Iceland Mag

10 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag


Australian reporter baffled by Icelandic parenting, dumbstruck by cultural differences

By Staff

  • Quelle horreur! A child sleeping in a pram outside a downtown café in Reykjavík, a very common sight, as sleeping babies and toddlers are usually allowed to nap in their strollers or prams. Photo/Jessica Rowe, Instagram.

An Australian TV presenter, Jessica Rowe, was shocked to discover that the Icelandic tradition of leaving babies to sleep outside is still practiced by Reykjavík parents. While visiting Reykjavík the mother of two spotted a pram with a sleeping baby outside a Reykjavík café which made her “break out into a sweat!“

Jessica explained that she had been told that this is a common practice in Iceland. Small children are put out to sleep in prams – the babies are well dressed of course, and the common belief is that the cold air is good for them.

Read more: Kim Kardashian shocked and saddened to find horse meat on the menu at a Reykjavík restaurant

A photo Jessica posted of the incident on Instagram quickly became the topic of a story in the Daily Mail, which also reported on some of the anxious responses the photo. Many seemed equally baffled as Jessica by the practice, wondering what would happen if the baby was kidnapped. Some, however, seemed aware of the fact that leaving children to sleep outside was an Icelandic tradition. “I know that it is part of their custom, but would you leave your wallet unattended, so why a baby?“ one commentator wondered.

Read more: Iceland is the safest country in the world for travellers and inhabitants alike

This observation gets right at the crux of the matter: Reykjavík, and Iceland, are extremely safe. The crime rate is very low, and Iceland is generally considered one of the safest countries in the world. Behaviour which might be unreasonable or unsafe in Australia or other countries is perfectly safe and reasonable in Iceland.

Rather than transfer their cultural norms and prejudices or assumptions based on very different social realities onto the situation, the commentators should see this practice for what it is: An old tradition which makes perfect sense in a safe and healthy society.

Read more: Study: Ease of communication between Icelandic children and their parents among the greatest in the world

Several commentators did in fact see this obvious conclusion: “Must be a lovely place to live. We get flamed for leaving ours in the car at the petrol station here“, one commenter noted, while another one noted that „They raise them in their pram outside in the front yard! If only Australian society could go back to those trusting times...“

An old tradition
The custom of leaving babies to sleep outside, even in sub-zero temperatures is actually very common in the Nordic countries. Sleeping outside in the cold is believed to be good for the children, boosting their immune systems and giving them better rest.  An Icelandic writer, Halla Þórlaug Óskarsdóttir wrote a thoughtful piece on the matter for Quartz last year. As Halla points out, the practice could very well be a contributing factor to the good health and longevity of Icelanders, who live on average 10 years longer than the global average.

Read more: Life expectancy in Iceland among the highest in Europe, infant mortality rate is lowest



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