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Hot tub culture

One aspect of Icelandic culture that I particularly admire is the practice of sitting in an open air jacuzzi at a water temperature of around 40°C chatting to the locals.

When I arrived in Iceland, I bought a road atlas to help guide me around the country. At the back of this atlas were five country maps which displayed points of interest for tourists and residents alike: approximately 250 campsites, 150 museums, 60 golf courses, 60 bird-watching sites and 120 swimming pools/hot tubs. (Interestingly, there was no map showing the distribution of fuel stations.)

Many open air swimming pools in Iceland are used year round and the hot tubs located at these pools are maintained at a temperature of between roughly 36°C and 42°C. Some of them are heated geo-thermally.

These hot tubs are used not only for personal relaxation; they also act as meeting places where one can chat with their neighbours. At almost every hot tub I visited in Iceland (and I visited a few), it was very easy to start up a conversation with fellow hot pot users, whether they were from abroad or from just down the road.

Climate plays a very important role in determining the culture of a country. The fact that natural hot water (or the ability to heat water at low cost) is in abundance in Iceland has gone some way to developing this hot tub culture. Further, in a country located at this latitude, where nights are long and cold for much of the year, these hot pools provide some respite from the harsh climate and lack of sunlight. And in a country as sparsely-populated as Iceland (the total population is 330,000 and the population density a mere three people per km²), the hot pools provide an ideal meeting place for people in remote locations to come together with their neighbours and with visitors.

The Finnish have saunas, the Turkish have hamams, the British have pubs. The need for people to come together for both physical and social relaxation transcends all cultures. What I found particular about Icelandic hot tubs, however (in contrast to my experience of UK pubs, Turkish hamams and Finnish saunas) was that it was practically impossible not to talk to other hot pot users sitting semi-naked less than two metres away. In other words, the design of the meeting place forced conversation. Perhaps that’s something to think about when choosing the location for your next international meeting!

The sea-front hot tub in the picture is located in Drangsnes in the Icelandic Westfjords and is free for any passerby to use (if ever you happen to be there!).