things that make the news in Iceland: cheeseburger soup and snow penises

Snjótyppi klýfur Gautaborg // Snow penis divides Gothenburg (

A snow penis has reportedly caused division among the residents of Swedish city Gothenburg. An unknown prankster drew a penis on a frozen river and the city received a number of complaints from people asking it to be destroyed. This proved to be rather a challenge as the ice was too thin to allow city workers to walk on it, so they had to use some sort of long-handled tool to destroy the snow penis from a distance.

The destruction of the snow penis caused a backlash on social media, and of course someone founded a Facebook group called something like “Rebuild the snow penis” (I’d like to think that in English it would have been something like “the snow penis will rise again”).

A new snow penis was indeed created, reportedly so large that it can only be seen in its entirety from the air. The Icelandic article delightfully refers to it as “Hið nýja snjótyppi,” which will probably be amusing only to those who know Icelandic.

(Here’s an article in English for those who want to learn more about the snow penis phenomenon.)


Ostborgarasúpan gerði allt vitlaust upp í HÍ: Það var algjör örtröð í Hámu // Cheeseburger soup causes a ruckus at the University of Iceland: The cafeteria was crazy crowded! (Vísir)

Yes, the soup of the day at my school’s cafeteria made the news. Is cheeseburger soup an American thing? Probably. In any case, I feel like it’s something I’ve definitely heard of before, but apparently here it’s the soup equivalent to a unicorn. Everyone lined up to try it and deliver their verdict. Some hypothesized that the soup was an experiment of sorts, to measure the power of social media. It seems to have worked. One person went so far as to declare it akin to “Almar í kassanum,” the art student who spent a week naked in a glass box back in December. In other words, it was something everyone just had to see for themselves. It was the talk of the town.

It sparked a number of amusing tweets and the wonderful hashtag #súputíð, which literally means “soup time” but is a reference to the word gúrkutíð (“cucumber time”), used to describe a period of slow news. It’s always gúrkutíð around here, really.


Gæti skotið einhvern en samt unnið // Could shoot someone and still win (RÚV)

Ironically for someone who’s so into wall-building, the stupidity of Donald Trump knows no boundaries. While I am grateful to hear a lot less about him here than I would back in the States, I still hear way too much, as of course the world is following the campaign with an appropriate blend of amusement and horror.

His latest assertion that he could stand on Wall Street and indiscriminately shoot someone walking past without losing a single voter basically encompasses everything that is wrong with Trump: he is stupid, he is crass, he is disgustingly confident, and he is disgustingly popular.

Reading about him in Icelandic somehow creates a bit of distance, but sadly I know he will continue making headlines, and the truth behind those headlines, regardless of the language, will be alarming and depressing.

Until the next batch of news, friends.


Portlendingar: bjórdrykkjufólk, lesendur, hipsterar

My friend and fellow Northwesterner-at-heart Leana recently alerted me to an article about Portland published in the Icelandic magazine Stundin. It’s always nice to see the Northwest getting some press in Iceland, and the author certainly got a lot of things right, describing Portland as a charming city and “the hipster’s Mecca.”

This description also rings true:

“Strákarnir sem afgreiða þig hvort sem það er í raftækjaverslun, smá-brugghúsi eða bílaleigu eru með sítt skegg og kassalaga gleraugu.”

“The guys who work in electronics stores, microbreweries, and car rentals all have long beards and square glasses.”

The author touches on the oft-quoted statistic that Portland boasts (?) the highest number of strip clubs per capita of any US city:

“Út um allt eru klámbúllur og strippstaðir sem Portlendingar eru furðustoltir af.”

“There are strip clubs all over the place, a fact of which Portlandians are strangely proud.”

And of course I approve of this shimmering review of Powell’s:

“En helsta perlan downtown er ekki veitingastaður. Innan um smábrugghús og lífrænar búðir (og risavaxna Whole Foods nema hvað) stendur Powell´s city of books, 6.300 fermetra bókabúð með yfir einni og hálfri milljón eintaka af nýjum og notuðum bókum. Með öðrum orðum: Paradís. Portland er svo sjarmerandi að hún gæti næstum verið evrópsk.”

“The greatest downtown treasure is not a restaurant. Among the microbreweries and organic grocery stores stands Powell’s City of Books, a 6300-square meter book store with more than one and a half million new and used books. In other words: Paradise. Portland is so charming that it could almost be European.”

That last sentence is rather a backhanded compliment, but we’ll let it slide.

I find it fascinating that an Icelander of all people is complaining about the strength of Portlandian beer, but perhaps that’s because the dominant drinking culture in Iceland is all about getting drunk, not as much about the palate:

“Portlendingar þykjast vera listamenn en þeir eru fyrst og fremst bjórdrykkjufólk, og það reynir á magann því það er hvergi til venjulegur lager. Bjórarnir eru bragðsterkir og áfengir, og breyta maganum í lítið brauðbakarí.”

“Portlandians fancy themselves artists but they are first and foremost beer drinkers, and that is a bit hard on the stomach because there are hardly any regular lagers available. The beers are strongly flavored and strongly alcoholic, and turn the stomach into a little bakery.”

He also got a few things wrong, by my reckoning, most importantly his conclusion:

“Það eina sem vantar upp á til að gera þetta að vænlegu túristasvæði er eitthvað virkilega stórfenglegt. Það tekur hálfan dag að skoða Multnomah fossa og vilji maður tilbreytingu frá borgarlífinu daginn eftir er eiginlega bara St. Helen fjall eftir. Það er þó hægt að mæla með heimsókn til Portland sem hluta af stærra ferðalagi um Bandaríkin, til dæmis ef leiðin liggur til Seattle.”

“The one thing missing that would make this a promising tourist destination is something truly spectacular. It takes half a day to explore Multnomah Falls, but if you want a break from city life the next day, there’s really only Mt. St. Helens left to explore. I can certainly recommend a visit to Portland as part of a larger trip in the States, for instance if you continue north to Seattle.”

I am not entirely sure what map this guy was using, but I feel like he somehow missed the fact that the Pacific Ocean is less than two hours away from the city. Never mind how much more there is to do within city limits than eat, drink beer, and go to strip clubs. I mean, on my itinerary, Powell’s itself takes up the better part of a full day. With Portland as base camp, one can take a ridiculous number of day trips in any direction. This author commented on how friendly Portlandians are, but he must not have asked them for recommendations, because anyone could have given him a long list of things to do outside the city, starting with that big blue blob on the map, the glorious Pacific Ocean.

(Also, am I the only one who finds it strange that someone who takes time to discuss the strip clubs does not once mention the dirty doughnuts at Voodoo?)

In any case, thanks to Stundin for giving me the little joy of reading about familiar places á íslensku. And next time you’re in Portland, grab a waffle from the Waffle Window or a couple scoops at Salt and Straw on your way to the coast. You’ll thank me later.


áramótablogg: ringing in 2016 in reykjavík

It’s 2016 and I have now rung in the past two years here in Reykjavík. Last year, I arrived back in Iceland the morning of the 30th, which means I spent the day severely jet-lagged and did not so much appreciate the constant barrage of fireworks that kept me awake until 8 AM. This year, thankfully, was a very different story. I celebrated the old year and rang in the new alongside my Icelandic family and friends new and old.

In the morning I carefully assembled and decorated the champagne cake I had made the night before and helped Ásta clean up the house. Then I headed out to Vínbúðin (the state-run liquor store) to grab some last-minute libations. The store was only open until 2.00 and we arrived around 1.45 to find a line out the door. I have to say, I’ve never waited in line at the liquor store before, but hey, there’s a first time for everything. On the way out, I heard a tourist arguing with the security guard that it was only two minutes past two and he should really let her in and I commented to my friend that we should have bought extra wine to sell to desperate tourists. Business idea for next year, I suppose.

I headed home to bake another dessert and help Ásta with other last-minute preparations. Around six, guests started to arrive for dinner. We had a full house – an interesting blend of family, Snorris, and a couple friends.

It was practically a Snorri alumni New Year’s party, as there were five of us former Snorris: Erin (2013), Stefán (2011) and I, who all live here, and Other Erin (2013) and Mallory (2011) who were visiting from the States.


Of course Ásta’s family was in attendance, including her father Kristján, stepdaughter Elena and Elena’s boyfriend Ketill. My friend Victor and Stefán’s friend Sam rounded out the guest list.

classy black and white new year's eve
classy black and white new year’s eve
less classy new year's eve
less classy new year’s eve

Ásta and the other Snorri girls cooked dinner, I provided dessert, and there was no shortage of wine.

My second-ever attempt at champagne cake, inspired by my favorite cake from Konditorei in Salem, was an undeniable success, at least according to the tiniest critic. Nói was the first one to sneak a taste and he seemed to enjoy it.

champagne cake before
champagne cake before
champagne cake after
champagne cake after
You're looking at about $4 worth of California raspberries. I sincerely wish I was kidding.
You’re looking at about $4 worth of California raspberries. I sincerely wish I was kidding.

After dinner and dessert, we gathered around the TV to watch áramótaskaup, an annual comedy show that pokes fun at the year’s happenings. It was quite rewarding to see that I understood almost all the dialogue this year, although a few of the cultural references still went past me. Most of the things I expected to see were included, such as Justin Bieber, Naked Almar in a box, and IceHot1.

gathered around the TV to watch áramótaskaupið

Áramótaskaup airs from 10.30-11.30, and this hour is practically a holy time. The sound of fireworks all but ceases, and the only people out and about are tourists, as all the locals have tucked in somewhere to watch the show. At 11.30, though, the noise picks up again, culminating, of course, at midnight. Although to be honest, it’s kind of hard to tell when the clock strikes twelve, because there are pretty much constant fireworks from 11.40-12.15. I actually think it makes midnight rather anticlimactic. In any case, we all wandered up to Hallgrímskirkja to experience the insanity. Victor and I found Katleen and her friend and the four of us went back to my house and hung out for a couple hours, finally succumbing to exhaustion around 3.00. The greatest gift of the new year was that I was actually able to sleep that night.

I have a bright pink point-and-shoot camera, so no fireworks photos from me, I’m afraid. Perhaps I will borrow some from Addi to add to this post later though.

All in all, it was a lovely way to say goodbye to 2015 and welcome 2016 in a beautiful place and in good company.

Gleðilegt nýtt ár og takk fyrir það gamla!

news from januarys past

I’ve been spending some time diving into history and practicing my reading by exploring old articles through the fantastic searchable periodical database I thought it would be interesting to see what has made the front page of the first edition in Januarys past. The general themes? Pretty photos of fireworks, stories about the occasional fireworks mishap or other New Year’s incident, and of course the first Icelandic baby born each year.

They also seem to have a penchant for tallying up how many Icelanders passed away in accidents in any given year.

timinn 3 january 1990

In 1989, 49 individuals, including three foreign citizens, passed away in accidents in Iceland. Seven died from drowning or accidents at sea, thirty in traffic accidents, one in a plane crash, and eleven from other fatal accidents that don’t fit into any of the aforementioned categories.

timinn 3 january 1991 - 1

The next year, 1990, 57 Icelanders died in accidents, including seven who passed away abroad.

Is this sort of tally a normal thing for tiny countries? Or is this a uniquely Icelandic tradition? Someone please shed light on this.

On a less depressing note, I found this tiny gem from the front page of Tíminn, 3 January 1986, in a section titled “í stuttu máli” (“news in short”):


It reads: “Britons were greatly surprised to discover yesterday that they are a very happy nation. According to a public poll that was shared yesterday, nine out of ten Britons are content with their position, 98% of homes have a television, 78% have a telephone, 68% have central heating, and there’s a cat or dog in every other home.”

I don’t know why this amuses me so much. Perhaps it’s the fact that it was actually printed on the front page of an Icelandic newspaper. Perhaps it’s the claim, completely unsupported, that Britons were terribly surprised by these findings. Or maybe I just have a strange sense of humor.

It seems January 1978 was an exciting time for ABBA fans, as Vísir announced that it would run a sort of comic strip about the band’s history and career. It was created by two Swedish artists and apparently Iceland was the last of the Nordic countries to translate and publish it. It was pointed out that readers could clip each edition and glue them onto size A4 paper, therefore creating a tremendous keepsake and a way to relive the glory of ABBA over and over. Who wouldn’t want that?

ABBA myndasaga

On a more serious note, I thought it would be interesting to read some of the old presidential new year’s addresses, as President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson just delivered his new year’s address, remarkable because he announced that he will not seek reelection in June. After twenty years as president, he will finally make room for someone else to take over at Bessastaðir.

Those who understand Icelandic can read his full address here. The economy (and specifically the nation’s remarkable recovery from the 2008 crash) is a major theme, as is Iceland’s relationship to Europe and within the Nordic nations. The country’s abundant natural resources, particularly rich fishing grounds and other marine resources, are emphasized, as well as the beauty of nature in general and Iceland’s increasing popularity among tourists. In fact, there’s more than a little smack of “Ísland best í heimi!”

“Fegurð landsins, samspil elds og ísa, litadýrð náttúrunnar, tign og víðerni öræfanna laða svo sífellt fleiri hingað; ferðaþjónustan komin í fremstu röð tækjulinda. Ísland er í vitund milljóna víða um heim áfangastaður sveipaður dulúð og ljóma, landið þar sem sérhver gengur frjáls um götur og stíga, lýðræðislegt samfélag sem byggir á öryggi og jöfnum rétti, andrúmsloftið laust við þá mengun sem hrjáir erlendar borgir.”

The beauty of our land, the interplay of fire and ice, the rich colors of nature, the glory and openness of the highlands attract more and more here; tourism is now a leading source of income. Iceland is known to many around the world as a mystical and glamorous destination, the land where each and every man walks free, a democratic society built on safety and equal rights, the atmosphere free of the pollution that plagues foreign cities.


I’ve been reading some old addresses from former President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir and the similarity of their content is striking.

In her 1989 address, she touches on economic concerns, remarks on the importance of a shared national identity and cultural heritage, praises Iceland’s abundant natural resources and warns agains misusing them. There’s even an almost identical statement about Iceland’s pollution-free air: “Þetta land er laust við mengun. Við erum ein fárra þjóða sem andar að sér hreinu lofti” (“This land is free of pollution. We are one of few nations that breathes clean air”). She also warns about the difficulty of seeing the big picture when we demand constant news, something that seems remarkably applicable to the present day:

En má það ekki vera augljóst að erfitt er á stundum að öðlast heildarsýn yfir málefni lands og lýðs þegar setið er hverja stund um þá stjórnmálamenn sem þjóðin hefur kjörið og þeir fulltrúar eru krafðir sagna um hugsanir sínar frá andartaki til andartaks. Er svo komið að mörgum ofbýður atgangurinn í harðri samkeppni um tíðindi sem helst þurfa að vera æsifréttir. Gæti ekki svo farið að við hættum að taka mark á þó hrópað væri, “Úlfur, úlfur.”


As one would expect from Madame Vigdís, she also takes the opportunity to address the Icelandic language, describing it as the nation’s greatest collective possession and most valuable treasure.

And she seemed to make a habit of quoting poetry in her New Year’s addresses, if I can extrapolate from two. Can you imagine anything more Icelandic?


Jæja, that concludes today’s trip into history, but I think there will be more in the future. This sort of nerdery is right up my alley.