Insights in IcelandOn August 9, 2023 by Elyse
Another Wednesday, another post coming to you from a random corner of the world. You could be forgiven for thinking Second Glance History has turned into a travel blog. I promise we’ll resume our regularly scheduled programming of poison-detecting guinea pigs and singing dogs soon. But for today, join me in discovering how much more there is to the Land of Fire and Ice than volcanoes, waterfalls and typing horses. As always, our guides on this quest are historical newsletters.
Beer is sacred.
From a reprehensive letter of Pope Gregory in the 13th century to the Archbishop of Iceland, it would seem that children were sometimes baptized in ale owing to a shortage water. In an earlier letter (1237) the use of ale in the administration of the Eucharist was forbidden, though it was reported that the Pope had once given the Icelanders a dispensation to receive the Sacrament in ale owing to the unsuitability of the wine due to incessant frosts.– The Nelson Evening Mail, October 8, 1938
But for some reason, liquor and wine were fine?
Public safety is severely understaffed.
There are only two policemen in Iceland, and one of them spends most of his time in literary pursuits.– The Marlborough Express, August 7, 1896
This troubling demographic trend continued:
Iceland has only one policeman, and his beat is in the capital, Reykjavik. The residents are so orderly that he has little to do.– The Otago Daily Times, February 2, 1911
With so few police officers, Icelandic civilians had to take the law into their own hands.
In Iceland the law permits any man or woman who finds a boy or girl smoking to give the offender a sound spanking and to confiscate the pipe, cigarette, or tobacco found in his or her possession.– The Ashburton Guardian, May 31, 1909
Happily, recruitment seems to be improving, judging by the Reykjavík police force’s Instagram, which features an entire three officers rescuing a cat from a tree.
Parallel parking is unheard of.
The Icelanders have a most curious mode, and a most effectual one, of preventing horses from straying, which, I believe, is entirely peculiar to this island. Two gentlemen, for instance, are riding together without attendants, and, wishing to alight for the purpose of visiting some objects at a distance from the road, they tie the head of one horse to the tail of the other, and the head of this to the tail of the former.
In this state it is utterly impossible that they can move on, either backwards or forwards, one pulling the one way and the other the other, and, therefore, if disposed to move at all, it will be only in a circle, and even then there must be an agreement to turn their heads the same way.– The Colonist, August 21, 1860
This sounds less like a parking strategy and more like an invitation to be sued by PETA and/or strand yourself in the middle of nowhere with two exhausted horses.
Import restrictions protect the landscape.
Why may one not send a little present of some rough-on-rats to a friend in Trinidad, a feeding bottle with tube to one’s daughter-in-law in Algeria, or a packet or two of wax-candles to Bulgaria, without calling down on one’s head certain penalties and punishments duly provided in the postal code of these nations?
These potent questions, with many similar ones, perplex one’s mind after a brief perusal of that very interesting and informative little volume, the New Zealand Post and Telegraph Guide for 1925. . .
The definition of “interesting” appears to have changed in the last century.
Iceland, on the other hand, couples with an objection to old bedding and rags, a list which includes laces, perfumes, flowers and jewelry. . . Did one not read somewhere that the feminist movement was making great headway among the strong, silent women of the north? There is a distinct flavour of petticoat government about that list, veiled determination to save frail sisters from the foibles of the sex!– The New Zealand Herald, September 30, 1925
Or perhaps that petticoat government is looking out for the local lace industry and preventing Iceland’s pristine landscape from being littered with old rags.
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Welcome to Second Glance History! This blog seeks to uncover the people and the stories forgotten by history and give them another read through a modern lens. Join me every week as we examine the differences that divide and the common threads that connect the then to the now.