Talking to Strangers: Reykjavik, Iceland
Nerve asks deeply personal questions to people we just met.
BY Elissa Gross
Where are you from?
I'm from Reykjavik. I work as a journalist for the biggest newspaper in Iceland, and I write about music and gossip and stuff like that. It's very fun.
Do you ever interview people about their sex lives? No? You should try it. So, what can you tell me about the dating life here in Reykjavik?
Well, we don't know how to date. No. You don't get asked out on a date. That's not our culture. People get to know others through friends. Most couples who I know have met while going out partying, maybe hooked up a few times, and then that leads to something more, but the dating culture in Iceland is pretty much sex.
Guys are not the type to go around and ask girls out. Actually, I've only gone on a real date once in my life.
What was that like?
That was very weird. He came and picked me up, and we went to a restaurant, and I was like, "Should I pay or is he going to pay?" Well, he paid. And… what did we do then? Then we went to a movie, which I didn't like. And then we just went driving around. But it wasn't very exciting, probably because we just don't know how to do it. So, I think it's pretty bad. We should learn how to do it.
Why do you think that is?
I don't know. I think it's because it's never been that way here and we're not used to… girls in Iceland are not used to being treated like… I don't want to say "well," but we're not used to being pampered and swept off our feet. Which is why I think many Icelandic girls fall for guys from other countries, because of things like opening doors and stuff that Icelandic guys don't do. Nor are they in general much for telling us we're beautiful. No. They're all about being manly and they think that showing emotions or a soft side would be a sign of weakness.
Do you think there are specific gender roles here or —
Definitely! Definitely. We have a lot of groups that are fighting about it now: "We shouldn't make the genders have their roles — everyone should get to do everything." "Small boys shouldn't just be given cars to play with — they should also be given dolls and Barbies." The other day, a big ice-cream factory in Iceland put ice cream on the market — a blue ice cream that was called the boy ice cream and a pink ice cream that was called the girl ice cream — and they had to take it off the market because everything went ballistic. But I think especially with the men here, it's all about the Viking image. They have to be very tough, they have to be very strong, they have to be very closed off and not emotional at all. Also, I think without realizing it, most Icelandic girls are looking for that, and the ones who aren't go find someone from another country.
Well, what are you looking for in a significant other?
Oh my God. If I only knew, then maybe I would've found him already. I don't know actually, for real, because I don't have a type. I don't go for specifics. Either it happens or it doesn't happen. We don't have very much range in Iceland; we don't have very many people. It's very weird also, because we are so small that every time I meet a new guy and — let's say he adds me on Facebook — you can be pretty sure we have at least one friend in common, and usually it's more. And you can find out all about this person in a day, because you just have to ask the people who know him and you find out his dating history. I think that's good and bad. People often don't get the chance to know each other — they've already made up their mind, because they already know everything about each other.
In such a tiny population, it must be awkward if you have any crazy exes. Do you have any?
Well, I don't know if crazy is the right term. I do have a few — a few, that sounded bad — I have some funny stories, I'd say. I think the craziest one, we were together for half a year or something, and then we broke up and he stalked me for months.
Um, that's pretty crazy.
Actually, while we were together, he wasn't that interested in me, but once we broke up, he was like, "Oh no, I can't believe you're gone." But I think that's the craziest thing that's happened. Icelandic guys are generally occupied with not being crazy — if someone breaks up with them, they take the "I don't care" route and won't call you, because they have to be the strong type. I hate it, but it's really important to Icelandic guys. I've lived in Austria, I've traveled around Europe a lot, and I know people from very different places in the world, and I actually think that Icelandic guys are a very specific type, a rare breed if you will. I haven't found anyone else like them in the world.
NEXT: “Foreigners were coming to Iceland because they were hearing Icelandic girls were so easy to get with.”
Are you from Reykjavik?
Yes, but I grew up in Norway. I lived there from ages five to fifteen, and have lived here for four years.
So, are you in a relationship?
Yes, we met through a group of friends. And then it continued on to Facebook — it's very much based there now, I think — where we started chatting and then he became my boyfriend. But in Norway, people get married very late. And here, it's very common for people to meet and have kids and marry very young. I think people start earlier in Iceland and I'm not sure why. It's unusual if people have been together many years and are not married. The main difference, though, is that here people live much longer with their parents — because it's so small and you usually go to school where you're from and it's very expensive to live on your own — but people in Norway move in with their boyfriend or girlfriend much younger.
Have you had any crazy dating experiences?
Not personally, but I know someone who lived in the U.S. for many years who moved back here, and he just asked my friend out on a date. He asked her to go on a date with him, and that was very unusual! It was really weird. She went and liked it very much, but here it's much more casual, and this was a serious date.
Hah, I love that the "strange experience" you're recounting is just that someone went on a date. That's adorable.
Well, if you don't know the person and they just come up and ask you on a date — I think very few girls would say yes to that here. But guys don't even do that, unless they're weird. It shouldn't be like that, but there has to be something already going on between the two people before they go on a date.
So, you hook up and then decide if you're in a relationship. Do you find that people start sleeping together younger?
Yes, younger than in Norway at least. It depends on the girl, but many people in high school will go downtown and meet someone and go home with them. There was a big fuss about it a year ago, because foreigners were coming to Iceland because they were hearing Icelandic girls were so easy to get with. Here you know most people somewhat, or you know someone who knows them, so there's a lot more one-night stands that turn out to be something afterwards.
Please clear up this rumor: since it's so small and there's many interrelated people, do people find that this causes problems in their romantic lives?
Well, I do know one boy and girl who have been together for a year and just found out that they had the same great-grandmother, but… they're still together. That's pretty closely related. So, it happens. But I know that in most places that would never even cross your mind!
NEXT: “I'm not afraid if I meet a guy that he's going to be my cousin.”
Moeidur, 18, and Sigrun, 18
How do you meet people in Iceland that you want to get with?
M: I think most people meet when they go out to party. It's the easiest way to meet a person.
S: There's a lot of partying. That's how you meet people.
Have you met people through partying? How does that work?
S: Most of the time, they come up to us. We meet up a few times while we're out and then they start to talk to us — we never go talk to them — and then we exchange information and that's it.
So, have you been in long-term relationships that start this way?
M: Um, no.
S: Yes. We went to school together but met partying.
What are you looking for in another person?
M: Personality. Funny person, good humor.
Do you find that people you know are in relationships or single or dating?
S: Most are in relationships. If you're single in Iceland, you're always dating someone. But it's not like you go on dates. You just talk, and hang out. Or if they're not dating, they're sleeping together.
Okay, on the sleeping-together point, I've heard that since Iceland is such a small country, so many people are related. Has this ever presented a problem?
M: No, I don't think so. Iceland is a little bit bigger than the world thinks. I'm not afraid if I meet a guy that he's going to be my cousin.
S: It happens sometimes, but not close-related. You would know that.