It was nearly midnight as my wife and I strolled back to our guesthouse on Barugata in Reykjavik. The sky was still light, and the partying was just getting started since this was a Friday. Music was blaring out of the upstairs window of a house we were passing. Someone noticed us as we walked by.
“Hey!” he yelled, sticking his head out the window. “How do you like Iceland?”
I yelled back that we were having a great time.
And it was the truth. And part of the enjoyment came from noticing all the interesting quirks of Icelandic society. Here are a few random tidbits that give the place flavor. These are all things you won’t read in an Iceland travel guide.
- Iceland loves trampolines – In every town, a really surprising percentage of the homes had trampolines. I would guess a good 25 percent, versus fewer than 1 percent for the U.S. It was actually rare for me to walk past five homes and not see at least one trampoline.
- Homebrewing is illegal – Well, you CAN brew your own beer or other alcohol in Iceland if its ABV is 2.25 percent or lower. And what would the point be? The government has a huge hand in the alcohol business. The consequences are pricey spirits, beer and wine. And the beer? Well, this is certainly no craft brew hotspot like Oregon. We ran across one brew that was outstanding – Lava, an imperial stout brewed by Brugghús. Enjoy it with a rich chocolately dessert for best effect. Anyway, it would be nice for Iceland to open the door to homebrewers.
- Guesthouses go Rick and Lucy style – Every place we stayed at had twin beds. It was easy enough to push them together, but it was just kind of odd. Nowhere did I see this in an Iceland travel guide.
- Signs of a literary society – There’s an old Viking proverb that says something like “It is better to go without shoes than without books.” Iceland also cranks out a lot of books each year. Thus, you have a book-loving society. That’s why every hotel/hostel/guesthouse bed is flanked by reading lights. That’s refreshing – I can’t tell you how many times I try to talk about books with someone, and they say “I don’t have time to read.” I’m pretty sure that could get an Icelander exiled.
- Stirring the English pot – Icelanders are very good at speaking English. Many of their signs are in English. What’s amusing is the mix of British English and American English. For example, most signs refer to a bathroom as a Water Closet or WC in the U.K. fashion. On the other hand, it’s gasoline and not petrol.
- Iceland puts its kids to work – We arrived in the summer, when kids weren’t at school. But they were busy, taking on work projects such as tending gardens in public areas. Putting kids to work is apparently encouraged; it’s more for giving the kids spending money. They standard of living is high enough in Iceland (economic crash or not) that their work isn’t really for the family to make ends meet.