One might normally title such an article “6 Things That Are Different In Iceland” but you don’t want to hear my rant about the evils of “list journalism”….
Contrary to what people may think (looking at you, Tose!), Iceland is not some primitive, backwards country without modern conveniences. Actually, I found it hard to believe I was in another country sometimes because not a lot is different from a small town in America. Unlike most of Europe, Iceland has peanut butter. They use dishwashers. It’s not so different.
But then, of course, it is different. In a lot of small ways that you don’t even really realize at first. Granted, some of these things may be true of all of Europe, while others may be specific to the family I lived with rather than the country itself. Whatever. Who’s being picky? Here’s some things you may be able to expect if living or traveling in Iceland:
1 – Tap Water
Like most of Europe, ice cubes are practically nonexistent. (In fact, if you ask for “ice,” they will probably assume you are talking about ice cream.) Doesn’t really matter though, because the tap water (which – and they are super proud of this – comes straight from the glacier) comes out of the faucet at two temperatures: a-degree-away-from-being-frozen-solid or so-close-to-boiling-you-don’t-even-need-a-stove. For some miraculous reason, it can change back and forth between these extremes in about two seconds too, which is just…. well, shocking. Especially when you accidentally turn the wrong nob. If there is a way to get a moderate temperature, I’ve never found it. Benefits of delightfully chilled or heated glacier water straight from the tap? No need for ice cubes. Also, after a week or so of doing the dishes, you stop referring to it as “burning yourself” and start using phrases like “check out my awesome calluses” or “look how long I can keep my hand on this hot skillet!”
2 – Bedding
This one I’ve heard is a Europe thing in general – there are no top sheets. Nope. Just bottom sheets and comforters, which they cover like we often do in America. Instead of the cover being for decoration though, it’s taken off and washed and replaced any time you change the bed. Also, pillows are freaking small and flat here. Like no head support whatsoever. I can only assume that they have never experienced the joy of plopping your head back on two giant, fluffy, white pillows that envelope your ears like a comforting cloud. Ah well.
3 – Kindergarten?
In America, kindergarten is considered a grade, right? There’s preschool, kindergarten, then first grade and so on. In Iceland, kindergarten seems to be more like daycare for kids 2-6. Both the 3- and 5-year-old children at my host home attend kindergarten every weekday. It is open from 8-5, although children are only allowed to stay for eight hours total each day. From what I’ve heard, it seems to go on all through the school year, as well as halfway through summer. So pretty much, daycare? I think the big difference is that daycare in America is something a parent pays personally to put their child in, while kindergarten in Iceland seems to be a government-supported entity like public school.
4 – Traffic lights
Well, first of all, there are very few of these, especially once you get out of Reykjavik. Roundabouts are the norm instead. You don’t even see many stop signs. If there is a sign at all, it’s usually just a yield one (which may be tied into so many manual cars still being used here). Where there are traffic lights, they are never overhead, so keep your eyes on the sides of the road lest you miss them. What I like about them is that yellow lights come before green instead of before red. I guess they figure you will have plenty of time to stop on red, but they want to make sure you know that it’s almost time to move your butt, so you better put your foot on the accelerator! Again, I wonder if that’s due to the prevalence of manual transmissions.
5 – Money
Of course, money is different. Despite being a part of the EU, Iceland doesn’t use the euro. Instead, they use kronos. (Isn’t that a villain in some comic book?) I think it’s easiest to relate the word “krona” to “cents.” Ten krona equals roughly eight cents. Unlike USD though, they don’t have any other words – no cents and dollars, just kronos. You get into the thousands pretty fast. It can be a bit unnerving at first to see that your dinner cost 2.500 kr.
Oh, and the periods and commas are backwards. Yeah, what? I thought that was a math thing, the same all around the world! Apparently not. I believe it’s actually in all of Europe that periods come first in numbers, then commas denote part of a whole. So 2,300.45 becomes 2.300,45. That’ll throw you for a while.
6 – Dryers
They don’t use them. A lot of people don’t even own them. I’m not crazy about this. Hanging sheets on a line outside may be picturesque, but when your jeans can stand up on their own, it’s not so cute. Towels are crunchy. Crunchy like a potato chip. But the thing is, they are all so used to never using a dryer that they think a fluffy, soft towel is weird. I know dryers are supposed to destroy your clothes faster with all the heat and the tumbling, but my clothes are actually more faded, wrinkled, and stiff after two months of being hung out to dry. Plus, you have to be really careful about when and what you wash, since it’ll take a good 12+ hours to be dry enough to use again.
There are a lot of other things. Keyboards look different because Icelandic has additional letters in its alphabet. The bathroom floor is heated, which is awesome, but that might just be this specific house. They call the yard a garden – all of it, not just the places flowers are planted. I’m pretty sure air conditioning doesn’t exist in houses, because, well… it’s Iceland. When you are eating out, make sure you ask for your check when you want it. They won’t just bring it to you automatically (that would be extremely rude, they say).
Otherwise, it’s not too different. The weather is crazy, there are waterfalls at every turn, and pretty much everyone owns, or at least rides, horses. But all that could be said of many places around the word and even in America. So grab your fabric softener and an extra pillow, and you will do just fine in Iceland!