Living in Iceland?
Living in Iceland
At A Glance:
- Iceland has a very different system for creating surnames — instead of a family name, each surname derives from the father’s name.
- Icelanders tend to buy property rather than renting, meaning that the rental market is rather small and expensive.
- Iceland only has public healthcare, funded through taxation, to which all citizens and registered residents are entitled.
- The Icelandic education system is of a particularly high standard and is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16.
The People and Society
Before developments in modern transportation allowed European countries to become better connected, Iceland had been rather isolated. Consequently, life in Iceland lets you experience a whole new level of solitude. The small island is the most sparsely populated country in Europe, with less than three inhabitants for every square kilometer.
However, Iceland is a modern nation which continues to occupy the top ranks of the UN Human Development Index. Interestingly, despite the isolation, Iceland has consistently ranked in the top 3 of the World Happiness Report (a study organized by the UN). Until the financial crisis in 2008, which continues to have some effect on life in Iceland, the economy was among the most productive in the world. Even though the economy has suffered in recent years, Iceland’s road to recovery has been unique and rather impressive, with the government deciding to allow the banks to fail and start over.
Iceland: A Unique Naming System
Icelandic names follow a specific pattern. While in Iceland, you may read or hear the suffix –son (son) or –dottir (daughter) attached to a last name. Last names follow an old tradition of being patronymic: they’re derived from the father’s name, to which one of the two suffixes is added. For example, if a man named Erikur has a son called Sven, his name would be Sven Eriksson (the son of Erikur).
However, as Icelanders do not have family names in the same way as the rest of the world, they would never be referred to by their last name only — even the President would only be referred to by his full name.
Regional Divisions in Iceland
Historically, people in Iceland settled in one of the four “farthings” (landsfjórðungar) which received their names from the directions on a compass. Farthings were administrative divisions which acted as a local government, organizing regional assemblies and courts. Later, municipalities, counties, and independent cities replaced the farthings.
In the 1990s, the traditional division of the farthings as well as the municipalities lost significance. Instead, one local government was implemented which is in charge of different aspects of life. Whenever a municipal division is required, mostly for statistical purposes, Icelanders fall back on the eight administrative regions:
- Nordhurland Eystra
- Nordhurland Vestra
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