Icelandic Language Blog

Menningarnótt: music, art and beer. Posted by on Aug 19, 2012 in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs

Hulda reporting again from one of the many summer festivals in Iceland, the Menningarnótt (= Culture night). Despite the name it’s actually a whole day celebration starting out at 8 a.m. and continuing through the day and well into the night. Besides that I’m happy to announce that this is exactly the hundredth post published in the Icelandic blog of Transparent Languages. Happy 100th, Icelandic!

Menningarnótt can be roughly divided in two sections. First half is the daytime activities, art and hobby-related performances, some of which the viewers can partake in, parades and music, music and some more music. Considering the amount of inhabitants on this tiny little island the amount of musicians is nothing short of amazing. Add to that that you can find any type of music that you’re seeking to find, as today could prove. Jazz, tango, death metal, name it and I’ll probably be able to tell you where it was played. At times as I was walking downtown two or more different kinds of bands’ music bled into each other, creating a cacophony worth a gold medal.

I started out my day from Hallgrímskirkja where the medieval folk had set their booths. There was naturally a heavily armed group of vikings who took a disliking to one of the crowd members and threatened to kill him. When the crowd around was a bit too happy to agree with this plan the chieftain reconsidered and let the guy live. It’s never a good thing to let large amounts of people get in too much frenzy after all.

To the side of it they had a wooden pillory for anyone who was caught misbehaving, a table with medieval weapons and armour that you could try if you liked and naturally the staff was happy to discuss the viking era with anyone who had questions, both in Icelandic and English.

Walking down Skólavörðustígur the distant noise I had been wondering about grew to deafening levels. Music was suddenly blaring out everywhere with Icelanders around having conversations, or in other words shouting as loud as they could.* There were houses with open doors serving free waffles, I counted four myself but the news stated there were in fact ten such places all around Reykjavík. There were tables set with whatever wares people liked selling: old clothes, DVDs, self-made flatkökur (= “flat cakes”, a type of flat bread with a smoky flavour often eaten with hangikjöt, smoked lamb), books, fish and so on.

Restaurants naturally like the Menningarnótt for the crowd it gathers downtown** and set extra cooking points outside. The inside areas fill up quickly when this amount of people are all deciding simultaneously that they’re hungry, so the logical conclusion is to sell some food outdoors too. Typical edibles that can be found are flatkökur with hangikjöt, hamburgers, hot dogs, pink and blue cotton candy, lollipops in the shape of Iceland or the Icelandic flag, salads with very Icelandic ingredients*** etc. Beer and wine are sold by the side of the street in front of restaurants, something that was a bit of a culture shock for someone from a country where alcohol sold by the restaurant does not leave the restaurant areas, ever.

Street performances were going on everywhere. This one was particularly colourful.

Grilling hamburgers outside was smoky business! Hamburgers cost roughly 6$, soda pop 2$, so would you agree with the sign?

The statue of Hannes Hafstein, the best playground ever.

Whoever’s going to be playing on the big stage on Ingólfstorg seems to be a popular choice.

Outdoors market: Icelandic blueberries, smoked trout, freshly baked flatkökur, clothes, books and more.

“Some streets are summerstreets” meaning that the street is closed for traffic for the summer months.

And finally, this being Iceland, there was more faulty parking than you could shake a stick at. The police weren’t even interested in people’s parking habits, which is understandable considering the other half of the Culture Night is rather draining for them.

The division that I spoke of earlier in this post happens sometime after the shops finally close. That’s when everyone hits the bars. A larger than normal group of people getting rowdily drunk tends to get up to nothing good and this is what makes the police so lenient in small scale things like parking on the sidewalk – later on they’ll be needing all their energy to pull drunken fighters off of each other and cart away those partygoers that are passing out on the streets. Icelanders, when they drink, do it with a lot of energy and for as long as they can hold up a glass upright. So for those of you who’d perhaps like to partake in the Menningarnótt, choose your party well!****


*And oh, they could. Icelanders are good at being loud.

** This year there were roughly 50 000 people attending, say the papers.

*** If you’re a vegetarian/vegan I advice you to be very careful. Iceland has a long tradition of lots of meat and milk products and very little vegetables. A classmate of mine once asked if a certain food that included ham could be made without meat and the waiter had happily answered that they could change the ham to “chicken ham” instead.

**** You can of course choose both. That’s what the locals do.

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About the Author: hulda

Hi, I'm Hulda, originally Finnish but now living in the suburbs of Reykjavík. I'm here to help you in any way I can if you're considering learning Icelandic. Nice to meet you!