rules and regulations on what you cannot bring into the country, which sadly includes all pet lizards and snakes. Iceland has none by itself and introducing them would be catastrophic for the local wildlife, especially the birds that nest on the ground. Keeping these exotic pets is therefore banned by law, but Iceland does not stop there in pet-manners.

If you’d like to move in Iceland with your dog, be prepared for a long quarantine period. Make sure the dog has a microchip, remember that the importing surveillance fee is currently at approximately 33.000ISK (~250$), and always be well in time with the animal’s rabies etc. shots. You will also be required to reserve a spot at a quarantine station well in advance, where the pet will then have to stay for four weeks upon arrival.

You can find more information on bringing pets to Iceland here. It pays to go through the checklist very carefully because failure at any point will mean no entry for your pet.

Blue lagoon sign 01 by Christopher Angell at Flickr,com

5. No dating

Icelanders do not date, at least not in the sense dating happens in the USA. In fact by the time you’re going out for dates you’re already considered an item! In Iceland dating is not meant for getting to know somebody and hopefully hitting it off, it’s a couple activity for spending romantic time together. Instead typical ways people couple off is either via a shared interest or a friends group, or sometimes even as an aftermath of a one night stand. The first option is much more common I’d say, although naturally Icelanders like to make jokes of the latter one being the norm. 😀

Also remember that if you’re going on a date with an Icelander they’ll expect you to pay for your own food and drinks unless otherwise stated. It may not sound gallant but the one thing that Icelanders always prefer over that is equality between the genders.

Oh no, I still had a culture shock!

Don’t worry, everyone will have one over one matter or another. I had my shock moments too, even though my country of origin has very similar culture to Iceland’s. In little time you’ll get used to how things are done over here and settling into the daily life becomes easier. Þetta reddast!

From hand-leg to leg-throat.

Posted on 07. May, 2015 by in Icelandic grammar, Uncategorized


Michaelangelo’s David by Joe Hunt at

Broadening your vocabulary is best started with themes, and I’m going to suggest body parts as a good first option! This is especially because you’ll find some dangers therein and some fairly interesting words as well, words that really make you wonder why and how do they even exist. Did the Icelanders of old just have a really wild imagination or a crazy sense of humor or… what?


Venus de Milo in the Musee de Louvre by edwin.11 at

Main parts

Líkami = body. Not to be confused with lík, which also means a body… just not a living one.

Höfuð = head. When used in compound words it usually means main-something such as in höfuðatriði (= main thing) or höfuðstaður (= capital city).

Öxl = shoulder, plural is axlir.

Búkur = torso.

Handleggur = arm. Also known as armur, but handleggur (lit. transl. “hand leg”) is my favourite!

Fótleggur/leggur = leg. Yes, I keep imagining fótleggur as foot-leg to match the arm-leg. 😀

Fótur = foot.

Hönd = hand. Icelanders don’t say “with open arms”, they say “tveimur höndum“, “two/both-handed”.


Moving on to smaller pieces, your höfuð has eyru (= ears, singular “eyra“), augu (= eyes, singular “auga“), nef (= nose) and munnur (= mouth). Occasionally someone might notify you that kjaftur is also a name for your mouth and probably that it should be shut (haltu kjafti = shut up).

Inside you’ll have a tunga (= tongue – by the way, “language” is tungumál in Icelandic, lit. transl. “tongue language”) and possibly tennur/tannir/tönnur (= teeth), or hopefully at least a singular tönn (= a tooth).


Andromeda by Eden, Janine and Jim at


Below is the háls (= throat). It connects the höfuð to the axlar and bringa (= chest), also to the bak (= back). Handarkriki (= armpit) may still be possible to figure out, but do you know where you have geirvörtur, “spear warts”? Those would be your nipples and alas, I have no idea whose idea was to call them that. Singular form is geirvarta.

Mitti (= waist) lies across your magi (= belly) and below it are your mjaðmir (= hips, singular mjöðm). Kynfæri (= privates) depend a bit on the person they’re on: men have a getnaðarlimur (= lit. transl. “begetting organ”), reður or typpi for short. Women have a leggöng (= lit. transl. “leg route”), commonly known as a píka. On the backside both have rasskinn (= buttocks, lit. transl. “butt cheeks”), or simply just rass (= butt).

The hips continue to the læri (= thigh/thighs), fótleggir (= legs) and fætur (= feet). At the end of each fótur you have tær (= toes, singular ) and on the other end hælar (= heels, singular hæll).


Toes have names… sort of. There’s stóratá/langatá (= big/long toe), also known as þumaltá (lit. transl. “thumb toe”). It’s followed by önnur tá, þriðja tá, fjórða tá and lítla tá (= second, third, fourth and little toe), but if that’s too unimaginative for you you can also call them Dyrgja, Bauga, Geira, Búdda and Grýta, or Stóra-Jóa (= Big Jóa), Nagla-Þóra (= Nail Þóra), Langa-Dóra (= Long Dóra), Stutta-Jóra (= Short Jóra) and Litla-Lóa (= Little Lóa).

The complicated ones are not common though, they’re more of a dialect thing and only used in certain small areas but they do exist and in my personal opinion they’re awesome!


Perseus by Cellini in the Loggia Dei Lanzi,Piazza della Signoria, photo by artorusrex at


If Icelanders love to give toes specific names fingers are even more popular. There’s þumall (= thumb), also known as þumalputti. Vísifingur (= index finger, lit. transl. “pointing finger”) comes next, but you can also call it vísiputti, bendifingur (= pointing finger) or sleikifingur (= licking finger). Third one is the langatöng, originally known as langastöng (= long pole). Fourth one is baugfingur (= ring finger), also hringfingur (= ring finger), and the last one is litlifingur (= little finger), also known by the names litliputti and lilliputti. Might Gulliver have visited a country of “little fingers”? 😀

But what in the world is the legháls, or leg-throat as it was translated for the title? Well – that would be a cervix. Again, I have no explanations why… but on another hand móðurlíf (= mother life), although equally surprising, is quite an impressive word for the womb!


EDIT: there’s a brilliant comment left by Jo that further delves into the matter – scroll down, don’t miss it!