Valentine’s Day isn’t traditionally an Icelandic holiday but thanks to the spillover of American culture on Icelandic shores, more and more Icelanders seem to know what day it is on February 14th. Some even make an attempt to celebrate it, albeit a little clumsily, since we aren’t really sure how to go about this Valentine’s business. It definitely isn’t a kid’s holiday, we don’t send each other heartfelt cards with pink hearts on them or approach our crush in the spirit of this day but our gift stores and flower shops are definitely giving love a run for the money.
This is a rather weird cultural clash, as Icelanders can’t really be considered romantics, at least not in the Valentine’s department. Maybe it’s because we’re world champions in gender equality and as such have a hard time balancing traditional chivalry with our independence and egalitarian lifestyles. Icelandic men aren’t likely to pursue Icelandic women in a strategic, thought out way. And Icelandic women don’t seem to be looking for a knight in shining armor, a prince charming to save them from their otherwise awful fate. To many Icelanders, the grand gestures, the type of romance associated with Valentine’s Day, seem outdated, chauvinistic and a backward step in our march towards equality.
Romance is more or less reserved for our folklore, literature and forces of nature, evident in how we talk about our elves, the sagas and our national rescue services. Icelanders romanticize rescue operations like scenes from a fairytale and will show unrivaled solidarity that will bring the toughest among us to tears when faced with a natural disaster.
So what about dating?
Iceland has a rather odd dating culture. Up until recently, you could argue that Iceland didn’t really have a dating culture. Singles would meet up at a friend’s house, drink until midnight, go downtown and hook up with a friend of a friend. If they hooked up again for a number of consecutive weekends, they’d eventually become a couple and accidentally start hanging out while sober.
With online dating and dating apps, this seems to have changed and people now use apps like Tinder or Grindr for both seedy rendezvous and proper dates. I now have two long-term couple friends who met through Tinder.
A first date in Iceland will usually involve a free or very cheap activity like a walk around a nice neighborhood, a trip to the ice cream parlor (a proper adult activity in its own right) or a cup of coffee at an obscure café. A dinner is almost unheard of on a first date, mostly because Icelanders aren’t really accustomed to dining out casually but also because it removes all embarrassing run-ins with friends, family and neighbors (this is a really small population) on what is obviously a first date. Should the dating reach a stage where dinner is involved, expenses are usually shared: “I’ll bring the wine and the salad, you get the chicken and rice”.
So what do we want then?
My single friends on the prowl, men and women alike, all seem to want an equal yet independent partner, someone to share life’s moments with, while simultaneously living out their separate pursuits in life. And maybe that’s the most important thing to keep in mind when pursuing an Icelander. They’re still pretty hung up about their independence. But in the end, everybody loves flowers and chocolate.