Iceland Dating: Incest Is No Laughing Matter

In Iceland, not wanting to date cousins isn’t just a satirical joke. It’s a taboo reality and a deep-rooted problem in the culture. The scare of incestuous dating in Iceland goes back centuries, beginning with the formation of the country. Vikings and Danes established a settlement on the island called “Snowsland” in the 9th century, hoping the name would warn off other countries from attempting to conquer the new land. The settlement established in modern-day Reykjavik originally consisted of about 30,000-40,000 residents who fled to escape conflict from Norway. Iceland’s name and geographical seclusion kept the country highly isolated until present-day travel became more readily available. Great periods of isolation led genes to linger around, making the island a case study for researchers experimenting with genetic diseases.

Iceland has a land mass about the size of Kentucky, yet while Kentucky has a population of around four million, Iceland has only 320,000 residents. A small population doesn’t offer much variety for the dating scene in Iceland, and dating isn’t the norm for many people in the country. When dating does occur, a majority of Icelanders meet potential suitors in the bar scene. They see little daylight because of their geographical location, and they want to avoid being gossiped about in narrow communities. Hence, Icelanders are more likely (than many Americans) to end up drunk and give into other humanly needs by taking a person home with them. This sort of rendezvous happens for a few nights, or maybe many, then traditional dating might follow, but even then dating tends to be “Dutch” in style, and nothing is taken too seriously for fear of anyone becoming the center of attention in a closed community.

Here’s the real problem. In Iceland, running into a random casual sex partner might also mean running into that same person at a family event. This is the price the culture now pays for having stayed isolated from the rest of the world for so long. In the late 20th century, the country participated in a nation-wide study of genealogy with a genetic company called deCODE. The study included a database, put together by using citizens’ last names and social security numbers. The study gathered information from church archives, family data, and census records to trace families of anyone who lived in Iceland for the past 300 years. The records are called Íslendingabók, or The Book of Iceland, and they are publicly available to every individual citizen. Needless to say, The Book of Iceland has become a must-read for those involved in the Icelandic dating scene.

The concept of accidentally falling for someone closely related to you in Iceland is such a real scare that an application called the IslendingaApp was created for the Android phone, just for the occasion of checking in on one’s family history in a pinch. The app works with smart phones by bumping phones together and checking an online database for how closely related people are to one another. In Iceland, the joke has become how people “bump phones” before bumping in bed. Presently, the phone only alerts devices if new acquaintances share a common grandparent. Most Icelanders already know who their first cousins are. However, the app does become useful for the vast majority of a population spread out and cut off from the rest of the country. The app also includes a fun feature — an alarm reminding users of relatives’ birthdays.