The Iceland National Flag and Icelandic Identity

Updated: Nov 13, 2019

The singular country of Iceland has a unique identity very much connected to the Iceland national flag. This fascinating nation of just under 340,000 people is both a proud and a very young country. Iceland gained full independence from Denmark in December 1918 only then becoming a sovereign state. In this article we are going to explore Iceland’s national identity in broad strokes. We will also take a little look at the history of the country and the story behind its national flag.

The Iceland National Flag

Being such a seafaring nation the flying of flags has played an important part in the history of Iceland. Before independence Icelandic ships flew the Danish flag when they voyaged across the Atlantic Ocean.

Iceland national flag on blue and cloudy sky

During the independence movement there was plenty of back and forth on the potential national flag design. Initial ideas included an arrangement of three stock fish in a coat of arms style design on a blue background. This was promptly turned down in favour of a white falcon on a blue background. The falcon was considered a more fitting symbol of Iceland. The stock fish reference to the fishing industry was generally thought to be a little too one tracked.

But many Icelandic people including the influential poet Einar Benediktsson also considered the falcon design improper. Eventually the idea of the Nordic cross was settled upon. The cross as the symbol for Christianity has been employed on flags across the world. From the United Kingdom to Greece and beyond. Scandinavian crosses are just slightly different in that they cut the vertical line a little to one side. Several combinations of colour were put forward and turned down during the process.

On June 19, 1915 the final Icelandic flag design was officially adopted. The red cross with blue and white. The red is symbolic of Iceland’s volcanoes, the white its ice and snow and the blue the Atlantic Ocean. The emphasis that has been put on Iceland’s natural features is very telling. This is a country that attaches real importance to nature, environment and wild places. And this love of the natural world really is a significant element of the country’s national identity.

Iceland’s National Identity

As with most countries when you visit you will begin to notice certain national character traits. It is of course difficult to describe a whole nation of people without reverting to stereotypes. So bear in mind that we are describing Icelandic national identity with very broad brushstrokes here. You will certainly meet many Icelandic people that defy these stereotypes.

girl in yellow coat runs past turf roof houses near ocean. Iceland national flag and identity

Friendly but sometimes abrupt

Icelandic people are considered some of the friendliest in the world. They have a very inclusive mindset and will happily switch to the English language to include people in a conversation. In fact they nearly always have very good language skills. Everyone learns three languages in school. These are Icelandic, English and one other, which could be Danish, French, Spanish or several others. Many Icelandic people even speak more than three languages to a high standard.

Icelanders are sometimes considered a little abrupt though. This doesn’t really stem from rudeness but rather from being direct and getting straight to the point. Another contributing factor is that there isn’t really a commonly used Icelandic word for please. Officially there is one but it is very formal and seldom used. As such they sometimes tend not to use it when they speak in English. If you are used to lots of please and thank you then this could be initially interpreted as rudeness.

Equality in Iceland

Iceland is a real bastion for equal rights. In terms of both gender equality and that of LGBT rights and equality. The country’s first woman to take the prime minister office in 2009 was openly gay. Same sex marriage is viewed in just the same way as heterosexual marriage. And gender equality in terms of equal pay and representation is among the highest in the world.

Iceland celebrates a weeklong Pride festival in Reykjavik every August. It is a fun filled and inclusive event and definitely one to be enjoyed if you plan on visiting Iceland in August.

Flag days and patriotism

You will see the Icelandic flag everywhere in Iceland. They are very proud of their country but at the same time very outward looking. Icelandic young people are encouraged to go out and explore the world and they all learn English to help facilitate this.

This patriotism is tied to the many achievements of such a young nation. Including its capacity for political forward-thinking. And perhaps most importantly, in the preservation of its incredible natural habitats. After all, the colours of the Icelandic flag were chosen solely to represent their treasured natural heritage. This land of fire and ice is very much in the hearts of all Icelandic people.

person holding Iceland national flag next to large waterfall

Small nation connections

Iceland has a very small population of around 340,000. In many countries that is the population of a small city! For this reason Icelandic people nearly always know each other or at least have a friend in common. When they do meet someone new they nearly always spend a good five minutes figuring out who they have in common. When it comes to famous Icelandic people such as Bjork or Sigur Rós most Icelandic people will either be their cousin, school friend or an acquaintance of some kind or other.

Icelandic people are often thought to be very hard working. This is another national character trait put down again to the small population. Because of their size in comparison to other Scandinavian countries they are always striving to make their presence felt. There is also plenty of work to be done and with a small population people will often have several different jobs.

Creativity is everywhere in Iceland

In arts, music and fashion this quirky nation punches well above its weight. Iceland’s musicians and artists are very unique and many of them have entered the world stage and are very well known outside of their country. Perhaps inspired by life in the bizarre and beautiful landscapes of this amazing country. Get your camper rental in Iceland and dare to discover what this country has to offer beyond of what meets the eyes.

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