Talking to Strangers: Reykjavik, Iceland
Nerve asks deeply personal questions to people we just met.
BY Elissa Gross
Are you from Reykjavik?
I grew up in Iceland, and now I'm actually living in Seattle, but I'm here for the summer doing a research project at the University.
Have you noticed differences between Iceland and America in terms of dating and sex?
Yes! Yes. In the U.S. — how do I put this — it seems to me that the girls don't want to have sex. It seems to me that it's something they give to guys. It is a prize that they reward guys with. Icelandic girls, they want to have sex.
Interesting. Why do you think that is?
I think it's because — this is a really deep question, lots of cultural implications — I think there's a lot more pressure on getting married in the U.S. And so the girls are holding out for someone who's going to "do them proper." Here, nobody really cares. Generally in Iceland, people have kids, then maybe they'll buy a house together, then maybe when their kids are ten or twelve they'll get married. It's almost like when the Americans are renewing their vows is when the Icelanders get married. "Oh, maybe we should get married? We've been together ten years, our kids are almost teenagers, now would be a good time to get married." Icelandic girls actually really like American guys because they'll pay for drinks and they always want to have sex with them, because American girls are blueballing them. But Icelandic guys definitely hold out more than their American counterparts.
So, which do you like better?
I grew up here, so I'm a lot more used to the way things work here. In the U.S., I feel like I have to do a lot of legwork. Why am I not doing half the legwork? I should be doing half the legwork! I've shown initiative in the U.S., and you have to do literally 85% of the legwork. But at the same time, they want equal rights. Well, if you wanted equal rights, you'd be doing half the fucking work! You're not, so you must want to keep things the way they are.
What else are you looking for in your ideal woman?
Well, that's a really hard question. I think it's very difficult — I'm not sure I believe in this ideal that one person can be everything for you. You don't expect to just have one friend, right? You expect to have lots of friends. One who's your hiking buddy, another who really enjoys restaurants so you go to restaurants together. I don't understand why sex can't be that way. Somehow sex… there's some line. I think having friends of a different gender is more accepted here than in the U.S. If you have a girlfriend there, and another girl calls you, that's pretty much inappropriate. That's what it feels like to me. But here there are many valid reasons for that. Here, it's a lot more even, so I think it's more accepted to have relations with other people. Single moms in the U.S.? They're treated horribly; they can't find a decent guy, basically. But, here? "Oh, you have a kid? So do I! Out of wedlock? Yeah, me too!"
Very interesting. I've heard from other people that there are fairly rigid gender roles here, and that men act like Vikings. Please weigh in.
Whoever said that, I can almost guarantee they've never lived in the U.S. Here in Iceland, a guy can do things that are generally considered female traits — he can be into clothing or design, for instance — which in the U.S. would automatically exclude him from his group of friends or have him be questioned as a homosexual. But here, it's just something he's into. I think there's more freedom here to pursue things that are not traditionally part of your gender role. I'm only talking about major U.S. cities right now, not rural parts of the country where I'm sure it's even worse. I also think that this could be tied to the fact that in the U.S., it's much more difficult to really dig into your past. Here, it's very easy to find out — like "So, I slept with this girl," and people are like, "Oh, when was she born? What neighborhood is she from? Oh, yeah. Yeah, we know her. She also slept with this guy, and her dad works there and…" We all have skeletons in our closet, but it just doesn't matter. But people don't date here really. They meet at clubs/parties, get drunk, have sex, and then it's like, "Well, we had sex, so you want to go on a date maybe?" And the girls are like, "He actually asked me out to dinner." And if she shows up, then you're a couple. Pretty much. You've already slept together, so if you're doing that then it's on.
So, it's sex first?
Generally. In my experience, yes.
So, you wouldn't approach someone and say, "Hey, you want to go out to dinner or a movie?" and then have sex after?
Like, sober? I mean, that's the Icelandic sentiment. That's something I appreciate about the U.S. actually — it feels like people are more able to communicate sober. I'm not sure it's actually real communication, but they're at least very good at pretending to. Most of the time when people hook up here, they're drunk.
Give me a date/hookup story of your own from the U.S., versus here in Iceland, drunk or sober. Go.
Well, I took this one girl in the U.S. to the ballet, and it was nice. And later we had sex, and then she started to act really uncomfortable around me. So, finally I confronted her about it and asked why she had had sex with me if she didn't seem to want to or seemed to regret it afterwards, and she said, "Oh, well, because you took me to the ballet." What? So, you didn't really want to, but just because I paid for us to do something together you felt obligated to sleep with me? That's called prostitution and is not what I'm looking for and is just fucked up.
So, what would you change about the U.S. dating and sex culture?
You could reward sluts for being sluts. For example, if your friend who is female sleeps with more than one guy in a weekend, you could support her and tell her you're proud of her. Compliment her and encourage her to take control of her sexuality.
But do you think taking control of your sexuality equals sleeping with many people?
No, I'm saying that if a girl sleeps with many people and you rag on her for it, then you're taking her own control away from her. That's what I'm saying. If she's doing it because she wants to do it, then she should be supported in that. Nobody should be having sex unless they want to — not out of obligation, not in return for something, like my ballet date… and in Iceland, a girl is not going to sleep with you unless she absolutely wants to. And if you do sleep with her, you know it's because she wanted to and not because she felt obligated to. And that is the difference. I think if girls in the U.S. felt that sex was not culturally stigmatized, it would be okay to want it. Before I went to the U.S., I had never even met someone who believed that saving yourself for marriage was even a plausible idea in any sort of real context.
When do people lose their virginity here? Young?
Typically, if you're one of the "bad kids" then ninth or tenth grade, but everyone else is… high school is sixteen to twenty, and getting out of high school and having not had sex is extremely rare. But this whole saving yourself for marriage thing in the U.S. is so fucked up. You'll never be any good at sex! The guys have been blueballed for twenty-five years, and now it's payment time, and the girls don't know what the hell is going on, and they don't experiment, and he's disappointed that he's waited all this time for only ten percent of what he wants and… it's absurd. Can I just add that the women in the U.S. who I've met that are pretty are just so awful as people, because they just get so much attention? They're just rotten on the inside. And all they have is being pretty! Here, you'll meet a pretty girl and she'll play piano, and is a nurse, and into traveling and hiking, but in the U.S., all a pretty girl does is be pretty! That's her whole purpose and point in life. And then when she stops being pretty, she gets depressed! So, she gets collagen and silicone trying to hold on to the only thing she has… but, the solution to all of this is for girls and guys to put out.
NEXT: "We probably used to be like that. But now, so many of my friends are emotional…"
Are you from Reykjavik?
Originally, I'm from a town in the west of Iceland. But I live here now and work in a guesthouse.
Nice. Have you ever met anyone there that you've dated?
Dated, no. We don't date. But I have had some interesting affairs.
Can you tell me what the dating life is like in Reykjavik?
Weird. It's mostly you meet people at a party, so…
Do people just go out partying all the time? I know that the bars are open until six a.m.…
Mostly, yes. But we stay out even later than six a.m. at after parties. Every day of the week.
Wow. When do you sleep?
In the winter.
You hibernate. Of course. So, you meet people at parties and then what? Give me an example.
Sure. You just go to some kind of party, then you meet a girl, then you probably will see her again, because it's a small city, and then you might just ask her out to dinner or brunch or whatever.
And then she just goes with you?
Mostly, yeah. That's how people meet each other. At parties.
Have you ever met anyone not partying?
Sure, at school.
Have you ever been in love?
Many people haven't! Do you think Iceland is a romantic culture?
Yeah, you can find so many romantic places in Iceland it's unbelievable. In nature. That's my religion.
It is very spiritual here. Do you believe in love at first sight?
Okay, what do you believe in? Other than nature.
Other than nature? Myself.
You don't sound like the tough Viking I've had described to me…
We probably used to be like that. But now, so many of my friends are emotional.
Do they cry?
Do you cry?
No. But I was raised in the west. We don't cry there.
NEXT: "I think it's very different than America…"
Maria, 19, and Gretar, 18
So, I'm trying to learn about the dating life in Reykjavik. Are you two dating?
M: Yes, we're together.
And how did you meet each other?
M: At a party. But we're at the same high school, because here it goes up to age twenty.
Could you tell me about dating in high school or junior college? Is there a dating life?
M: Not much. I think it's very different than America. We just don't really date, but of course there are couples.
Okay, then what do you do?
M: Well, people just meet at parties, hook up, become friends…
Is it friendships before relationships generally?
M: I think usually, more than you know, formal dates.
G: Or dinner and movies.
M: We went to movies though. And we still do. We went bowling last Monday! We went to the theater once.
What do you notice about your friends? Are they single, or in relationships? Do they have trouble meeting people?
M: Most of my friends are in relationships, but I would say more girls are in relationships, because they're often with older guys. Just a few years older, but…
G: Most of my friends are still single.
M: Women tend to date older, but not the men. But of course there are same-age couples.
Do you notice any stereotypes about Icelandic people…
M: Like Vikings or something?
Right, we've heard that the men try to be very tough.
M: Maybe foreigners think that but I wouldn't say that it's true.
G: No, not really.
So, are you an emotional person? Do you show emotions? Do you cry ever?
G: Not too much, no.
M: We haven't reached that point yet. Maybe someday.
Do you think Iceland is a romantic culture?
M: Well, that depends. Of course, the nature can be really romantic. And the midnight sun, it never gets dark. And the cold, you can cuddle. But of course, the cold can also be not romantic. You can't be outside and get to each other as much.