But you don’t have to take our word for it...
At last count, there were 326,340 people living in Iceland. That’s .0045% of the world’s population and while it isn’t really a competition, this has created a bit of an inferiority complex among some Icelanders who, as Grapevine writer Oddur Sturluson put it, “find it nothing short of scandalous that their small, unarmed country doesn’t have as much political pull as some of their larger, more powerful neighbours.” To compensate, Oddur argued, Icelanders “invented something brilliant in its simplicity and devastating in its effectiveness…The Per Capita Record.” This, he explained, is “quite simply when Iceland does something noticeable, compared to how small it is.”
After years of yelling into the void about its phenomenal per-capita accomplishments, however, Iceland seems to have finally gained the world’s attention and gotten the recognition that it has always known it deserves. Report after report has declared us The Best (or The Almost Best) at all sorts of exciting things. So just in case you’ve missed the headlines, we’ve collected some of Iceland’s more impressive records and unprecedented accomplishments below. Við erum best! (“We are the best!”)
BEST! Ancient Bivalve!
In 2006, scientists on a research expedition off the north coast of Iceland dredged up an Arctica Islandica (or Ocean Quahog) that they believed to be an astonishing 405 years old. Named Ming in reference to the great Chinese dynasty during which it was ‘born,’ the elderly clam was recorded by Guinness World Records as being the world’s oldest mollusc. In 2013, however, the scientists discovered that their prior estimate had been off by just over 100 years: Ming was actually 507 years old. “Was,” that is, because they killed Ming when they opened it to confirm its age.
BEST! Attitude Toward Tourists!
In 2013, Iceland was ranked #1—just ahead of New Zealand and Morocco—for its “attitude toward foreign visitors” in the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competiveness Report. The same report also credited Iceland with a handful of other Best-In-World achievements: we’re also #1 for “presence of major car rental companies,” the percentage of “individuals using the Internet,” and sports stadiums—when considering the number of available seats per million people, that is.
BEST! Chlamydia Diagnoses!
In 2013, there were 2,179 diagnosed cases of chlamydia in Iceland. This record-breaking number puts Iceland way ahead of all its European neighbours, and not just last year, either. Iceland has been Europe’s chlamydia champion for ten years running. Of course, some argue that the numbers appear worse in comparison with the rest of Europe because Iceland has better reporting and testing procedures for the STD than other countries. In which case, we’re still #1…at reporting chlamydia!
BEST! Healthy Diet!
In July, the UK Channel 4 documentary “World’s Best Diet” declared Iceland—with its “fresh fish, high quality meat and dairy products”—to have the globe’s healthiest diet, closely followed by Italy, Greece, Seventh Day Adventists (yep), and Japan. We’ll admit, given Icelanders’ affinity for pizza, hamburgers, candy, and all manner of sauces on absolutely everything, this one came as a bit of a surprise, but we’re not complaining.
BEST! Mathematically-Inclined Young Females!
In its 2014 “Economic, Environmental, and Social Statistics” Factbook, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED) declared that “only in Iceland do girls outperform boys in mathematics.” (For the record, girls outperform boys in reading around the world.) Before we kick back on our laurels, however, it must be noted that in 2013, Iceland scored rather dismally on the OCED’s “Programme for International Student Assessment” (PISA) report, with Icelandic fifteen-year-olds scoring lower than students in the other Nordic countries in science. Icelandic boys in particular didn’t do so great on the test: 30% of them scored the lowest possible in reading for comprehension and 20% scored the lowest in math. So our particular shout out to Iceland’s (math-)brainy ladies!
BEST! Peaceful Country!
When considering crime and homicide rates, the percentage of the population, which is incarcerated, the number of police officers, general perception of criminality, and total lack of military forces, the Institute for Economics and Peace found Iceland to be the world’s most peaceful country in its 2013 Global Peace Index. Perhaps nothing goes as far to confirm this assertion as does the fact that last year marked a tragic first in Icelandic history: the first time a civilian was shot and killed during an armed confrontation with police officers. With mass and public shootings becoming a horrifying fact of life in so many countries, this incident resonated not only throughout Iceland, but also around the world, with global headlines including “In Iceland, When Policemen Kill a Gunman, They Apologize,” and “For The First Time In Memory, Icelandic Police Shoot and Kill.”
BEST! Pot Smokers!
The United Nations’ 2014 World Drug Report found that Icelanders smoke the most pot (per capita, of course), estimating that 18.3% of Icelanders aged 15–65 use the drug, followed by 14.8% of Americans and 14.6% of New Zealanders. (The Netherlands, by the way, came in at a totally mediocre rank of 21 in the world.) It’s since been pointed out, however, that the results of the report may be rather inconclusive, as participants were asked whether or not they had ever smoked pot, not whether or not they still regularly do. So it’s possible that Icelanders aren’t actually that much higher than the rest of the world, just more likely to try cannabis at least once in their lives.
BASICALLY BEST! Nobel Laureates (Per Capita)!
Iceland is deservedly proud of its one Nobel Laureate, author Halldór Laxness. But while Guinness World Records correctly reports that Iceland has the most Nobel Laureates per capita (3.36 per hypothetical million people), this record only holds because the Faroe Islands (population 49,709 in 2013), who boast Nobel Laureate Niels Ryberg Finsen, are a protectorate of Denmark. If the record were for Nobel Laureates per capita in “self-governing nations” instead of in sovereign countries, the Faroes would have us beat.
ALMOST BEST! (Second) Strongest Man!
Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, who you may recognise as Game of Thrones’ Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane, won silver (behind Lithuania’s Zydrunas Savickas) in the 2014 World’s Strongest Man competition. This is an improvement on his previous record—Hafþór placed third in the competition in both 2013 and 2012.
ALMOST BEST! (Seventh) Longest Word!
In a totally unscientific Wikipedia survey of the world’s longest words—according to the criteria that “candidates may be judged by their acceptance in major dictionaries…or in record-keeping publications like Guinness World Records, and by the frequency of their use in ordinary language”— Icelandic was found to have the seventh longest word in the world:
Vaðlaheiðarvegavinnuverkfærageymsluskúraútidyralyklakippuhringur. This 64-character word roughly means the “ring on a key chain for the main door of a tool storage shed used by road workers on (the hill) Vaðlaheiði.” It was sourced from a post on the University of Iceland’s website which admits that given the structure of Icelandic, words can be knit together “almost indefinitely.” But thus far, this one’s the longest one we’ve got.