Disappearing into the Highlands might allow you to escape bumping into your ex... for the time being

Top 10 Worst Things About Iceland

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Learn about Iceland’s problems, so you can consider them when planning your trip. You keep hearing about the country’s beautiful landscapes, but what are some bad things about Iceland? What do the Icelandic people dislike, loathe, or despise about their own culture? Continue reading for answers to these questions and more. 

It was not easy to come up with a list of the ten worst things about our otherwise celebrated country. To be honest, I am a big fan of Iceland and continue to become an even bigger fan the longer I spend away; without my experiences traveling to other countries, this would not have been possible.

However, in my effort to provide a fair and balanced glimpse into Iceland, I’ve also covered the opposite in a list of 10 amazing Icelandic things that locals take for granted – take a look and tell us which is more up your alley.

If you want to know the worst things about Iceland, keep reading for my list of the top 10 of our most terrible vices and bothersome traits.

10. Limited Product Variety

An old sing-along commercial from Mjolkursamsalan - Iceland's monopolizing dairy giant

When it comes to Iceland problems, the first one that visitors always notice is the limited product variety at local stores. Iceland is a small and isolated country at the very edge of the Arctic, where the weather is volatile, there are (almost) no trees, and hardly anything grows. The country has always been avid in its production of lamb, seafood, dairy, and root vegetables, but pretty much everything else has to be imported.

This includes nearly all fruit, alcohol, soft drinks, international clothing brands or design brands, household items, electronic goods, machinery, building materials, luxury items, furniture—the list goes on and on. Even though we might get a little bit of every kind of product, these are far from varied since the demand is so easily met due to our limited number of residents.

The best selection is found in Reykjavik, but the goods you're looking for become incredibly scarce as soon as you leave the capital. Thankfully, the variety of international food is excellent, considering how small the country is. Indian, Mexican, Chinese, Italian, Vietnamese, Turkish, Korean, Japanese, and even Ethiopian restaurants can all be found here — but so far, sadly, still no dim sum.

9. Fashion Trends and National Fads

Iceland-based Inklaw Clothing has been taking the young men's fashion scene by storm in the last couple of years

With such a small selection of products, particular commodities will become fashionable to the extent that seemingly everyone needs to own the same thing. Eventually, that thing will sell out, leading to complete mayhem on the streets. People strive to look different, but most of the time, they just copy one another so that eventually, everyone looks the same—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 a pair of Buffalo shoes (both guys and girls). In the ’80s, everyone had to own a foot massage machine, then a SodaStream, and in 2014, an Omaggio Vase. And in 2016—well, you see where this is going.

It’s just such a small community that when a trend catches on, it catches on quickly and on a nationwide scale. Also, you don’t want to miss out and be the only person that doesn't own the latest trend, do you? This is one of the bad things about Iceland; other countries with larger populations and more varied regional trends are less susceptible to this problem.

8. State-Run Liquor Stores

There is a variety of beer in Iceland, but it can be pricey!Photo from Locally Hosted Reykjavik Beer & Food Tour at the Old Harbor

In Iceland, if you've had a long, hard day and you’d like to drown your sorrows or numb your senses with a nice, cold beer—or even crack open a bottle of wine—then you’d better have planned that instinct well in advance.

If the clock has reached the very Christian hour of only 6 p.m., your only option is to get your alcohol fix at the nearest bar or restaurant, but for five times the regular price. 

The sale of alcohol in Iceland is limited to the state, meaning it's only sold in the state-run liquor store known as ATVR. All the same, taxes keep piling on to their prices, which means you can get your fix most cheaply in the duty-free shop at the airport. So, upon arriving in this fair but afternoon-booze-deprived country, stock up.

7. You Can’t Disappear into the Crowd

There are just a few hundred thousand people in Iceland.Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by OddurBen

Another persistent problem in Iceland is that the population is small. Very small. More precisely, only 330,000 people have permanent residency in the entire country. The communities are incredibly tiny outside Reykjavik, but even within the capital, seemingly everyone knows something about you (or they can find out easily).

If you ever feel like letting your hair down, you won’t be able to because your mom’s best friend’s brother might see you—and tell his cousin, who happens to be your best friend’s dad, all about your drunken escapades. Let’s say you write a book or perhaps a play, maybe you even release a song, and it gets awful criticism—everyone will know about it, and you cannot just pretend it never happened.

Or, if you go on a blind date, there’s a good chance that your date may be a) related to you; b) someone that lives in your building (meaning awkward encounters in the hall if it doesn’t work out); or c) that weird guy/girl from school that 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 their holidays abroad!

6. You Can’t Avoid Anyone

Disappearing into the Highlands might allow you to escape bumping into your ex... for the time being

Another of the annoying problems with Iceland’s small population is that no one ever completely disappears out of your life. On the one hand, it can be nice to go outside and bump into a few friends or acquaintances wherever you go.

But on the other, it can be pretty annoying if you keep bumping into the former boss that fired you, or your ex with their new partner and kids (and somehow you always look terrible when that happens) or that weird person that’s somehow related to you, but you never remember how and they just won’t shut up about their new business venture. 

Do you know those unwritten rules about not hooking up with your best friend's ex-flame or one of your sister's classmates? In Iceland, that doesn't apply since there are so few people around that everything and everyone must be shared. That doesn't make those incidents any less annoying, though, but this is Iceland, so you simply have to suck it up, even after you've broken up! This is one of the social issues in Iceland that doesn’t exist elsewhere.

5. The Isolation

Much of Iceland is very isolated.

People that live in such a small and isolated country naturally feel like getting away from it from time to time. But as Iceland is an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, far away from the rest of Europe's mainland, you can’t just hop on a train or go on a road trip to escape the clutches of your home base.

You’ll either need to sail from Seydisfjordur in the East to Scotland or Denmark or use the more popular option and book a flight abroad.

IcelandairWow Air, and EasyJet operate regular flights between Iceland, the United States, and Europe, among many other airlines. But flying anywhere is always pretty expensive, somewhat limiting your options, making many locals feel stuck in Iceland. It’s not that Iceland is boring; we just like a change of scenery every once in a while – just like most travel lovers.

4. Sun Guilt

Better soak up that sun while you can, another chance might not happen for the whole year!

Whenever the sun makes an appearance, it’s a specific Icelandic trait to make the most of it. By making the most of it, you should be outside, meet friends, eat ice cream, hike a mountain, take the kids for a swim, clean the car, throw a BBQ, go for a bike ride, take lots of smiling selfies in your cute summer outfit—and preferably all at the same time. Good luck if you are supposed to be working, and the sun starts shining!

If you somehow fail to do all of these things (or any of them), you’ll feel the dreaded sun guilt. People will say, “Wow, the weather was amazing yesterday; sun, no wind, and 46 F (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 feel like such a failure of a human being when you answer: “I was so hungover that I woke up late in the afternoon and just watched movies in the evening until passing out.”

On the flip side, this is one of the problems in Iceland that is a blessing. As a result, wasting the good weather is not something Icelanders often do.

3. All the Complaining

Complaining about snowfall is a winter tradition!

Okay, in this section, I could have included our currency, politics, taxes, bankers, snow, storms, housing shortage, tourism, or a dozen other things. 

But, truthfully, I’m beginning to find the constant complaining about things more annoying than the things themselves. Sure, a string of issues aren't great, and they need to be addressed to change, but sometimes it feels as if the Icelandic people just love to complain. About everything, really.

The silliest thing people love to complain about is the weather, but it's not like anything can be done about it. It’s just one of the problems in Iceland that you learn to get used to.

2. The Politics

If I'm allowed to complain a little bit, Icelandic politics have started to wear Icelanders out. There was a massive financial collapse in 2008 when people rioted and brought down the leading political party. Then, they assembled a brand new one (that did pretty well) only to re-elect the party responsible for the crash a few years earlier.

The new constitution written by an official assembly didn't get approved by the government, and all changes that appear on the horizon get swept under the rug repeatedly.

And don't even get me started on the Panama Papers. In Icelandic politics, it seems corruption has become the norm, and the people are becoming numb to it all. Those in charge keep hiring their family members and friends for important positions, allowing the corruption to continue and giving the nation an endless array of things to complain about.

The worst part is that of this entire list of the worst things about Iceland, this is the only one we could change. At least you would think we could.

1. The Weather (Especially the Wind)

The weather has to top the list of bad things about Iceland. No matter how much complaining Icelanders do about politics, housing, or state finances, they always complain more about the weather.

Although snowstorms can be fun 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 do some winters.

It’s also a little annoying waking up to bright sunshine, dressing accordingly, then leaving the house to find out it’s raining. So, you go back in and put on a raincoat and boots, go back outside, but now it’s boiling, but you decide to wear the raincoat just in case it rains again—but lose the boots, which isn't good because later in the day it’s started to snow. Just your typical autumn day in Iceland!

The bright point about the (sometimes) awful weather is that people appreciate those few days a year when the weather is nice. Maybe a little too appreciative (see item #4 about sun guilt). Don't be too put off by the winter weather, though, as in between the nasty storms we get calm and lovely days, and come nightfall, possibly an appearance from the northern lights


All examples made in this article are fictional and not arrived at from a personal experience. I’ve never been on a date with a relative or anyone that lives in my house. I have a great relationship with all my exes. And I always look like I just stepped off the cover of Vogue whenever I bump into them. I like Icelandic food, and I love the Icelandic weather.

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