“So how did you meet your boyfriend,” one of the girls asked. “At Prikið,” one answered. “At Vegamót,” another said. “At Harlem,” offered the third. We all laughed. We were at an Icelandic Eurovision party in Berlin, and this was indeed the way things worked back home. The only girl present not to have met her boyfriend at a bar was also the only one who was seeing a German guy.
That Icelanders almost always hook up at bars and almost nowhere else is not a subject that needs debate. If still in doubt, just try the same experiment conducted above on your Icelandic friends. The results will invariably be the same. Sure, people might first meet other places, but it still takes that trip to the bar for the next step to take place. And the meeting there will almost always be coincidental.
Rather than asking if or how, it’s much more interesting to wonder why this is so. Perhaps a comparison will shed some light:
In the film ‘Of Snails and Men,’ recently shown at Bíó Paradís, a Frenchman comes to a small Romanian town and asks a local girl out on a date. “No,” she says. “Why not?” he asks. “This is a small town,” she answers. “There is nothing to do here and besides, people talk.”
There is indeed quite a lot to do in Reykjavík compared to towns of similar size, but still the options are limited compared to big cities, the weather is often harsh and things are pretty expensive. None of this is conducive to dating. But the second reason is perhaps more important. People do talk.
If you were to go out on a date with someone, say to the movies or a coffee shop, you would invariably bump into someone you know. Said person would give you a curious glance, perhaps followed by a smirk and then ask everyone you mutually know: “Are those two seeing each other?” The cat is out of the bag by now and your first and perhaps only date suddenly feels more like an engagement ceremony.
Much better then to wait until the lights go out, everyone you know has gone home, is too drunk to care or engaged in their own business. In other words, going out, getting hammered and then heading home with whoever happens to be standing next to you at closing time carries much less social penalty than meeting in broad daylight. It is widely understood that what happens at the bar doesn’t really count. Leave it until the morning after to figure out if you two really have something in common and if the same thing happens again next weekend with the same person, you have yourself a relationship.
The flipside of drunken sex is that Icelandic relationships actually develop quite quickly. Whereas in bigger cities the whole vetting process may take weeks or even months while you are asked about everything except your bank statements and family history of mental disease (and sometimes even that), people here tend to jump directly into a committed relationship right after the second sleepover, or thereabouts. In fact, it is generally considered bad form not to. Once doesn’t matter, but do it twice without following through and you start to get a bad reputation.
This all goes back to point two again. The smallness. Dating several people at the same time is socially impossible. Everyone would know. Fistfights would ensue. Better to do the trial and error one person at a time, which is why Icelanders tend to have a series of either one-night stands or serious relationships, but no overlapping dates. So now you know.