Iceland Mag

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Iceland Mag


An American in Reykjavík: Do Icelander's actually believe in Elves or is the joke on us?

By Matt Eliason

  • Drumming up business Do Icelander's believe in elves and the Icelandic "Loch Ness" monster or is it all part of the local humour and a running joke on foreigners to get Iceland into the news? Photo/Stefán Karlsson

Matt Eliason has just moved to Reykjavík, Iceland from Chicago, Illinois. In his regular column for Iceland Magazine he chronicles his first impressions of the country, its people and traditions.


As a foreigner in Iceland, I have been intrigued by a couple "questionable facts" that I consistently hear about the Icelandic people. The most prevalent one being the fact that Icelander's believe in the existence of elves. I hear it in the international media as well as from Icelandic publications. Even on my flight over to the Viking nation on their world-renowned airline, IcelandAir, put the "fun fact" on their television advertisements that one of the magical things about Iceland is that, "most Icelanders believe in Elves." But this can't really be true can it?

Every Icelander I have asked about this Elf mystery has laughed off my accusations, saying that no one actually believes in elves. So why does everyone think that they do? I believe the quirky humor of the Icelandic people enjoys playing this trick on the foreign media and tourists traveling to their country. More importantly, the Icelandic people continue to acknowledge the existence of the nonexistent elves to drum up business for their growing tourist industry.

The Icelandic tourism industry is booming. Foreigners are traveling to Iceland by the masses in order to experience the breathtaking scenery of the landscape as well as the majestic northern lights. Over 1 million visitors are expected to grace the Viking nation in 2014, drawfing the 355,000 citizens that actually live on the small Nordic island. Headlines such as, "Over 50% of Icelanders believe in Elves" is sure to make the rounds on numerous international media sources. Proof of this phenomenon recently occurred with the Icelandic sea monster, Lagarfljótsormur, which supposedly surfaced in a grainy YouTube video

If you watch the video there is no way to determine what the floating mass is in the East Iceland river where the footage was captured. However, an Icelandic panel recently determined the footage confirmed the existence of the Icelandic sea monster. This story has made international news with headlines appearing on numerous online publications, proving that the ridiculous panel vote that confirmed the existence of the mythical creature was done just to drum up business for the Icelandic tourism industry. And with millions of views on Youtube and international news stories covering the event, the publicity stunt seems to have worked.

Whether it be elves or sea monsters, one thing that can't be denied is that the Icelandic people have drawn attention to their small North Atlantic island through the media's coverage of these laughable believes. However, the joke is on the international community that continues to cover these stories, which act as free advertising for the Icelandic tourism board. Icelander's are smart people and they will continue to "believe" in these nonsensical fairy tales if the country's tourism industry continues to benefit economically.

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