Some reasonably obscure facts about Iceland

Iceland is so named because when the Vikings first settled there they found it quite pleasant and didn’t want to encourage invaders.  The Vikings also names Greenland, and called it that because it was very harsh in winter, so they didn’t really mind if anyone invaded Greenland because there was really not much to invade.

Iceland is one of the world’s most geologically active areas, and became infamous after the volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted on 14th April, 2010 and spewed a fine glass-rich ash 8 kilometres into the air.  Unfortunately Eyjafjallajökull is right beneath the jet stream, and so the ash floated over Europe, bringing all air traffic to a halt, which cost airlines and government tens of millions of Euros and interrupted the travel plans of hundreds of thousands of passengers.  Fortunately, for Iceland, it’s airspace was not affected.

This eruption gave rise to a brand new type of tourism called `Volcano Tourism’ as local tour companies scrambled to offer day tours to the site.

Apart from the publicity-seeking, bad-tempered, weirdly-dressed singer Bjork coming from there, very little is known about Iceland.   For instance, did you know that Icelandic phonebooks are ordered by first name rather than last?  That’s because the name system is different from that of most countries.  Only about 10% of the population has a family name. Icelanders use patronymics rather than surnames. Icelander’s Christian name is followed by his or her father’s name and the suffix -son or -dóttir, e.g. Guðrún Pétursdóttir (Guðrún, daughter of Pétur). Members of a family can therefore have many different “surnames,” which sometimes causes confusion to foreigners!  

Also, the selling of beer was banned in Iceland until the year 1988.  That doesn’t mean that Icelanders didn’t drink as strong alcohol was legal. The former ban was the last vestige of prohibition laws that were in effect for decades.

There is possibly little danger of Iceland ever being attacked by a foreign power, but if it was the pickings would be easy as Iceland has no army – there is a NATO base in Keflavik, where the international airport is, but all the soldiers are American. Additionally, the police there do not carry guns. Residents can get a permit for a rifle, but there are no handguns.

There are no reptiles in Iceland. Not even snakes or lizards. There are also no frogs or toads either.  It could be that the cold weather has kept them away, or more likely that because Iceland is volcanic, it just rose out of the ocean (and is still rising), so reptiles may not have had the chance to migrate there.

Over half of Iceland’s population lives in Reykjavik, the capital, and its adjoining towns. The total number of people living in Iceland is just 270,000, and they are mostly of Danish descent.  Although the  Eyjafjallajökull caused great turmoil in Europe, they have been worse eruptions in past, some of which have caused great destruction in Iceland and were responsible for droves of Icelanders leaving to settle elsewhere.

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