8 Things You Might Not Know About Iceland

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Iceland has been in the news lately, and the news has not been good. The island nation's three major banks have collapsed, causing ripples throughout Europe. But rather than fixate on the financial, let's take a look at some other aspects of the Land of Fire and Ice.

1. Mark Your Calendar
March 1 is Beer Day (Bjordagur) in Iceland, when natives celebrate the end of prohibition against the frothy brews. "Real" beer (of more than 2.2 percent alcohol by volume) had been outlawed since 1915, and the ban wasn't lifted until 1989. Hey, if you went almost 75 years without decent beer, you'd find a reason to throw a party, too.

2. The Sun Also Rises "¦ Sometimes
The sun shines virtually 24 hours a day during the peak of summer in Iceland. In mid-winter, however, it's only light about four to five hours each day.

3. Say What?
The national language of Iceland is Icelandic, which hasn't evolved much from the way it was spoken centuries ago. English and Danish are also popular—good news, as the native tongue is indecipherable to non-speakers. Icelandic has two unique letters, "thorn" (pronounced "th" as in "thing") and "eth" (pronounced "th" as in "them"). Similar logic applies to the English words "broad" and "road," which should be pronounced the same but are not.

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4. All Work and No Play Makes Iceland Rich
Icelanders are notorious for their work ethic. Averaging 43.5 hours, they have the longest work week in Europe. Not surprisingly, they also have one of the highest standards of living in the world. (Iceland ranked #1 in a recent C.W. Post survey measuring economic opportunity and quality of life.)

5. Come to North America for the Available Food"¦
When overpopulation, famine and disease struck Iceland in the late 19th century, it prompted a mass exodus from the frozen land. Most immigrants ended up in the Canadian province of Manitoba, where they created a colony called New Iceland. But many others landed in Utah and converted to Mormonism.

6. "¦Stay for the Mormons!
Today, Spanish Fork, Utah, remains home to one of the largest Icelandic communities in the United States. If you can't afford a plane ticket to the real thing, head to Spanish Fork, where you can visit the Icelandic Monument or attend the annual Icelandic cultural festival, hosted by the Icelandic Association of Utah.

7. No, It's Not a Typo
Between November 1975 and June 1976, fishing disputes between Great Britain and Iceland, known as the "Cod War," exploded in a flurry of net-cutting and boat-ramming. Name-calling was also resorted to, although neither side accepts responsibility for "starting it."

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8. It's Really Green
The old joke is true — Iceland is green, and Greenland is ice. When Norwegian explorer Eric the Red made the trek from Iceland to the larger nearby island in the 10th century and colonized it, he decided to call it Greenland because he felt more people might be willing to move there if it had an inviting name.

(Do we have any readers in Iceland? What else should people know about the country?)

This article was written by Katie Finley and originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. Images courtesy of Scanam World Tours.

October 21, 2008 - 7:45am
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