(Icelandic: Ísland)

An island country in the North Atlantic Ocean, situated south of the Arctic Circle, between Greenland, and Norway.

Irish monks were the first people to arrive on the island in about 700 AD, but the island traditionally takes her "Age of Settlement" to have been between 874 and 930, when political strife on mainland Scandinavia cause many Nordic people to flee westwards.

As befits a country often called a "nation of books", the human history of Iceland has been chronicled from the beginning in a series of Sagas, including the Ísledingabók, and the Landnámabók. The early Icelanders decided against the traditional Scandinavian-style Monarchy, and instead founded the world's first democratic parliamentary system and parliament (or Aling) at ingvellir in 930. In 1000 AD the inhabitants adopted Christianity. In 1263 the peaceful country, after a series of violent feuds and raids by private armies, submitted to the authority of the King of Norway. In 1380 Norway, and with it, Iceland, came under Danish rule.

Iceland remained attached to Denmark after Norway became independent in 1814. Following a series of natural disasters, and a growing sense of national identity, it independent in 1918, still recognising the Danish Monarchy, however. During World War II Iceland was occupied by both British and US forces, and voted in a referendum for completed independence in 1944.

The country is a member of the UN, NATO (since 1949), the Council of Europe (1949), and the Nordic Council (1953), and was declared a nuclear-free zone by the Aling in 1985.

Iceland is probably most famous for having had a woman President (Vigdís Finnbogadóttir), for being a nation of books, and for progressive rock talent, such as The Sugarcubes, Björk, and Sigur-Rós.

As well as a country, Iceland is also, perhaps less excitingly, a British supermarket chain.

Most of its food is frozen, and stored in massive freezer units that take up most of the store. The products also tend to be sold at a lower price to those at its main competitors, Tesco and Sainsbury's.

It also set up the world's first national Internet grocery shopping service, in 1997. Since then, many companies have followed suit - Sainsbury's To You is a good example - but few have matched its ease of use and value for money. In particular, it's notable for having no delivery fee.

Another thing Iceland is known for is its unique telephone directories...

Nearly all Icelandic surnames end in either "son" or "dottir". This is because in Iceland, a person's surname is generally derived from their father's name and their gender. So if someone named Karl Magnusson were to have a son, his son's surname would actually be Karlsson. If Karl Magnusson had a daughter, her surname would be Karlsdottir.

While family names are inherited in most countries, the way to keep a name in your family in Iceland is to pass on your first name. In order to keep a name, Magnusson, for example, in the family, fathers throughout the country must keep naming their sons Magnus. It is for this reason that the Reykjavik telephone directory literally has pages of listings for Magnus Magnussons.

While one would figure this would probably result in massive confusion whenever an Icelander tried to do something as simple as place a telephone call, since Iceland has such a small population, they've found a way to get around that. If you look at an Icelandic telephone directory, it will not only state the person's name and address but will also state a few facts about the person, such as "about 5'4" tall, works at the bookstore", etc.

thanks to paladeen for clearing up a few points. if you're interested, see Icelandic Naming System for more information.

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