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20 Fascinating Facts About Iceland That’ll Make You Wish You Lived There

11. Iceland has no army and is recognized as the world’s most peaceful country.

Global Peace Index for 2015
Image Source: edition.cnn.com

According to 2016 Global Peace Index Report, Iceland stands first as the most peaceful country, followed by Denmark and Austria. Iceland does not even have a standing army. It only has Coast Guard which also maintains Iceland Air Defense System and an Iceland Crisis Response Unit to support peacekeeping missions. It is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as “Country ranked most at peace” and “Lowest military spending per capita”. Since it became an independent republic in 1944, only one person has been killed by armed police in Iceland. (123)

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12. There is an anti-incest app in Iceland that stops you from accidentally hooking up with a cousin as many Icelanders share common ancestors considering the small population. 

Iceland's Anti-Incest App
Image Source: hothardware

Developed by three app developers from Sad Engineer Studios, the Islandiga App uses a database to find out how an Icelander is related to another. It also has family trees, family statistics, and birthday calendar including the birthdays of all the relatives which gives notifications on their birthdays. The app also has a feature that notifies via text and sound if the user bumps into someone who is related. (1, 2)

13. Iceland has the world’s first directly elected female head of state and first openly gay prime minister. Also, it was ranked 2nd in the strength of its democratic institutions.

Vigdis Finnbogadottir and Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir
Image Source: wikipedia, Foc/Flickr

Iceland has a unique political situation as the governments of the country have always been in a coalition as no single party received the majority of seats in Althing throughout the republican period. Thus, two or more parties were involved in the coalition. It was also the first country to have a political party, Kvennalistinn (Women’s List or Women’s Alliance), formed entirely by women in 1983. In 1980, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was elected as president, the first directly elected female head of state, and in 2009 Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became the first openly gay prime minister. (source)

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14. Icelanders do not have family names. Instead, they carry names derived from the first names of their father or mother.

Icelandic Phonebook
Image Source: cassavafilms

Icelanders use the traditional Nordic naming system, which includes a family name (or last name) that is comprised of their father’s (or mother’s) first name with the addition of -dóttir (-daughter) or -son. If you look at a phonebook in Iceland, you will find the names sorted by first names, rather than last names. Therefore, everyone in Iceland calls each other by their first name. There is also an Icelandic Naming Committee that keeps a list of officially approved given names that a parent can give their child, and any new name not in the register has to approved by the law. (1, 23)

15. In Iceland, you can hand-draw a map on a piece of mail without an address, and it will still make it to its destination.

Hand Drawn Map Instead of Address
Image Source: Jidoen/reddit

According to a Reddit thread, a tourist in Reykjavik mailed an envelope to a farm in Hvammsveit, West Iceland, with a hand-drawn map instead of an address. It only included the name of the village and the country, and the words “a horse farm with an Icelandic/Danish couple and three kids and a lot of sheep” at the top and “the Danish woman works in a supermarket in Búðardalur” at the bottom instead of the names of the receivers. The letter successfully made it to the farm. (source)

16. There is a natural rock formation off the coast of Iceland that looks like a giant elephant.

The Elephant Rock
Image credit: Diego Delso/Wikimedia

The Elephant Rock is a natural rock formation on the island of Heimaey (literally Home Island) in Iceland’s Vestmannaeyjar archipelago. The island is the largest and most populated island of Iceland and home to around 4,500 Icelanders. It is also home to a volcano named Eldfell which means Mountain of Fire in Icelandic. (source, 2)

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17. There’s a penis museum in Iceland. It’s the world’s largest display of penises with the collection of 280 specimens.

Icelandic Phallological Museum
Image Source: wikipedia

The Icelandic Phallological Museum was founded in 1997 by Sigurður Hjartarson who received a bull’s penis when he was a boy. He meant to use it as a cattle whip, but then it started a lifelong interest in penises. He received four more bull penises from his friends who heard the story, and some of his acquaintances later gave him whale penises. The collection slowly started growing with penises from slaughterhouses and commercial whaling stations. The museum now houses a collection of 280 specimens from 93 species of animals including whales, seals, land mammals, and allegedly also those of elves and trolls. The collection also includes lampshades made from the scrotums of bulls. (source)

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18. A study of DNA passed from mother to child among 80 Icelanders revealed a genetic variation found mostly in Native Americans. It is believed that a Native American woman might have traveled to Europe with the Vikings 500 years before Columbus sailed to America. 

Image credit: Guerber, H. A.

Before 1000 AD, the Icelandic Vikings had reached Greenland and had gone on to explore further into Canada. They even established a colony, which only lasted a decade. The authors of the study theorize that the DNA signature might have entered the Icelandic bloodlines during that time when the first Viking-American Indian child was born. However, the authors also think of a possibility that the DNA variation might have come from mainland Europe, during the infrequent contact it had with Iceland before 1700 AD. (source)

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19. There is not a single McDonald’s restaurant in Iceland. 

Last McDonald's Burger in Iceland
Image Source: Reykjavik Bus Hostel/Facebook

Though McDonald’s did first open in 1993 in Iceland, the country’s financial crisis in 2009 and the “unique operational complexity” of doing business with such small population forced the restaurant to pull out. Also, it cost too much to import onion from Germany, which meant despite being quite busy, McDonald’s had really low profits. (source)

20. Icelanders have a strong love for the folklore and mythology, with some of them believing in elves, fairies, and hidden people. They guard them so much that the roads that are going to be newly constructed or even old ones would be altered so as not to disturb the elves.

Huldufolk and Elf Warning in Iceland
Image Source: Wikimedia, rauserbegins

Huldufólk, Icelandic for “hidden folk”, are elves in Icelandic folklore and are believed to live in the rocks in Iceland. There have been several instances in which construction work had been altered to prevent damaging their dwellings. In the late 1930s, the construction of a road which required demolishing of a hill known as Álfhóll (Elf Hill) was instead made around it.

Another road construction in 2013 from the Álftanes peninsula to Reykjavík was stopped because elf supporters and environmental groups protested by stating that the elf habitat and the local cultural beliefs would be destroyed. In another incident in 1982, 150 Icelanders went to NATO to look for the “elves who might be endangered by American Phantom jets and AWACS reconnaissance planes.” (1, 2)

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