What we do in Iceland during the winter

So I asked my Icelandic friend (we’ll call him Gardar Holm) what they do during the eternally dark winter. Now we know what the Icelanders and the Swedes do in the winter. ;)

“I‘ll have to quote you a British tabloid who in the last century described Iceland this way: „In the summer there‘s fishing and sex, but in the wintertime there‘s no fishing“. While that’s partially just a good way to sell newspapers, we do have the highest birthrate of the Nordics and one of the highest in Europe. And more people born are born in September than any other month of the year :-) But that’s hardly the only thing we do during the winter. There’s actually a complex answer to this.

First of all it will depend on your age. Iceland is today a highly advanced society – I mean we just got ranked number one by the UN Human Development Index. But the cold and dark winters mean that we spend a lot of time online – 75% of the population have broadband access at home. It used to mean that we read a lot, but now I think a lot of that time is spent online. Since we spend a lot of time indoors, it shouldn’t be surprising that we have the world record in electricity usage, all of it produced by the clean renewable energy resources that we enjoy up here. And everyone has a mobile. So we are really well connected. Which means that you shouldn’t be surprised that online gaming is a factor here – just witness – EVE Online – http://www.eve-online.com/ an Icelandic online game.

But if you had asked me that question during the middle of last century or even just a century ago the answer would have been completely different. Iceland used to be one of the poorest places in Europe. Go back to 1907 and you’d have found something quite different from what it’s like today. This was an isolated and poor place. This was also a homogeneous place. I described it at one point as a large white suburb. That’s changed now and I’m happy that it has. But like the rest of the Nordics we’ve had this amazing emphasis on education.

What you may not know is that we have the highest use of anti-depressants in Europe (possibly in the world) and it may just be that natural selection took care of those that couldn’t stand the cold and dark winters. The winters also go a long way to explain why there’s a thriving nightlife in Reykjavik. My friends in the UK tell me that among UK clubbers we’re famous for being just a bit more crazy than the rest. The thing is that the winters here aren’t all that bad. It’s just that they are really dark and spring arrives late. Which means that you’ll experience far colder temperatures in Stockholm than in Reykjavik.

I think there’s a permanent colony of Icelanders in Florida and the Canary Islands during the winter time and actually it feels as if the winters were easier to endure, when you didn’t have anything else to compare with. It may be a false memory. Maybe it was just that I didn’t notice the effects.

But I tell foreigners that come here that it takes 2 years to figure out if you want to stay in Iceland. You just need to live through a couple of winters here before you realize if this place is really for you. :-) “

2 thoughts on “What we do in Iceland during the winter”

  1. I think of myself when winter comes up here in Northern Michigan. I am alone and the winters are long. It is not a place to be alone. And yet it is definietly a landscape for loners, who have somehow chosen to repeat the dark night of the lonely soul over and over again.

    On a January night, I take solace in remembering that there are many northern souls, taking a breather out on the back porch at the same time as i and asking themselves what in the world–when there is choice–what are you doing here? The answer is never clarion clear. And the question always remains–why you?

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