A volcano going off, just to annoy you

What are the worst and most annoying things about Iceland? What do people hate about living here?

We decided to come up with a list of the 10 worst things about Iceland. To be honest, I’m a big fan of Iceland, and became an even bigger fan the longer I spent away from it, so this was not an easy list to make! I’ve also made a list of 10 amazing Icelandic things that locals take for granted – just to show you the opposite of this list.

But if you really want to know what I think are the worst things about Iceland, here is the list of my top 10.

10. Not much product variety

Monopoly in the milk section

Iceland is a small and isolated country far north in Europe where the weather is volatile and hardly anything grows. In recent years Iceland has started producing excellent quality of lamb, seafood and dairy (most notably 'skyr') – even some vegetables – but pretty much any fruit needs to be imported. As well as a number of other things, such as (most) alcohol, international clothing brands or design brands, household items, electronic goods, machinery, building materials, luxury items, furniture etc. (This could also be seen as a positive – no McDonalds, no Starbucks…)

The best selection is found in Reykjavík but as soon as you leave the capital the product you might be looking for becomes scarce. The variety of international food is exceptionally good though, considering how small the country is, e.g. there are Indian, Mexican, Chinese, Italian, Vietnamese, Turkish, Korean, Japanese and even Ethiopian restaurants – but so far, sadly, no Dim Sum.

Picture from Pret-a-voyager.

9. Fashion trends and keeping up with the Jónses

The 'must have' Omaggio vase for every Icelandic household

With such a small selection of products, particular products will become fashionable – to the extent that EVERYONE needs to own the same thing and eventually it will sell out, leading to complete havoc. People often strive to look different but most of the time they just end up being copied and eventually everyone looks the same again - and the cycle begins again.

At one point EVERYONE dressed in ‘kraftgalli’ - a dark blue overall (the most sensible fashion trend there ever was), then EVERYONE had Buffalo shoes (both guys and girls). In the 80’s EVERYONE had to own a foot massage machine, then EVERYONE had to own SodaStream and in 2014 EVERYONE had to own an Omaggio vase. It’s also such a small community that everyone is constantly trying to do better and look better than the next person – and you don’t want to miss out and be the only person that DOESN’T own the latest trend, do you?

Picture from Mikkili design Twitter page.

8. State run alcohol shops

Price difference between ÃTVR and the Duty Free

If it’s been a hard day and it’s a lovely evening and you’d like to have a beer – or even crack open a bottle of wine – then you’d have better planned that in advance and bought your beer/wine before 8pm! Otherwise you can only buy it at a bar – or restaurant – for 5 times the regular price.

Not that the state run alcohol shop, ÁTVR, is cheap either, you can get your alcohol in the Duty Free (Fríhöfnin) for a fraction of the price of what you'd get it in a liquor store in town. So, stock up!

Picture from DV.

7. You can’t disappear into the crowd

Even in LA, you can't disappear in the crowd!

The population is small. Very small. To be more exact, only 320 thousand people live in the entire country. Outside Reykjavík it’s tiny but even within Reykjavík it’s still very small and everyone knows everything about you (or they can find out easily).

If you ever feel like really letting your hair down, you won’t really be able to because your mum’s best friend’s brother will see you and tell his best friend who happens to be your best friend’s dad. And he’ll be pissed off. Or something like that. (This scenario fits best with teenagers).

Or if you write a book/act in a play/release a song but it gets awful criticism – everyone will know about it and you can’t just pretend it never happened.

Or if you go on a blind date (which no-one does) – there’s a high chance that your date may be a) related to you b) someone that lives in the same house as you (awkward if it doesn’t work out!) c) that weird guy/girl from school that really fancied you when you were in 8th grade. What happens in Iceland, stays with… pretty much everyone in Iceland. No wonder people like to go on holidays abroad!

Picture from a Stuðmenn concert, taken off MySpace.

6. You can’t avoid people

Another annoying thing about the small population. In one way it’s really nice to go outside and bump into a few friends or acquaintances wherever you go but in another way it can be quite annoying if you keep bumping into your former boss that fired you, or your ex with his/her new partner and kids (and somehow you always look terrible when that happens) or that freaky man/woman that’s somehow related to you but you never remember how and he/she just won’t shut up!

5. The isolation

Picture by S. Jameson of Elliðaey island

People that live in such a small and isolated country feel like getting away from it from time to time. As Iceland is an island far away from the rest of Europe, you can’t just hop on a train or go on a road trip. You will either need to sail from Seyðisfjörður in the east part of the country to Scotland or Denmark or use the more popular option and fly.

Icelandair, Wow Air and EasyJet all operate regular flights between Iceland, USA and Europe, amongst a number of other airlines. It’s pretty expensive to go anywhere, somewhat limiting your options.

Picture by S. Jameson, taken from Earthporn.

4. Sun guilt

A road closed due to sunny weather

Whenever the sun does make an appearance it’s a specific Icelandic trait to want to make the most of it. By making the most of it you should be outside, meeting friends, eating ice-cream, hiking a mountain, taking the kids for a swim, cleaning the car, throwing a bbq, going for a bike-ride, taking lots of smiling selfies in your cute summer outfit – all at the same time.

If you somehow fail to do all of these things (or ANY of them), you’ll get the sun guilt. People will say “Wow, the weather was amazing yesterday, sun, no wind and 8°C! I tidied the entire garden and planted new herbs and then had a dinner party for 12 people on my balcony in the evening sunshine, what did you do?” And then you can’t just say “I was hungover and woke up late in the afternoon and just watched Disney movies in the evening...”

Picture from the old Reykjavík city website.

3. All the complaining

Don't worry, þetta reddast...

OK, I could’ve put the “Financial situation”: Housing shortage in Reykjavík, high taxes, bad bankers, foreign currency limitations, financial collapse…

In fact, I’d rather say that the constant complaining about the cost and taxes and loans (and the weather!) are worse than the cost and taxes and loans (and the weather) themselves. OK, it’s not great and you need to talk about it in order to try and solve it (except for the weather, talking about it doesn’t change anything) – but do we really need to be complaining about everything all the time? Iceland did pretty well after the recession – and is held in high regards by other nations telling us ‘this is how you get out of a recession’.

Iceland is also one of the safest countries in the world, with a high life expectancy and the best gender equality, maybe we should be focusing more on what's going well? Everything can be even better but constant complaining won’t necessarily help. (For sure, someone will complain about this article, probably mostly this point! And possibly also complain about some other point being here, or not being here...)

Although this brings me to the top 2 complained about Icelandic things:

2. The politics

There was a massive financial collapse, people rioted and brought down the leading political party and assembled a new one, (that did pretty well in re-establishing the country considering the mess it was in when they started), only to re-elect the party that was responsible for the crash a few years later.

Don't even get me started on the Panama papers.

And people in charge keep hiring their family members and friends for other highly regarded positions, giving the nation even more to complain about. Need I say more? 

1. The weather – especially the wind

The weather has to top the list. No matter how much complaining Icelanders do about the politics and financial situation – they always complain more about the weather. Although snowstorms can be fun and exciting, especially when you don’t need to go outside and can cuddle up indoors with hot chocolate and a movie, they become slightly frustrating when they happen daily – as they did last winter.

It’s also a little annoying waking up to bright sunshine, dressing accordingly, then leaving the house and it’s raining, so you go back in and put on a raincoat and wellies, go back outside and it’s boiling hot, you decide to wear the raincoat in case it rains again – but lose the wellies, which wasn’t a good idea because later in the day it’s snowing... Or something along those lines.

Bright point about the (sometimes) awful weather is that people are very appreciative those few days a year when the weather actually is nice. Maybe a little too appreciative (see point number 4 about the sun guilt). Don't be too put off by the winter weather though, as in between storms we get lovely calm days and possibly even a Northern Lights performance!


All examples made in this article are fictional and not from a personal experience. I’ve never been on a date with a relative or anyone that lives in my house, I’ve never been fired, I have a great relationship with all my exes and always look like I just stepped out of the cover of a Vogue magazine whenever I bump into them and all my relatives are completely sane and don’t talk loudly or at length. And I definitely never let my hair down as a teenager and got found out – or at an older age. And actually, I love the Icelandic weather.

(There may only be partial truth in some of the aforementioned statements).