This question has plagued me for some time, and I finally took it upon myself to “ask Eygló,” the web editor for Iceland Review who fields all manner of questions about Iceland. She was generous enough to answer my question with a great deal of elaboration, and for our overall edification I’m going to re-post my question and her response below. I highly recommend taking a look at other questions that Eygló has answered recently (some of my favorites include “I have just adopted two Icelandic horses…Can you suggest something that would honor their Icelandic heritage and be pronounceable by an American?” and “Is the Yu-Gi-Oh! trading card game still popular in Iceland? Is Pokémon?“)
So here we go:
Q: Should Iceland be referred to as a ‘Scandinavian’ or ‘Nordic’ country?
I believe that Scandinavia is often meant to refer only to Denmark, Sweden and Norway, but I’ve seen a number of Scandinavian organizations and cultural websites include Iceland, Finland, and sometimes even Estonia.
Larissa, Brooklyn, New York, USA
A: Geographically speaking, Scandinavia only refers to Norway and Sweden as it is the name of the peninsula on which those two countries are located, although part of northern Finland is also located on the Scandinavian Peninsula.
However, politically and economically speaking, Denmark is also classified as a Scandinavian country; Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) is the flag carrier of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, for example.
Culturally speaking, the matter gets a little more complicated. Finland has close cultural ties with the Scandinavian countries, Sweden in particular, but Finnish is not a Germanic language like the Scandinavian languages.
However, Icelandic and Faroese also have Germanic roots like the Scandinavian languages, which makes these countries closely connected with Scandinavian cultures.
In addition, Iceland used to be under Danish rule (Norwegian rule before that) and the Faroe Islands are still under Danish rule, so there are close political connections as well.
Greenland is also under Danish rule but both the culture and the language of the ingenious community there is totally different from that of the other Nordic countries so there are fairly weak arguments for calling Greenland a Scandinavian country.
I’ve never heard Estonia being called a Scandinavian country before and I can’t really imagine why it would, although there are some connections between Estonia and Finland.
Strictly speaking, only Norway, Sweden and Denmark belong to Scandinavia. It really bothers me when Iceland is called a Scandinavian country.
But as you can see, the definition is fleeting and as Scandinavia has become somewhat of a brand, all of the Nordic nations, and apparently now Estonia as well, tend to promote themselves as Scandinavian countries, which adds to the confusion.
Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Greenland are sometimes differentiated into western Nordic countries.
Fairly often those last two countries and the Aaland Islands, all of which have a population smaller than 60,000, are left out when the Nordic countries are listed.
So there we have it. Although there is rampant confusion and certainly a lot of opinions about this, I think we can take Eygló’s word. Iceland: not Scandinavian. I doubt the general murkiness around this will clear up any time soon, but for my part, I’ll try to spread the word.