MisInfoNation is back! Neil and Andrés head to Iceland to find out if the world is “hot” or “cold” when it comes to its understanding of the “Land of Fire and Ice.”
ELVES, NUDITY, AND FERMENTED SHARK
The Icelandic people are a rare breed. Literally. There are only 360,000 of them, but Passport is lucky to call Björg Valgeirsdóttir a friend of the show. It’s a good thing too, because Neil and Andrés have a lot of questions about the top hits, myths, and truths of one of the most unique places in the world.
Polar bears, volcanoes, igloos? What does the world get wrong about Iceland and more importantly what does it get right? On this MisInfoNation, Björg talks us through being mistaken for Björk, putting babies outside to sleep, eating puffin, and the strangest Christmas celebration you’ve never heard of…
MORE TO EXPLORE
- Visit Iceland
- Björk on Instagram
- Vigdís Finnbogadóttir
- Recipe: Puffin in Milk Sauce
- The 13 Santas of Iceland
- Music Festival: Airwaves
Beer, baths, and views – sometimes all at the same time!
- THE REYKJAVIK BREWING COMPANY:
Amazing beer in the heart of Reykjavik – brewed by Björg’s own brother!
One of the greatest lighthouses ever built.
- HOFSÓS SWIMMING POOL:
Swim like the epic Icelandic hero Grettir, or just have an epically relaxing soak.
- BORGARPYLSUR HOT DOGS:
An unassuming food stand serving some of the best hotdogs in the world.
- THE BEER SPA:
Sip a brew while bathing in one.
Huge thanks to the brilliant Björg Valgeirsdóttir.
Our theme music is by Nick Turner with additional stuff by The Beards, The Benign Ones and Calton Bansky.
The show is mixed and mastered by Julian Kwasneski.
Our Production Assistant is Eliza Engel
Stacey Book, Dominique Ferrari and Avi Glijansky will eat you if you don’t dress up nice on Christmas day, they also executive produce the show…
Which is hosted by Neil Innes and a man who would be naked all day every day if it wasn’t for the prior arrests, Andres Bartos.
See you in the next place!
Header Image: Northern light evening by Nicolas J Leclercq on Unsplash
EPISODE 8 – TRANSCRIPT
ANDRÉS: All right. Cheers.
BJÖRG: It’s like skull.
ANDRÉS: Is that what you’re saying? Why do you say skull?
BJÖRG: Mhm. Well, it also means a bowl. Yeah.
ANDRÉS: You use the same word for skull and bowl?
BJÖRG: Skál, yes.
ANDRÉS: So you eat like cereal out of a skull.
BJÖRG: We’re Vikings, you know…
NEIL: Chop the top the head off, turn it upside down.
BJÖRG: Yeah, it’s a bowl.
NEIL: Rice Krispies in the morning.
[PASSPORT MAIN TITLE]
ANDRÉS: A destination isn’t always a place.
NEIL: Sometimes it’s a new way of seeing things.
I’m Neil Innes
ANDRÉS: And I’m Andrés Bartos.
NEIL: From Frequency Machine, this is Passport.
ANDRÉS: Your ticket to everywhere.
[END MAIN TITLE]
NEIL: There are things we think we know about places. But history, prejudice, stereotypes, and the viral nature of 24-hour news and social media has made common knowledge about faraway places, even more twisted than ever.
ANDRÉS: Today on Passport, we try and clear up some of the outright lies of an entire nation by doing what we do best. Talking it out with somebody who actually knows what they’re talking about.
NEIL: Today, we’re going to Iceland.
ANDRÉS: Iceland is known the world over as the land of ice and fire with good reason. Snow, volcanoes, hot springs and huge glaciers live side by side.
NEIL: Between Greenland and Norway to the east of the UK, this steaming smoking lava spewing nation is otherworldly. Blue skies, green moss, black sand make it a place like nowhere else on earth.
This is because Iceland is brand spanking new. It’s one of the youngest landmasses on the planet. One still being created, but somehow it manages to feel ancient.
ANDRÉS: We trolled the internet for 10 of the world’s most stereotypical views about Iceland. People see Iceland as a freezing, dark and painfully expensive country filled with musicians and performance artists who eat puffin naked in geothermal baths while listening to Björk wearing horned Viking helmets.
But are they right?
NEIL: Our cultural myth buster today is the other worldly, super creative, Björg Valgeirsdóttir. Björg is a project manager with a background in architecture, finance, and film, and is our Icelandic local for today’s episode of MisInfoNation.
ANDRÉS: Let’s have you tell us what you think we’re going to ask you about.
BJÖRG: I think you’re going to ask me about the stereotypical Icelandic people behaviors.
ANDRÉS: What are they?
BJÖRG: It depends on like, if you’re an Icelandic person looking in. But if you’re on the outside, people think we’re like super friendly and super nice. Also, that like all the women are super beautiful, super blonde.
And obviously we all believe in elves, like all of us, that’s like our religion, elves and trolls and all of the folklore.
NEIL: This is going to become a thing now.
ANDRÉS: I love it. I love it.
NEIL: It’s no surprise that the Icelandic’s elven reputation proceeds them. Björg’s name is only one letter off, arguably Iceland’s most famous export, the greatest musical elf who ever lived. And if our research has found anything at all, it’s the fact that everyone in Iceland knows everybody else in Iceland.
BJÖRG: Because my name is Björg, which is very similar to Björk.
So it’s always like, oh, you know, hey, I like your songs. And you’re like it’s so old, it’s like, ah, yeah, thank you. whatever, you know.
ANDRÉS: It’s with a g.
BJÖRG: Yeah. And then when people ask, like, well do you like actually know her? And you’re like, well, yeah, a little bit. So it’s always a bit like, you know, it’s kinda like.
NEIL: So you have met her?
BJÖRG: Danced on tables with her but.
ANDRÉS: Like in Reykjavik at a bar?
BJÖRG: Yeah. It’s a small scene, but in Iceland, we don’t really have famous people because we all know each other.
BJÖRG: So that’s why celebrities love going there because they don’t get harassed and there’s not paparazzi and we don’t give a shit.
ANDRÉS: Why, why don’t you give a shit?
BJÖRG: I think it was most when like Jay-Z and Beyoncé came, then people were a bit like, it was like amazing.
But they’re not going to be like really stopped on the street or things like that. People don’t really do that. We’re a really proud nation. We don’t want to, like, we think we’re the best people in the world. Like the best nation. Our slogan is like, Iceland, like, best í heimi, which means like Iceland, best in the world.
So yeah. We’re really like, yeah.
ANDRÉS: You have good self-esteem.
BJÖRG: Oh yeah.
ANDRÉS: Icelandic pride goes deep. It has to, when everyone knows everyone. They are very small after all, only 360,000 people overall and 123,000 of them are in Reykjavik alone. So this brings with it some challenges when it comes to dating.
BJÖRG: We’re all incest, it’s crazy.
BJÖRG: No, we are like all related to each other. It’s like, it’s pretty full on. Yeah, I haven’t looked back that much to be honest, but we have, um, deCODE did this whole website where you can trace your origin.
BJÖRG: Which was really handy when you were like hooking up with people to see like, oh, is it my cousin, you know, I don’t want to sleep around with like your family.
ANDRÉS: Are you serious?
BJÖRG: Yeah, yeah, yeah
ANDRÉS: So wait. You like, tell me your name and then you go online and you check it?
BJÖRG: It used to be like that when it just came out, yeah, for sure.
ANDRÉS: That’s amazing.
BJÖRG: I mean, my cousin, like, swiped right on my other cousin. And then she realized like, oh shit, we’re actually super related.
BJÖRG: She was like, I’m so sorry. I just saw like a handsome guy. And I was like, ah, and then see, what’s like oh shit and it’s like my, like really close cousin.
ANDRÉS: See you at the family reunion.
NEIL: Like most Nordic countries, the coldness of the landscape doesn’t transfer to the personality of the people. Despite popular opinion, the chilly ice king and queen myth of the layman seems to be false. Icelandics love people and they love to party. Reykjavik has gained a reputation for being a great place to go out for a night on the tiles.
But its reputation might’ve come from a different fact altogether, or maybe not.
BJÖRG: It’s been advertised a lot as like a party city, because we, our clubs or like our places are open for so long. We have so many beautiful women that are so promiscuous, you know.
ANDRÉS: Wait, where is this country?
NEIL: Sorry, what?
BJÖRG: Yeah so it’s been like kind of advertised as something that it maybe isn’t, but it’s true, like, people are sex is kind of like sex is sex. It’s not like something, we’re not very religious, it’s not like Catholic, no one is waiting till their marriage. So, yeah, of course, like people do have one night stands.
And if there’s like a hot guy from a foreign country that you’ll probably never see again, you know.
ANDRÉS: Why not?
BJÖRG: Because girls are independent. So they’re like, why shouldn’t I be able to do this? So it’s kind of like that attitude as well, but I’ve seen like, um, an old friend of mine, he’s a musician in Iceland and we were once in a, in a bar and he was just like, you have to like, help me. You have to pretend to be my girlfriend because like the girls just don’t…
ANDRÉS: Too much.
BJÖRG: Like, no, because they’re really aggressive. It’s like, you’re coming home with me. I think like, I’ve been told a lot of times that like, you’re very intimidating, you know, it’s just like, okay.
It’s just like, but it’s just because we’re super direct.
ANDRÉS: No bullshit.
BJÖRG: We don’t have time for bullshit.
NEIL: If you want to get laid, go to Iceland.
BJÖRG: I’m not gonna say that.
ANDRÉS: Is that what we’re saying?
BJÖRG: Absolutely not.
NEIL: I’m just going to write that…
BJÖRG: Good try, good try.
NEIL: That’s going in the show notes, the most promiscuous nation on earth…
ANDRÉS: This open, liberal, progressiveness that Iceland has as a place has also bled into its politics and its parliament. In fact, even though Iceland itself is young, it’s home to the world’s oldest democracy, founded in 930 AD by 32 different Norse clans who decided to sit and talk about things rather than fight.
And that talking got them a long way.
NEIL: In 2009, Reykjavik elected a punk rock taxi driving standup comedian as their mayor. Jón Gnarr and his Best Party made a lot of promises with a disclaimer that none of these promises would be kept. He won and served for four years in what started as kind of a political satire and a reaction to the banking crisis in 2008.
ANDRÉS: Iceland has another claim to fame.
They got women’s suffrage in 1915, and they elected the first openly gay member of parliament in the world, as well as the world’s first democratically elected female president. Her name was…
BJÖRG: Vigdís Finnbogadóttir. Ah, she’s an amazing woman like, she’s incredible. Yes, she was our president for 16 years, but now we have a super cute guy who is like, has like loads of babies, goes everywhere on his bike. Is a really nice guy.
ANDRÉS: I love that you’re talking about your president, like he’s like your mom’s friend boyfriend.
BJÖRG: He’s your friend. Yeah, no, he’s everyone’s friend.
NEIL: Everybody knows him. They’ve danced on tables with him.
BJÖRG: Yeah, yeah, yeah, for sure.
NEIL: It’s like, you, Björk and the president.
NEIL: I’ve been to Iceland three times. It really is that friendly and straightforward.
This openness and honesty might have led to one of the most publicized perks of Iceland. According to Google, there is no crime in this Nordic utopia.
BJÖRG: No, that’s not really true, but you know, if there’s something going on, we all know about it.
NEIL: What’s going on?
BJÖRG: There are like, occasional murders. But, um, but it’s very rare.
NEIL: Average of like one a year or something.
BJÖRG: Maybe something like that, yeah.
NEIL: From the last, like, 25 years.
BJÖRG: But like in general, like, petty crimes, it’s not that much.
ANDRÉS: So, like pickpocketing.
BJÖRG: No, no, no. It’s not worth it. Like everyone in Iceland just carry cards. So it’s more than like online type of thing.
BJÖRG: Like no one uses currency. Like you don’t have money on you ever.
ANDRÉS: Well, it would seem that the world gets this one right.
The Global Peace Index puts Iceland at the top of the list for the 10th year in a row as the world’s safest country. The USA on the other hand, ranks 128th out of 163.
Now think about this. At the time of broadcast, the last murder in Iceland was in 2017, which was three years ago,
NEIL: But let’s not get too dark. After all, today we’re in a place filled with pixies and penguins and polar bears, right? No.
BJÖRG: No, we don’t live in igloos either.
ANDRÉS: You don’t?
BJÖRG: We don’t, unfortunately. So occasionally there are polar bears that drift to Iceland from Greenland.
ANDRÉS: Deranged polar beers.
NEIL: Yeah, like really sad, like Tom Hanks, Castaway, polar bears who are like looking for their wife who’s forgotten about them a long time ago.
ANDRÉS: So wait, wait. There was once upon a polar bear…
BJÖRG: No, once upon a time, a polar bear drifted actually really close to where my family has a summer cottage, like in that area.
BJÖRG: But when they came like on land, they’re basically so ill and so weak because they’ve been drifting for so long.
ANDRÉS: So it’s like the saddest thing.
BJÖRG: It’s really sad, but because they’re the most dangerous animal on the planet, they’re like really vicious. Well, there was like, oh, we need to call the vet to get it tranquilized. And the vet was in Denmark. So it’s like, we cannot wait for them for that guy to come over with like a huge tranquilizer gun.
And then you had all these people that were like coming to look at it. So it was just like, hey, it’s a feast, they can go. So it was a bit, yeah, it was a bit mental. And my, my parents at the time had the most beautiful white golden retriever. And like occasionally people kept on thinking that there was a polar bear, like in the nature, so there were a few calls from like our beautiful little golden.
NEIL: Little red dots all over him as he went for a walk.
BJÖRG: It was so bad.
ANDRÉS: So our third question went down in flames. Iceland does not have igloos or penguins or polar bears. There are no reptiles or amphibians at all. Only about 70 species of birds on the whole Island. And in fact, the only native mammal is the Arctic Fox, which is the cutest of the mammals.
NEIL: One thing that the internet does get right, is that the place is filled with volcanoes.
NEIL: 130 of them, including the one with the completely unpronounceable name. Well unpronounceable for the rest of the world.
ANDRÉS: Eyjafjalla…. yogurt?
BJÖRG: It’s a double L.
ANDRÉS: So when that whole volcano thing was happening and the whole world was trying to say that.
BJÖRG: Oh yeah.
ANDRÉS: It must’ve been the funniest thing.
BJÖRG: It was pretty good, but it was pretty annoying as well because people personally were blaming me for not going on their holidays.
It’s like, you are ruining my holiday and I’m like,
ANDRÉS: That’s amazing.
BJÖRG: It’s just like, it’s a natural, like, disaster. It’s killing, like all the like sheeps in Iceland. What are you talking about? It’s like I don’t care about your Ibiza trip. Just like, yeah, it’s my, yeah, I’ll turn it off now. It’s fine. Okay.
ANDRÉS: Yeah it’s enough.
BJÖRG: It’s enough.
ANDRÉS: Sorry guys.
ANDRÉS: The Icelandic language is insane.
It’s incredibly difficult to learn and is consistently ranked alongside Turkish, Georgian and Persian as the most infuriating language to learn. But names, they figured out names pretty nicely.
In Iceland, your last name is the name either of your father or your mother with son or dóttir at the end. So what’s your last name?
ANDRÉS: So then if you had a child, their name would be?
ANDRÉS: Having this last name situation must be a fucker for researchers.
BJÖRG: Yeah, there, there is an issue with, like my dad’s and my brother have exactly the same name.
BJÖRG: They’re both Valger Valgeirsson. Because there’s a tradition to naming…
NEIL: I wish that was my name.
ANDRÉS: I don’t know if you’d be able to pull that off.
NEIL: Yeah. It doesn’t matter. Me looking like I look would make that even better.
BJÖRG: But um
NEIL: Hello, who are you? Valger Valgeirsson.
BJÖRG: But, you know, like Icelandic name, like my name has a double meaning, so it’s a name and then it also means a sea cliff and rescue.
ANDRÉS: Sea cliff and rescue.
BJÖRG: It’s like go to rescue. Björgun
ANDRÉS: So how would you do a sea cliff rescue?
BJÖRG: So it would probably be like Björgun [Icelandic]
BJÖRG: Something like that. But like our farm that we own up north is actually called Björg because it stands on a cliff. It’s not because my parents named it that, it’s just…
ANDRÉS: We have to Björg from the Björg.
NEIL: Number one from the mailbox.
NEIL: The Icelandic’s learn Danish in school too. Most speak three languages, but they understand a lot more Scandinavian dialects. Iceland was part of the kingdom of Denmark from 1814 until the kingdom of Iceland was formed in 1918. On June the 17th, 1944, Iceland became a constitutional Republic, independent of Denmark.
ANDRÉS: So you speak Danish?
BJÖRG: Yeah. [speaking Danish]
ANDRÉS: [speaking Danish]
NEIL: [speaking Danish]
BJÖRG: How’s your Danish?
NEIL: It’s horrendous.
BJÖRG: No, I mean, I’ve lost my Danish, but
NEIL: It feels really nice to me because I spent a lot of time with my, with my Nana hearing her talking on the phone.
BJÖRG: Yeah. It’s nice. Well, I was like this pretty little baby and my parents named me Björg and for Danish people, it’s basically impossible to say. So people like used to look in the [pram?] and see me and they were like, oh, what’s her name? And my mom was like, Björg.
[Imitating throwing up]
BJÖRG: It’s like horrible. Like thanks parents. One of the reasons why I was like, I’m not going to Denmark. Like people like puking.
ANDRÉS: I don’t want to deal with this.
And like the Danish, the Icelandics love a nice long drinking session.
NEIL: So with all this in mind, and with Iceland’s reputation as a super liberal utopia, you would think that it would have extended its progressive nature into the drug laws of the country too. But surprisingly, no weed, no psychedelics nothing.
BJÖRG: No, no, no. Nothing. Beer was banned in Iceland until 1989.
ANDRÉS: What is going on there? Wha, what?
BJÖRG: I actually don’t know, but it was just forbidden. Beer was forbidden. So that’s why people like in Iceland drink so much hardcore liquor.
ANDRÉS: So then when beer showed up, did people go crazy for beer?
BJÖRG: I think so, but it’s not like you’re getting more drunk from beer than a bottle of like moonshine and vodka that people were making in their basements.
BJÖRG: So it’s kind of like, it didn’t really make any sense.
NEIL: They were happy for the break. They were like,
ANDRÉS: No, that’s, what’s funny because usually…
NEIL: 5 percent? I’ll take it!
ANDRÉS: If usually you do an alcohol ban, it’s a full on like a cultural thing, where you’re going to just stop this.
BJÖRG: Oh yeah.
ANDRÉS: But just beer. That’s somebody, that’s somebody that has it out for beer.
BJÖRG: No, but it’s interesting because now obviously with my brother being a craft brewer and he has this little bar. And like taproom and brewery in one place.
NEIL: In Reykjavík?
BJÖRG: Yeah, it’s called Reykjavík Brewing Company.
ANDRÉS: The Reykjavík Brewing Company.
NEIL: Excellent pronunciation.
BJÖRG: Yes, very good. Um, it’s really like, it’s really increasing like the culture of beer and like, people are like really into it now, so it’s interesting, but you know, you can only buy alcohol in government-controlled stores.
ANDRÉS: Wait, what?
ANDRÉS: It’s like weed?
BJÖRG: Oh yeah, yeah. It’s
ANDRÉS: It’s like alcohol dispensaries.
BJÖRG: That’s why it’s so expensive because the government puts like 20% on top of it. Yeah. So that’s why, if you ever go to Iceland by booze and the duty free when you enter the country, because it’s a lot cheaper.
ANDRÉS: MisInfoNation extra tip.
NEIL: It’s true.
ANDRÉS: Okay so if I want a glass of wine at a bar, how much is it going to cost me?
BJÖRG: About maybe 10 euros, a glass of wine. Yeah.
ANDRÉS: Iceland is expensive. There’s no two ways about it. After Switzerland and Norway, it’s the third most expensive country in the world. They love people coming to spend their cash, of course, but dropping cash is one thing, dropping something else is a little different.
BJÖRG: We just like the people that come there and spend some money. So for us, it’s the most frustrating tourists are the ones that go there,
NEIL: Buy a van and drive around the one road.
BJÖRG: And they do that. And then they just shit wherever they want.
They like actually, like a shit in people’s driveways, people have had to put up signs like with like a guy pooing to say, please do not shit it on my lawn. I am not shitting you.
NEIL: Weirdly, we already knew that this was a thing. There was a, a tourist who like stopped his car, parked, went into the, into the moss. He takes a shit, wipes, puts in the thing and then for some reason is like, I shouldn’t leave it here.
ANDRÉS: Oh no.
NEIL: So he sets it on fire.
NEIL: Yeah. And he just burn, he just burned, like the whole thing.
BJÖRG: The poo and the moss?
ANDRÉS: What the fffff?
NEIL: Yeah. And people thought it was like a volcano erupting. It’s the big one. And it was just this guys…
ANDRÉS: Turd fire.
NEIL: Yeah. It just made a turd fire.
BJÖRG: See that’s fine. That’s just fertilizer, but don’t like, burn it.
ANDRÉS: Yeah exactly.
BJÖRG: It’s crazy.
ANDRÉS: I never burned shit. MisInfoNation. A public announcement.
NEIL: We’ll be back in a minute with more incredibly misinformed questions about Iceland, including elves, eating puffin and terrifying Christmas trolls. We’ll see you in a bit.
ANDRÉS: The cuisine of a place tends to say a lot about the personality of the people there. Iceland is no different. They’ve got 350 different kinds of fish that can be found in Iceland’s oceans and its rivers and fjords. So, you know, they’ve come up with some pretty odd things to eat, of course.
NEIL: Whole boiled sheep’s head, sour rams’ testicles, all washed down with their national drink, Brennivín, a kind of schnapps made with fermented grain or potato mash and flavored with caraway.
The nickname for this drink is the black death. Oh, and also puffin. You know, those tiny seabirds, the cute ones with the little colorful beaks? Yeah, they eat those too.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
BJÖRG: I don’t know, like for you, it’d probably be puffin or something. One of my favorite things to eat ever, it’s delicious.
And because it lives a fish and like it’s so rich with fish oil that you need to like put it in milk before, before you cook it.
ANDRÉS: What kind of a, what do you mean?
NEIL: Wait, so what’s the… hang on. You go out…
ANDRÉS: She said that like it was the most logical thing. There’s so much fish oil you have to put it in milk.
NEIL: I’m so confused right now. You go out hunting, you go to the cliffs, you take down a puffin.
BJÖRG: If you’re going to, like, be full of eating puffin, you need like three.
ANDRÉS: Oh, they’re small.
BJÖRG: They’re small. They’re like…
NEIL: Give me a hand.
ANDRÉS: It’s like a squirrel.
BJÖRG: I know they’re so cute.
NEIL: It’s like a colorful beak, what do you do with the beak? Do you make like a necklace?
BJÖRG: Like, okay…
NEIL: Like the guy in Apocalypse Now?
BJÖRG: I’ve only ever like…
BJÖRG: It would be beautiful. No, but it’s hard to get them because you can only like hunt so many of them per year.
BJÖRG: Like we really like take care of our livestocks and like our wild animals, but no, yeah, no, it’s good.
ANDRÉS: So of all the things that Icelandics eat, there’s only one that truly stands out. It stood out to us in our Google search about Iceland too. In sixth spot, fermented putrefied shark meat. Jesus.
BJÖRG: It’s fucking disgusting. Think about the worst thing you could ever think about eating and then it’s peed on, that’s it. That’s why you drink the black death because it numbs the taste afterwards.
NEIL: In all of the comments of like people who’ve like, eaten it from, who’ve never had it before, quote, unquote, tastes a bit urinary.
BJÖRG: A bit pissy.
ANDRÉS: All of this hardy, strong, balls to the wall food and drink must be the reason for this nation of blonde superheroes and strong men, right? Iceland’s Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson is constantly ranked in the top three. That’s Game of Thrones, The Mountain, by the way, Neil.
NEIL: I know. So are the Icelandics all about strength and beauty?
What’s the, what’s the deal with the world’s strongest man?
BJÖRG: We have two.
ANDRÉS: The national pride.
BJÖRG: Yeah and we have four, um, Miss Worlds. Well, there are the traditional super blonde, blue eyes, beautiful type of thing. I mean, there is a lot of blondes, but I think because obviously there was a lot of Vikings they went and got women from a lot of places. So there’s a lot of different kind of, I think like my mom’s side is like partly Spanish.
Yeah. Because they are like kind of darker, like my parents have pitch black hair. I was born blonde. People thought like my mom had an affair with a postman. I am not kidding because I was like blonde, blue eyes, curly hair. And they were like, what the fuck?
ANDRÉS: What is this?
NEIL: What happened Björg?
BJÖRG: I don’t know. Age is cruel, but yeah, no, it’s just, it’s really a mix.
Like I have cousins that are like ginger with like perm and you know, it’s really just anything, it’s crazy.
NEIL: Well, strength has to come from somewhere. Maybe it’s from, oh, I don’t know, putting your babies to sleep outside in the snow.
One of the more shocking things for people visiting Iceland has been the site of just a baby carriage parked outside in the snow.
BJÖRG: Yeah. Our like old houses in Iceland, they’re like made in dirt, and you have like the turf on top and all that. So they’re kind of buried a little bit. So it was also for health reasons for the babies to be sleeping outside. It’s that whole like, Viking, like just toughen enough to get better.
NEIL: Yeah. Breath it in.
ANDRÉS: If you’re going to make it here, you gotta,
BJÖRG: But like I sleep with my window open, always.
Like I’ve always done it, living in Scotland, here, wherever, like window’s always open.
ANDRÉS: There difference in seasons in Iceland is really worth a mention too, from three months of total darkness to three months of nearly 24 hours of daylight. Somehow the natives handle this in the same way most Nordic countries do.
They just don’t really need to. It’s just how it is.
BJÖRG: One of the most like common questions I get is like when should I go to Iceland?
BJÖRG: So it’s like, do I go in the winter or do I go on the summer? And I always say like, you need to experience both.
NEIL: And it’s not that cold.
BJÖRG: No, but like 15 degrees in Iceland, it’s like 25 degrees here. So, I mean, it sounds cold, but it’s not.
ANDRÉS: Because you’re used to the cold?
BJÖRG: No, no, it’s warm. We’re closer to the sun.
NEIL: It’s the same average winter temperature as New York City.
BJÖRG: But it’s so much colder in New York because you have the humidity there. In Iceland, we don’t have that.
So that’s why we have our Lopapeysa, like the woolen sweaters.
BJÖRG: Everything’s wool.
BJÖRG: And because you can dress off the cold.
NEIL: So you can just work on your wooly hat and your wooly sweater and be fine.
BJÖRG: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh my god, my mom, I have like 10. My mom knits a lot.
NEIL: In the winter months, sunrise is at 11:00 AM. And it sets again at about 3:00 PM.
ANDRÉS: How does it affect you?
BJÖRG: Um, like the shortest day of the year, well, this sun never really comes up, it’s just like hovering. And then, so it’s only like three-hour daylights, but it depends on like, if it’s clear sky or, or not, if it’s snowing or not. Like the snow helps so much with the darkness, it brightens up everything.
So you really feel the difference when it’s like snow or not.
ANDRÉS: And how does it affect you?
BJÖRG: Well, it’s kind of always a bit depressing to wake up in dark, go to work in dark. Then it’s like dark when you leave. So it’s a bit like, eh. But then you really start to feel it. The days get longer, super quick. You really feel like the difference every single day.
And it’s just such a nice feeling to have just like, oh, spring’s coming. Like it’s getting, it’s getting a little bit lighter. And then you have a whole like 24-hour daylight for like two months, three months.
ANDRÉS: That’s wild, but that must also make you crazy in a different way.
BJÖRG: I think that affects like, especially tourists, they can’t stand it. It’s too much for their brain to like handle.
ANDRÉS: She almost said their little brain. She almost said that. I hear her self-edit.
BJÖRG: Iceland, best í heimi
NEIL: Iceland, best í heimi
ANDRÉS: Iceland, the best in the world. Strong men, Miss Worlds and an amazing football team.
NEIL: What is the deal with the fucking Icelandic football team?
BJÖRG: I love it. It’s like our boys, us. We love it. I never felt as proud in my life as when we like got so far in the European.
NEIL: That’s amazing.
BJÖRG: It’s like the patriotic side really came out. It’s crazy. So weird.
ANDRÉS: I mean, it was amazing to watch for the rest of the world. It’s like, where did these people come from?
NEIL: Yeah like what? The thunder clap.
BJÖRG: Oh yeah, the Viking clap?
BJÖRG: Oh, we’re still doing it all the time. It’s really annoying, but it’s like, I cried when we beat England. Like it was like that kind of thing.
NEIL: Oh, I cried when you beat England.
ANDRÉS: I think I was there.
BJÖRG: I was in Scotland. I was in Scotland and like everyone obviously on our side, so, it was just, yeah, it was fun. It was good times.
NEIL: The Icelandics punch above their weight in almost everything considering they’re such a tiny nation. They have a 99% literacy rate. There are a country of insatiable readers and writers with more books published and read per person than anywhere else on earth. In fact, one in 10 Icelandics will write and publish a book in their lifetime.
And along with that, 80% of the publishing industry’s revenue comes two months before Christmas. A festive phenomenon with another unpronounceable word.
NEIL: You were way…
ANDRÉS: I was super close. I just know that…
NEIL: Okay, I’m leaving, I’m getting out of here.
ANDRÉS: It’s that, that, that thing at the end, it’s a th
NEIL: A term for the run on books before Christmas.
BJÖRG: Yeah. Everyone gets a book for Christmas.
ANDRÉS: So Christmas is a huge deal in Iceland, but it’s not the jolly red fat man with his reindeer coming down the chimney. No, it’s 13 hideous looking Santa Claus trolls, one per day, for 13 days.
And these trolls are assholes.
BJÖRG: It’s like really old tradition. They’re horrible people basically, they’re not nice. On the 13th of December, the first Santa Claus comes. So you put your shoe in your window and if you’ve been nice, you get like, a treat. And if you’ve been naughty, you get a potato.
ANDRÉS: In Bolivia that would be a gift.
NEIL: You put your…
ANDRÉS: Depends on the potato.
NEIL: You put your shoe in the window?
ANDRÉS: But like a sneaker outside…
BJÖRG: A slipper or wellie or whatever, like,
ANDRÉS: And then, so if you’ve been good, you get?
BJÖRG: Well, sometimes it’s like clementine, you’re just like, yeah, that was sad or like a little bit of money. Like when I was young,
ANDRÉS: A little bit of money. Just some change.
NEIL: Just some change in your shoe.
BJÖRG: Exactly it’s like a euro or two euro.
NEIL: With a potato on top.
ANDRÉS: A clementine.
BJÖRG: That was the worst one always. It’s like, seriously, mom, you couldn’t do better?
ANDRÉS: Yeah, exactly.
NEIL: Has there been a lot of accidents of like parents falling off ladders?
NEIL: Trying to like keep up the charade of Santa Claus.
BJÖRG: Yeah, yeah.
ANDRÉS: Just a pile of clementines on them.
BJÖRG: But at least like, yeah, so they were supposed to be like, how do you say like, um, they’re like teasing you, they’re like doing tricks on you.
ANDRÉS: Right. Are they like dressed in…
BJÖRG: Oh, no. They’re like woolen jumpers, horrible looking. They’re terrifying.
BJÖRG: Oh they’re terrifying.
ANDRÉS: Like hobo Santas like wondering the streets?
BJÖRG: No they’re like awful looking. So like, one of them comes in and like steals your meats. One of them slams all the doors. One of them is actually like a peeping Tom on the windows.
BJÖRG: Oh yeah. I know. It’s like, it’s bad. And the worst thing is that their mother is a troll and she eats babies.
ANDRÉS: What is going on?
BJÖRG: So if like you’re really bad, Grýla will come and eat you and here I’m like, okay.
NEIL: Yeah, it’s all making sense now.
ANDRÉS: Oh my god. Do they have names?
BJÖRG: Oh yeah, yeah.
ANDRÉS: So you know all 13?
BJÖRG: I can try and recite.
ANDRÉS: Go for it.
BJÖRG: Leppalúði, Ketkrókur, Þvörusleikir, Stúfur, he’s the little one.
ANDRÉS: Do you remember the peeping Tom?
BJÖRG: Gluggagægir. And then it’s like, uh, the candle stealer.
ANDRÉS: There’s a candle stealer.
BJÖRG: Yeah, Kertasníkir.
NEIL: I was going to say, Kertasníkir.
BJÖRG: Kertasníkir. He’s the last one.
NEIL: This is like a really dark…
BJÖRG: It’s so dark. It’s like, if you don’t like, if you don’t dress well for Christmas, like if you’re not smart, it’s like you go to the, the Yule Cat, like the Christmas cat.
And like, yeah, he will eat you.
ANDRÉS: Wow, man.
BJÖRG: He has a lot of eating babies.
NEIL: Definitely our favorite Christmas tradition of all time. But when you think of Iceland, there is another fantastical creature it seems everybody thinks of right off the bat: Elves. And even someone as straight up and level headed as Björg, she has a pretty surprising admission.
ANDRÉS: Do you believe in elves?
BJÖRG: You do become super superstitious in Iceland and the way the roads are laid, you’ve maybe noticed Neil when you were driving there that the road sometimes takes a really weird curve and there’s like a rock in the middle.
BJÖRG: It’s because it’s an elf city. And if you move it, it’s gonna like kill everyone who drives that road because that’s actually something that happened. Like they removed, like a rock that was supposed to be an elf city and a lot of accidents happened on the place. So we’re super superstitious towards things like this.
So I’m not going to say I don’t believe in elves.
ANDRÉS: The hot springs and thermal pools in Iceland are a must for any visitor. The white mud in the Blue Lagoon will make you feel incredible. Iceland is filled with warm bubbling water, even in the capital, but there’s only one catch.
BJÖRG: We have, I can’t even remember how many swimming pools in Reykjavík. 20, all heated, all like, yeah, you have to go naked to go in. We can talk about that later.
ANDRÉS: We’re finally at the nudity, we did it.
BJÖRG: Because you have to get naked to wash before you go into the pool, because we don’t have chlorine in our pools and there’s a woman in the woman’s locker room and a guy in the men’s who like watches if you don’t wash well, it’s like, uh, excuse me, take off your swim suit and like wash your bits.
NEIL: Go back.
ANDRÉS: Okay. So these are public pools?
BJÖRG: Oh yeah. But like for us, we’re so used to it because you go with your grandma or your mom, like whomever. So it’s just like being nude is not a big thing for us, but it was funny because on Australian friend of mine who was like, I’ve never seen an old lady naked before.
ANDRÉS: Oh wow.
BJÖRG: No. So for her, she was like, this is how I’m going to look like when I like get older. And I was like, for me, I was like, oh, I actually never thought of that. That people just don’t know how the body changes and this and that. So, body dysmorphia in Iceland is not really…
ANDRÉS: It’s not an issue.
BJÖRG: Not really because you’re just like used to seeing all shapes of women, like these kind of boobs, those kind of boobs, you know, like it’s not.
It’s not like in America where you have like a stereotypical woman, that’s just like, this is how you’re supposed to look.
NEIL: If you see people from other countries going to these pools,
BJÖRG: You know because they don’t take off their swim suits.
ANDRÉS: Like Mr. clean balls.
NEIL: God dammit. You should do everything naked.
ANDRÉS: Get naked but with other people that are also naked of all ages, sizes, and shapes.
BJÖRG: Yeah. Go to Iceland.
ANDRÉS: If you have not been around nudity, it’s the first moment and then after a while, you’re just, you maybe kind of space out and be like, oh, look at that’s a curious shape.
NEIL: Why is the thing under the other thing?
NEIL: So a nation of just 360,000 people who all know each other, have all seen each other naked, have all danced on tables with Björk, eaten puffin, hired a punk rock comic mayor in the capital, put out more published authors per person than any other nation on earth. This place must have a unifying brilliant, dense philosophy.
What is it?
BJÖRG: We have a saying which is called like, in Icelandic it’s þetta reddast, which is like, everything’s going to be okay. And that’s our mentality and this is like our whole attitude. It’s just like, we’re just gonna fix it, we’re just going to make it okay.
NEIL: Back in 2008, Iceland went bankrupt. It had opened up huge interest savings accounts, which attracted a lot of outside money.
Soon after, Iceland’s banks collapsed. 25% of the population lost incredible amounts of their savings. Iceland remarkably shunned the too big to fail model and decided that their banks were too big to save. All three of the major banks went under and over the last 12 years, Iceland has bounced back with a huge tourist boom in one of the greatest economic turnarounds in recorded history.
BJÖRG: During the 2008 crisis there was a lot of that being said, and you’re like, really it’s really just going to fix itself somehow magically, like we’re bankrupt as a nation, but it did. And now we’re like right back where it was. So it’s pretty horrific, but yes.
NEIL: Keep calm and carry on.
BJÖRG: Yeah, for sure.
But that’s how they just made it happen. It’s just like, and then we jailed the bankers.
ANDRÉS: That’s a big thing.
NEIL: Which was incredible.
BJÖRG: Only nation that actually did anything about this.
ANDRÉS: This is, this is my other, um, MisInfoNation moment of illumination, which is we can all learn a little bit from Iceland.
BJÖRG: It’s crazy. Like nation of so few people that yeah, we can teach a lot to other nations. It’s insane.
NEIL: So eat some puffin, take your clothes off, wash your bits in the pool.
ANDRÉS: Jail your bankers.
So according to our judges here at Passport, the final tally is that the worldview on the country of Iceland is about 65% accurate. I guess when outsider’s opinions of your country are overwhelmingly positive, the stereotypes you carry around with you when you travel the world, well, they’re welcome ones.
ANDRÉS: How do you feel we did?
BJÖRG: You guys did?
BJÖRG: No, you did good.
ANDRÉS: What is your relationship to this stereotype stuff? As you move through the world and people ask you the same shit over and over again about sharks and elves, what, how do you feel about it?
BJÖRG: It’s just something that you get used to. And you’re just like, because I’m a rare species, I’m the first Icelander for a lot of people to meet.
So I don’t want to be like a complete bitch and be like oh fuck you, you know? So I try to be a bit more like, okay, accommodating and like nice, but…
ANDRÉS: So you feel like you’re from an extraordinary place?
BJÖRG: Oh, for sure. Yeah. No, no and like I was telling you, like, I’m super proud to be Icelandic. And it’s like, because it’s small and unique and you know, we have all our traditions and history.
Yeah. Of course
NEIL: Iceland, the land of the midnight sun and northern light, of volcanoes, it holds a personality which cherishes tradition, but it also knows full well when to break it. It would seem that they love people taking an interest in their landscape and in their people and in their culture because they are indeed incredibly rare, 0.004% of all of the people in existence.
Consider yourself extremely lucky. If you ever meet one, they are truly the elves of the world.
ANDRÉS: Huge thanks again to Björg for bringing us to Iceland. It was an incredible chat and we learned a lot. So we decided to call her back for one last thing, to get her very own saved pins. Five incredible experiences which you won’t find in guidebooks.
BJÖRG: So, these are my top Icelandic experiences.
NEIL: Number one, the Reykjavik Brewing Company.
BJÖRG: Obviously I need to say this place as it’s my brother’s brewery, but they just got voted the best secret bar by Grapevine Magazine so that’s similar to TimeOut and you can see into the brewery and they have a little tap room where you go and taste their many different types of delicious beer.
It’s super fun.
ANDRÉS: Number two, Kálfshamarsvík.
BJÖRG: It’s a place up north located super close to my family cottage close to Skagaströnd up North. Um, it’s this beautiful cove with extraordinary basalt rock formation and beautiful art nouveau lighthouse. So it’s one of my favorite places to go for a little walk as the landscape there is truly breathtaking and you usually see lots of nature and seals and things like that.
NEIL: Number three: Hofsos Swimming Pool.
BJÖRG: So, of course there has to be some kind of a swimming pool on this list. Um, this one is actually quite new. It opened in 2010, and it’s also located, um, north of Iceland and Hofsos Village.
It has quickly become like really popular tourist attraction and they have an eternity pool with like incredible scenic views to this rock called Drangey and there’s an old saga from like early thousand about a famous outlaw called Grettis Saga and he swam to the islands to be an outlaw.
So it’s actually, when you’re swimming in the pool, you’re doing the same route like he did. So it is kind of cool. Definitely check that if you’re up there.
ANDRÉS: Number four, Borgarpylsur hotdogs.
BJÖRG: We love our hotdogs in Iceland. I don’t know if I mentioned that before, and there’s this super famous hot dog stand in downtown Reykjavik, but I actually prefer this really random one in like a shopping center called Skevan and it’s on a parking lot next to one of the state owned liquor stores.
So, you know, you can eat up before going to spend a fortune for your booze for the weekend. I mean, it’s amazing. Try, try one hot dog with everything it really won’t disappoint.
NEIL: Number five, the Beer Spa.
BJÖRG: You basically bath in a wooden hot tub, which is filled with warm beer, water, hops, and yeast and you have a beer draught right next to it so you can like soak up in a beer and drink a beer and it just looks really nice and I just think is hilarious. But this is located north as well, really close to Kaldi Brewery, which is, um, one of the more famous brewers in Iceland. So if you’re adventurous drinking, beer drinker, try that.
NEIL: That’s it for this week, guys, Iceland is open, so if you want to make it your first trip after lockdown, we couldn’t recommend it more. You can visit us at frequencymachine.com/Passport. And you can find us on social media at Passport Podcast.
ANDRÉS: So thanks for listening. We’ll see you next week in Palermo, Sicily with a story about food, the mafia, and fighting back. Much love and see you soon.
NEIL: This week’s episode of Passport was produced and edited by me and written by myself and Andrés Bartos.
Thanks to Harry Stott for his research work and huge thanks to the brilliant Björg Valgeirsdóttir. We’ll have all of her details in the show notes if you want to check out some of her work.
Our theme music is by Nick Turner with additional stuff by The Beards, The Benign ones and Calton Bansky.
The show is mixed and mastered by Julian Kwasneski.
Stacey Book, Dominique Ferrari and Avi Glijanksy will eat you if you don’t dress up nice for Christmas day. They also executive produce the show.
Which is hosted by myself and a man who would be naked all day every day if it wasn’t for the prior arrests, AndrésBartos.
See you in the next place!
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