Are the Icelandic people strange? Iceland, like any other country, has some quirky, odd, peculiar things about it and its inhabitants. For some people certain things are strange while for others they aren't.

Most of the time when you read about strange things in Iceland you'll read about Icelanders believing in elves, having 13 'Yule Lads' and still eating disgusting food. Although it's all true, it's perhaps a bit of a cliché.

I decided to make a different list of Icelandic, perhaps more recent, oddities.

It depends on if you are from the UK, Sweden, Argentina, China or the USA how weird you'll find some things on this list. When I asked foreigners in Iceland for some help, it got hard to choose only 10! But these are my top 10 strangest things about Icelanders (that are all perfectly normal to me!)

1. There are no surnames or family names in Iceland

There are exceptions to this. There are a few family names in Iceland, mostly Danish. Some of them have lasted for decades but these family names are not that common and mostly originate from foreigners marrying into an Icelandic family.

For the majority of Icelanders people have a last name that is comprised from their father's (or mother's) first name with the addition of -dóttir (-daughter) or -son. F.ex. my father's first name is Gunnar, so my last name is Gunnarsdóttir (Gunnar's daughter). This means that a member of a family will have a different last name to both of their parents and their siblings of a different gender. Women also do not change their name when they get married (because they obviously don't become the 'son' of their husband's father).

This also means we call everyone by their first name, be it our teachers, our doctors, Björk (Guðmundsdóttir), Eiður Smári (a footballer known as his last name 'Gudjohnsen' abroad) or our former president Vigdís (Finnbogadóttir).

Using titles such as Mr, Mrs, Miss or Dr is not common either. So, don't get offended if an Icelander doesn't know your last name or calls you by your first name the first time you meet (and every time afterwards), we're just not used to anything else!

2. Former Reykjavík Mayor Jón Gnarr

jon gnarr taking a shower

If you haven't heard or read anything about Jón Gnarr do so. This former comedian/actor/punk rocker that until shortly was Reykjavík's mayor formed The Best Party in 2009 and maybe-not-so surprisingly won the elections in 2010, defeating the established Independence party led government.

Since then he has been featured and written about all over the world, for his eccentric and fun style and mainly because he always dresses up in drag for Gay Pride. Jón had no background in politics when he became mayor. The picture of him at the top was taken after his pool jump campaign, which you can see in the video below.

3. Beer was banned for Vikings

For a country where the inhabitants LOVE their alcohol, it comes as a surprise that beer was banned in the whole country up until the 1st of March 1989. As a consequence, people still 'celebrate' the 1st of March each year by drinking a few pints of this liquid gold.

As a sidenote, alcohol can still only be purchased in ÁTVR or more commonly known as 'Ríkið' - a state-owned liquor store. Beware, the only traffic jam you will find in Iceland nowadays is in front of Ríkið on late Friday afternoons. (The only real traffic jam that has ever happened in the country was on the 17th of June 1994 when Independence Day celebrations took place at Þingvellir and people were stuck in traffic for hours).

icelanders love their beer

4. Sauces and gravies in Iceland

Icelanders love sauces. Gravy, dipping sauces, condiments... Basically, we have a sauce for everything. And we like to drench our food in sauce. Even though the meat or the fish or the vegetables are to a great standard, it's only going to be better with sauce.

Icelanders have a specific sauce for pizza, pita, fries, chips, hamburgers, hot-dogs, obviously various different ones for fish, meat or poultry - brown, cheese, mushroom, coca-cola, bernaise etc... And for ice-cream: chocolate, luxury chocolate, caramel, liquorice, red (fruity)...

People do this in other countries - but not to the same standard. The toppings for a traditional hot dog in Iceland includes 3 different types of sauces: ketchup, hot-dog mustard (different from other mustard) and remúlaði (mayo based sauce, mainly for hot-dogs). In addition we put 2 types of onion with it (raw and crunchy).

5. Icelanders speak on the in-breath 

Perhaps not particularly Icelandic, as it is done in other Nordic countries as well, but it is something most foreigners will notice and mention when they come to the country. Mostly common to hear the word 'Já' or 'Jæja'  spoken on the in-breath (Yes or Well). Try it, you'll fit right in.

6. BBQ and grills all year round in Iceland

Now, it may be freezing and a storm outside - but Icelanders are known to have a BBQ in any kind of weather, acting like they live in the blistering Australian sunshine. Come rain, come shine, we still want to have our lamb/fish/whale grilled with proper coals (or gas). And then smothered with sauce.

Strangely enough, we can also eat ice-cream all year round.

7. Parents leave their babies sleeping outside

It's a common sight to see mothers or fathers meeting up with their friends in cafés and catching up on the latest gossip. But they will sometimes leave their baby in the pram outside the café, where they can watch it through the window. That way the baby won't wake up from the hustle and bustle of the café - and the fresh air will do it good. Not to worry, it's perfectly safe.

There is hardly any crime in Iceland, at least not knife and gun crime (corrupt bankers are a different story). Not even policemen carry guns. A Brazilian friend pointed out to me that the difference to Brazil is that there are no policemen in Icelandic banks - instead they are in the alcohol shops.

8. Iceland is the best in the world, per capita

'Per capita' is one of the most used phrases in Iceland. Icelanders suffer from a small nation complex. To make up for it, we claim we are in fact 'The Best Country in the World'. People will claim this to be true and get mockingly upset if you disagree. To justify this, we recite one article or another where Iceland comes out on top - always per capita.

Icelanders have the most beautiful women in the world, per capita (because we won Miss World 4 times, which is a lot for such a small nation). Icelanders have the best handball team in the world, per capita (incredible how good we are in this team sport, considering how few people we have). Icelanders produce most music and bands in the world, per capita. Icelanders have the strongest men, the happiest people, the safest country, the cleanest - and of course, the prettiest landscapes (even though that isn't per capita).

The list goes on and on. It's even a catch-phrase: Ísland, best í heimi (Iceland, best in the world). I think it's mainly to 'put Iceland on the map' as people around the world seem to know so little about it. It is all said in a joke, of course - but behind every joke is a meaning!

9. Cars and monster trucks in Iceland

monster truck in iceland

Foreigners that come to Iceland seem to be very perplexed over Icelandic cars - and where they are parked. There are definitely a LOT of very big Super Jeeps, with extra big tyres - apparently all over the place!

These monster trucks are not all due to inferiority complexes of their owners but are in fact needed to cross harsh terrain in the countryside. If you leave the paved ringroad in Iceland, you might find yourself on a dirt track, crossing glacial rivers - and then you need to have a 4WD. But it's not only the size of these cars that people notice, it's also the fact that people seem to park their cars EVERYWHERE. There is even an Icelandic facebook site that posts pictures of the worst parked car on a daily basis. This is probably due to the fact that Icelanders are very used to having a lot of space around them, so some people become sloppy at parking their car.

10. Nudity and getting nude in Iceland

Nudity is a very normal thing in Iceland. So it is as well in many other countries, such as Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Estonia...

For many other nationalities, people will find it peculiar to strip naked and shower with other people before entering public swimming pools (and we have a lot of swimming pools). Icelanders also bathe naked in hot springs and jump naked into the sea.

Sign asking people to wash before entering the swimming pool

In 2015, on March 26th, there was a big 'topless revolution' under the hashtag #freethenipple (which originated in USA). Thousands of people took part, although opinions were divided if this was the right approach.

One person pointed out to me that the social boundaries between co-workers are pretty much non-existent in Iceland. Co-workers will go on team building trips together to unknown destinations where there will often be a pool trip of some sort included and then drinking - so it's usual to get naked and hammered with your co-workers and then show up ready for work the next day. Why not?