Icelandic donut craze.

Posted on 06. Aug, 2015 by in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs


Chocolate sprinkles donut by mO1229 at Flickr.

A few days ago a friend of mine who lives in the UK contacted me and made some complaints about the state of affairs in their home country. “What about Iceland”, she then asked me, “what’s in the news?” I quickly opened a news site and found out the day’s main news were someone stealing 60 tiny birch trees and Dunkin’ Donuts opening 16 donut stores in Iceland.

This being main news is one reason why I love living in Iceland by the way. Nothing ever happens and although life here is slow and uneventful it’s often a blessed thing when compared to the news of other, more – well – interesting countries. The 60 stolen trees are still a mystery, but Dunkin’ Donuts certainly is known by all, Icelanders themselves made very sure of that (and for a good reason… this country doesn’t have f.ex. McDonalds or H&M so something like this is even bigger news than you’d think)!

As a friendly offer for the first day the donut shop opening on Laugavegur made an offer: 50 first customers of the opening day would receive about 300 free donuts each. That sure appealed to Icelanders who tend to have a bit of a sweet tooth anyway, and 11 hours before the shop opened the queue had already began to form. People arrived with warm clothes, blankets, sleeping bags, food and foldable chairs and settled down, chatting happily with each other through the night. Occasionally someone would slip away from the queue, likely to get something to eat or to use a bathroom somewhere nearby, returning after a while.


Six donuts by Rene Schwietzke at Flickr.

As another friend of mine dryly remarked, 300 donuts is not much of a wage for 11 hours of work but let’s not forget we’re dealing with Icelanders here. Time is what they have aplenty and Dunkin’ Donuts is a new and interesting thing. I’m very close to suggesting that the queuing may even have been more for the fun of it than the donuts themselves because that would also fit the Icelandic view on things: anything is worth doing if it’s fun, and anything not fun is not worth doing.

The queue grew slowly at first but by 3 a.m. it was already 60 people long and at the next day’s opening hour it had stretched some hundred people more. As only the 50 first ones were getting all those free donuts my suspicion gets stronger that people just found the idea of visiting a Dunkin’ Donuts shop on its opening day a bit of a fun pastime, nevermind how long it would take to actually get in. As for the shop itself this all made for the best kind of publicity any shop could hope for, since obviously in a country where nothing ever happens a night-long queuing for donuts is a very media-friendly topic. Lots of news articles on the queue appeared everywhere, it was on the television and on the radio, long story short it was a brilliant advertising move!


For comparison, here’s a traditional Icelandic donut – kleina. Photo by Kim&Amy at Flickr.

News on the occasion:

Röð fyrir utan Dunkin’ Donuts á Laugavegi (= a queue outside of Dunkin’ Donuts on Laugavegur). Link.

Stood in line all night waiting for Dunkin’ Donuts to open. Link. Same news but in English – handy for language students. :)

Ætla að opna 16 Dunkin´Donuts á Íslandi (= plan to open 16 Dunkin’ Donuts in Iceland). Link.

Dunkin’ Donuts is scheduled to open sixteen restaurants in Iceland in the next five years. Link. Similarly, a news pair in both Icelandic and English.

Mótmæla komu Dunkin´ Donuts til Íslands (= protesting the arrival of Dunkin’ Donuts to Iceland). Link. Because Icelanders would not be Icelanders if they didn’t protest.

Still massive queues at Dunkin’ Donuts. Link.

Guðmundur vill selja Dunkin’ Donut-kortið (= Guðmundur wants to sell the Dunkin’ Donut card [that gets you 300 free donuts per year]). Link.

Kleinuhringjaæði á Laugaveginum (= donut craze on Laugavegur)(literal translation would be something more like donut-loveliness though). Link. This one’s a video, you can train your language ear on it a bit. :)

Opnun Dunkin’ Donuts: “Nóttin köld en fljót að líða“ (= opening of Dunkin’ Donuts: “The night was cold but passed quickly”). Link. An interview on the first person in the queue, Agatha Rún Karlsdóttir, has lots of great photos of the night of donut-waiting.


And then for something completely different… remember the Icelandic swimming pool etiquette? Here‘s a warning example of what might happen if you don’t adhere to it (warning – public nudity is nothing shocking in Iceland, so there’s some naked men in the video)! 😀

Verslunarmannahelgi, party time in Iceland!

Posted on 30. Jul, 2015 by in Icelandic culture


Party fears two by Bo Valentin at Flickr. I can only assume this is Hólmavíkian sense of humour. :D

We’re preparing for yet another festival here, this time one that’s called Verslunarmannahelgi (= tradesmen’s weekend), our equivalent of the Labour Day. Originally started as all merchants’ holiday, it has turned into a country-wide one where people, merchants or not, party happily throughout the long weekend. People are already busily gathering food, getting ready to drive out of town or, as it may be, sail out of town, and naturally the local alcohol stores are being bombarded by Icelanders seeing both a long weekend and a tradition of being very drunk during this weekend up ahead.

Although nowadays the holiday has settled on the first Monday of August (and obviously on the whole weekend before that) the first time Verslunarmannahelgi was held was 13th September in 1894. The idea behind the weekend was influenced by similar summer celebrations for working class all around Europe, especially Denmark, and Icelanders really embraced the offered free day. Another change since the first holiday is that although it all began in Reykjavík it’s now far more popular to go spend the weekend in the Vestmannaeyjar, or Westmanislands, where a huge outdoors concert is held to celebrate the occasion. That’s not to say that it’s the only place for partying mind you, the biggest towns of Iceland each organize all kinds of activities – music, art and so forth.


Heimaey, iles Vestmann by Simon Bonaventure at Flickr.

The celebration is often considered to be the first goodbye said to the summer, and true to the thought Icelanders seek the great outdoors. It’s very typical to go camping on this day but not just anywhere, people gather in various outdoor festivals instead. If you happen to be in Iceland during this weekend you may find the local towns practically deserted with huge traffic jams on all routes out of town, it’s the biggest domestic travel weekend of the whole year.

Here’s a list of some names to look out for during this weekend:

Þjóðhátíð: the biggest festival held in Vestmannaeyjar. Has an entrance fee.

Ein með öllu: a festival in Akureyri. Entrance is free.

Síldarævintýri: in Siglufjörður, the name means “herring adventure” and refers to an old tradition of young men and women going to work there in the summer cleaning herring. Those days are long gone alas, disappeared along with the herrings… but the celebration lives on. Free entrance.

Neistaflug in Neskaupstaður. Family-targeted festival, entrance is free but some venues may have entrance fees.

Swamp soccer in Ísafjörður. As the name states it’s literally soccer played in deep mud! 😀 Messy, hard work, hilarious for the onlookers and very, very popular! This one has a registration fee for those who would like to partake in the game.


Untitled by Vestman at Flickr.

I wish I could just keep this post on a happy note throughout but a sad fact is that this particular holiday has a disturbing side to it, one that’s considered almost stereotypical. Perhaps fueled by alcohol the festivals, especially the one held on Vestmannaeyjar, have a sad reputation of all kinds of disturbance: vandalism, fights and alas, sexual violence as well. This year’s discussion on Vestmannaeyjar seems to be a on whether or not people should talk openly about such attacks, the police of the largest island Heimaey have been seen to act as if  they didn’t want people to make sexual harassment and rapes a public issue which has angered quite many, as you can imagine… my Facebook wall has been flooded with people disagreeing with what they view as the police trying to silence them. All I can say is that I hope all you party people will stay safe this year, keep an eye on your friends, especially if they seem really drunk and never abandon anyone passed out anywhere alone, friend or stranger.

Yet despite this darker side the festivals are massively popular, to a point that people staying in towns have gained a special nickname, innipúkinn (= indoors devil). Reykjavík has taken this part one step further and now holds a festival by the name Innipúkinn (does have an entrance fee), so don’t worry if you happen to be here and don’t feel like going on a camping trip, you’ll have a chance to embrace your “indoors devil”-side instead and enjoy Reykjavík turning into a party town!

A map showing all the festival locations can be found here.


Crowded downtown streets by Gediminas Paulauskas at Flickr.

Filling in your Icelandic.

Posted on 21. Jul, 2015 by in Icelandic customs, Icelandic grammar


Iceland by Rog01 at Flickr.

The one big difference between written and spoken Icelandic it would probably be this: spoken Icelandic has more words. Well – non-words, actually, more like fillers and exclamations of various types. Some are used for the typical purpose of a filler word, to patch a pause in conversation while the speaker is thinking of how to continue, some are used to strengthen whatever message is to follow and some actually have a very specific meaning, exclamations that can only be used in certain situations. Regardless, the most typical use for them is to pad the discussion to avoid awkward pauses, so let’s have a look at some of the things you can use to hide your thinking moments!

Typical fillers


Doesn’t really mean anything, just used to fill in pauses in speech, could probably be translated as “look”. You’ll hear it a lot if you’re talking with an absent-minded type of an Icelander, which can get a little annoying if you’re talking with them on the phone…


Would mean “here” if translated according to meaning, but often just used as a tool to wedge yourself in to some conversation you find interesting. “I heard that they’re planning to build yet another hotel on Lækjargata -” “Hérna – are you sure they can even fit another one on it now?”

Þúst (= þú veist)

Technically speaking this means “you know”, and it’s used in a similar manner as the English you know – you know, to, you know, just slip it in you know, with no one actually being interested in what you know. You know. Both Þú veist and þúst are used but the shortened version is more common, especially among the young people.

Naturally nothing stops you from using all three, and there’s a type of a person who would do exactly that, a lot and often: “Sko – hérna, sko, þúst…” At worst you’re looking for a few minutes of skohérnaþúst-ing before the person actually manages to say what they wanted to tell you. 😀

Strengthening exclamations

Æ –

This one just means “oh” and has a wide variety of uses, all depending on the tone of your voice. Someone ran into some misfortune? Æ-eee with sympathy. You really want to pick a fight with someone? Æ þegiðu (= oh shut up) usually does it. It may not sound that bad but it’s actually quite a rude thing to say in Iceland, not that that ever stops anyone from using it as this example shows.

Exclamations with specific meaning


“Hear, you.” Another good word to use when you want to hop into a conversation, or just plain old getting someone’s attention. A very typical way of starting any conversation, especially with a stranger.

Oj (also oj barasta)

“Ew”, no other meanings. If you say Oj/oy/oi in Iceland people will immediately think you ‘re voicing your disgust over something, so be careful if this exclamation works differently in your own language! Finns especially, while saying “oi, parasta!” (= oh, this is the best!) about food in Finland is totally fine doing the same in Iceland will backfire – oj barasta is the epitome of grossness.


This one has to be divided into two different versions, both of which can have a very specific meaning. The first one comes with stress on the latter syllable – jæJA – and typically carries the meaning “well then”. It can be used as a friendly way of interrupting people from whatever they’re up to, or interrupting a conversation to announce something that’s not the topic. The other one has the stress in front – ja – and tends to mean “NOW you’ve really done it”.  If you hear this version, drop whatever you’re doing and look as apologetic as possible, because whatever you just went and did did not go well with the person addressing you. Mothers have their own version of this latter jæja that has high destructive force behind it and can sweep the legs off of even the baddest, most troll-like people this country has (works best if it’s their own mother).

Filler words are quite handy by the way! If you get stuck trying to remember how to say something in Icelandic, skohérnaþúst a little and see if the extra time you won for yourself helped out. Another thing it’s useful for is figuring out what you’re going to say if you’re in a quick situation, someone asks you something and it catches you entirely unprepared; jæja for a while in a steady tone while you go through your memory storage on possible answers. However, if nothing comes up it’s good to give up before the other person begins to look pained or starts inching away from you sideways… 😀