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Frændi, svifnökkvinn minn er fullur af álum.
April 16, 2013 2:00 PM   Subscribe

In Iceland, with a population of around a third of a million, the danger exists of that heady one-night stand ending up as an intimate encounter between near-relatives, as nearly happened to the friend of Elin Edda. No longer, due to the launch of an android app ("Bump the app before you bump in bed") which easily tells a budding couple how related they are.

More on the app from the university where three students in Software Engineering at the School of Engineering and Natual Sciences created it, and in the google app store.

The Íslendingabók database, containing genealogical information about the inhabitants of Iceland, dating more than 1,200 years back (limited to citizens and legal residents of Iceland). Iceland is one of the least densely populated countries or dependent territories, ranking 235th out of 243 for crowding. This population does not extend to elves.
posted by Wordshore (67 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Liz: OK, on the count of three, say what level of cousins we'd have to be for this to be OK. One, two, three.
The Hair: Fifth!
Liz: Unacceptable no matter what.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:09 PM on April 16, 2013 [15 favorites]


I don't understand the whole taboo about cousins. Siblings, sure. In close families, I suppose first cousins could feel a little weird. But second cousins? Just go for it.
posted by rikschell at 2:10 PM on April 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


With so few people and the number of population bottlenecks they've had? What they really need is some completely unrelated DNA on the scene. Isn't everyone basically related to everyone else at this point?

Send out invites to the rest of the world: "Free residency as long as you bring 2 tons of topsoil and twelve tons of organic fertilizer with you! Bring a relative along for an extra contribution of twelve high-latitude tree species saplings!"
posted by 1adam12 at 2:15 PM on April 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


Man, that second link is pretty hot if you assume that all those people up top are cousins.

Juicy sexing to you, Iceland
posted by Greg Nog at 2:16 PM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Would there any danger, genetically speaking, in the long term if cousin marriage were common?
posted by Gin and Comics at 2:17 PM on April 16, 2013


I think at a certain point it stops being about the incest taboo per se and starts being about some sort of holy-shit-you-do-not-share-details-about-your-sex-life-with-your-family taboo.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 2:18 PM on April 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


I mean, if you get used to maintaining this "I don't want to know what you do in bed/I don't want you to know what I do in bed" stance with your extended family, that kind of precludes actually going to bed with any of them unless you both arrange to suffer concussions right afterwards, and then what's the point?
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 2:19 PM on April 16, 2013


So what level of separation is generally considered OK in Iceland?
posted by Rock Steady at 2:20 PM on April 16, 2013


Would there any danger, genetically speaking, in the long term if cousin marriage were common?

It is my understanding that it is common in most of the world, and even standard practice in many societies.
posted by cmoj at 2:21 PM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Would there any danger, genetically speaking, in the long term if cousin marriage were common?

I'm only quoting a tweet, but Richard Dawkins has said:

Cousin mating is one quarter as dangerous. The dysgenic effects are well documented for cousins of Pakistan origin

That's proper cousin-cousins rather than some n-time removed.
posted by BinaryApe at 2:23 PM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Bizarre factoid of the day:

"the Icelandic phone book is completely organized by first names."
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:25 PM on April 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


Man, that second link is pretty hot if you assume that all those people up top are cousins.

Except maybe the photo of the three engineers who developed it. They look more like a college Runequest game group than a hot threesome in the making.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:25 PM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Soon to be integrated with google glasses, just scan the faces in a bar for the probability of potential cousin touching.
posted by The Whelk at 2:26 PM on April 16, 2013 [11 favorites]


"the Icelandic phone book is completely organized by first names."

Yeah, I have known that for years, and it makes perfect sense given naming conventions. Although it occurs to me that if I were to move there, I suppose I would be listed by first name as well. I wonder if it would be my legal first name or my day-to-day one, which actually is my middle name. It would be like finding Paul McCartney in the J section (for James). I am actually meeting with an Icelandic colleague this weekend... I must bring this up.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:29 PM on April 16, 2013


I suppose first cousins could feel a little weird. But second cousins? Just go for it.

Actually, third or fourth cousins would be optimal for procreation, according to research by Icelandic biotechnology company deCODE, published in Science:
Previous studies have reported that related human couples tend to produce more children than unrelated couples but have been unable to determine whether this difference is biological or stems from socioeconomic variables. Our results, drawn from all known couples of the Icelandic population born between 1800 and 1965, show a significant positive association between kinship and fertility, with the greatest reproductive success observed for couples related at the level of third and fourth cousins. Owing to the relative socioeconomic homogeneity of Icelanders, and the observation of highly significant differences in the fertility of couples separated by very fine intervals of kinship, we conclude that this association is likely to have a biological basis.
Science link.
Free PDF link.
posted by Kabanos at 2:36 PM on April 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


The tradition of cousin marriage is leading to health problems in UK Pakistani communities.
posted by Helga-woo at 2:36 PM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, ew.
posted by Kabanos at 2:37 PM on April 16, 2013


So what level of separation is generally considered OK in Iceland?

If one is to cast a squinted eye on the Nordics, there are only 50.000 Inuit in the whole of huge Greenland. "Cousin" could probably be used as a pronoun amongst those people.
posted by three blind mice at 2:51 PM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Iceland is one of the least densely populated countries or dependent territories, ranking 235th out of 243 for crowding.

Except that's also completely wrong, because the vast majority of Iceland's population live in a couple of cities, so the typical Icelander lives in a densely populated area. Same with Australia.

I would think that a more interesting definition of population density would take into account the amount of the country that is inhabited. Burundi, for example, is supposedly one of the least urbanized countries on Earth. I'm assuming this means lots of small towns and settlements spread out everywhere.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 3:02 PM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


To expand on the phone-book thing, Icelanders use patronymic names, so a guy named Baldur will have children whose last names are Baldursson (male) or Baldursdottir (female). It's a literal "Jon, son of Baldur" thing. In such a system you can't tell from two people's last names whether or not they are related, which I guess adds to the utility of this app.
posted by whir at 3:04 PM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


I really, really want to read fluffy Japanese manga set in Iceland now, because sparkly shoujo snow is beautiful, and because cousincest is A Thing in romance manga/anime. Even in fairly innocent stories, introducing "attractive, similarly-aged cousin" equals cliche shorthand for Potential Romantic Interest as easily as "mysterious, beautiful stranger who saves you from hungry bears" or "beautiful only son/daughter of your family's mortal enemy."

Does anyone have recs for English-translated contemporary Icelandic fiction? The romance novels must be fascinating. (Do they have family trees in the appendix? Can your hero/ine possibly fall in love with mysterious, beautiful strangers who are really strangers unless they're also immigrants?)
posted by nicebookrack at 3:06 PM on April 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Bizarre factoid of the day:

"the Icelandic phone book is completely organized by first names."
It's interesting because it's different but it's not bizarre. English phonebooks list people according to the occupation/hometown/characteristics of their forebears in the 1300s. I'm sure that seems odd to Icelanders too.
posted by Jehan at 3:12 PM on April 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


The only Icelandic novel I have ever read was a family saga called 'Independant People' a grim tale set in very hard times.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 3:14 PM on April 16, 2013


It's set in medieval Norway, but there's also the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy.
posted by jquinby at 3:18 PM on April 16, 2013


A little something on names from a community website I set up in the Outer Hebrides a few years back. This archipelago of 25-28k people, most of whom are related, is off the west coast of Scotland. There's a heavy Norse/Viking ancestry, mixed in with some Celtic DNA, and also some evidence of historical interaction with Iceland.

So, on the naming convention there; the pecularity is that Hebridean and Icelandic people (classically) ask the same question on meeting.

+ + + + +

Lineage and ancestry are extremely important in the Outer Hebrides - to the extent that a Hebridean's family history forms part of his Gaelic name.

For example, the name of one of the residents of Berneray is, in English, Fred MacLeod. In Gaelic, his name is: mac Dhomhnaill Thormoid Dhomhnaill Mhoir. Mac means "son of", beag means "small", and mhoir means "big". So Fred's name translates as: Fred, son of Donald, son of Norman, son of big Donald.

Therefore, encapsulated in his name is the generational history of Fred going back to a great-grandparent, and including an adjective to differentiate the great-grandparent from other Donalds of the time.

Thus, when two people of Outer Hebridean lineage meet, one may ask, "To whom do you belong?" (basically, the same as "What is your name?"). The answer can often provide enough detail for the listener to work out where, in the ancestral network, the person is connected.
posted by Wordshore at 3:20 PM on April 16, 2013 [13 favorites]


Ask the Hutterites about the dangers of founders syndrome.
Or for a fine example of family inbreeding look up Charles II of Spain (D. 1700) of the Habsburg family.
posted by Gwynarra at 3:20 PM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can I hack it to make it find out if the Icelandic chick I'm about to bone is related to Bjork/is Bjork?
posted by DecemberBoy at 3:26 PM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


> Or for a fine example of family inbreeding look up Charles II of Spain (D. 1700) of the Habsburg family.

While studying in Spain, I had to write a short essay assessing the failures of the Habsburg dynasty. I couldn't help thinking that they could have done everything right and still have collapsed because of their suicidal marriage program.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:31 PM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah you really had to WORK AT IT to get as inbred as Charles the second was.
posted by The Whelk at 3:36 PM on April 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


They look more like a college Runequest game group than a hot threesome in the making

You say that like the two are mutually exclusive.











Well, OK they usually are BUT MAYBE NOT ALWAYS. I have never played Runequest in Iceland.
posted by louche mustachio at 3:37 PM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some Icelandic people in this video.

With Icelandic ladies I'd be more concerned at losing interest while removing what appears to be very many layers of wooly clothing, and wandering off to play a video game. Or even Runequest.
posted by Wordshore at 3:39 PM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a purely altruistic gesture I'd volunteer, but I'm too old to reproduce and too married to hook up. However, I know l'd enjoy a trip to Iceland, so I'm more than willing to lunch and have a great conversation with you, if you'll send the ticket. We could be good friends! Everybody needs friends.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:50 PM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah you really had to WORK AT IT to get as inbred as Charles the second was.

He was so feeble that he couldn't even chew his own food. And he ran one of the greatest powers in the world at the time. How did that even work? He couldn't have made any actual decisions.
posted by DecemberBoy at 3:51 PM on April 16, 2013


He didn't, really, if you believe his Wikipedia page (Spanish). His court ran the show.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:58 PM on April 16, 2013


For all this talk about inbreeding just wear a condom properlly and it doesn't matter if you take your twin to bed.
posted by munchingzombie at 4:02 PM on April 16, 2013


Van Veen?
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:03 PM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Therefore, encapsulated in his name is the generational history of Fred going back to a great-grandparent

A patrilineal history of Fred. All it takes is for one wife to have had other ideas, and your mulitgenerational name ain't worth the vellum it's written on.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:05 PM on April 16, 2013 [10 favorites]


And he ran one of the greatest powers in the world at the time. How did that even work? He couldn't have made any actual decisions.

Surely this... should remind you of a well-known world leader of the last decade.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:11 PM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah you really had to WORK AT IT to get as inbred as Charles the second was.

From wikipedia, Charles II's genome was actually more homozygous than that of an average child whose parents are siblings. That's pretty horrific.
posted by Carius at 5:12 PM on April 16, 2013


So what level of separation is generally considered OK in Iceland?

Six degrees, same as (the weather) in town!
posted by uosuaq at 5:23 PM on April 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


For all this talk about inbreeding just wear a condom properlly and it doesn't matter if you take your twin to bed.

Nice try, Jaime Lannister.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:30 PM on April 16, 2013 [21 favorites]


This population does not extend to elves.

No risk of incest: one more reason to have sex with elves.
posted by homunculus at 5:34 PM on April 16, 2013


"Some Icelandic people in this video."

Good grief, they're all wearing Sarah Lund jumpers!
posted by glasseyes at 6:09 PM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nice try, Jaime Lannister.

On the other hand, that's not a problem anymore.
posted by ersatz at 7:06 PM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, that's not a problem anymore.

"wait what's the joke there UUUUUUUUUUGH"
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:33 PM on April 16, 2013


The family events I've been to don't seem to have this going on:
The awkward moment when you meet a former lover at a family gathering.
Everyone has heard of (or experienced) it when someone goes all in with someone and then later runs into that person at a family gathering some other time.
posted by Harpocrates at 7:57 PM on April 16, 2013


DecemberBoy: Can I hack it to make it find out if the Icelandic chick I'm about to bone is related to Bjork/is Bjork?
No need to hack it. According to TFA, all Icelanders, dudes and chicks both, are either related to Bjork or are Bjork. I'm not even kidding.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:18 PM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I haven't been able to find this column again, but I am pretty sure that long ago, I read in a Dan Savage column the best reason to not date a cousin: do you want to run into your ex at every family gathering for the rest of your life?
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:44 PM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's Never Lurgi: I would think that a more interesting definition of population density would take into account the amount of the country that is inhabited.

What you're looking for is the population-weighted density, which measures the population density as experienced by the average person living in that area, rather than just the basic people per area metric. It's mostly used in talking about individual cities and metro areas, and I can't seem to find anywhere that has data for entire countries. You can see in this recent krugman post data for the entire US - interesting to note that while population density of the US increased 2000 to 2010, population weighted density decreased over the same period.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:15 PM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't understand the whole taboo about cousins.

Neither do I (and yes, I fucked a cousin). The first time I ever became aware that someone would even consider this "incest" or an outrageous taboo (as opposed to something maybe a little bit quaint) was when I got on the "US American" internet. Culture: It's a curious thing and if it's US culture it likely gets exported.

Of course you're not supposed to breed like that for centuries on end. But the odd cousin couple really doesn't warrant the "Ews" and "Ohs" it gets IMO.

Do you want to run into your ex at every family gathering for the rest of your life?
Harrharr. But I don't think it's any more or less awkward than to run into any other kind of ex.
posted by ZeroAmbition at 1:11 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


three blind mice: "If one is to cast a squinted eye on the Nordics, there are only 50.000 Inuit in the whole of huge Greenland."
Unlike Icelanders, the Kalaallit are not Nordic people - they're Inuit. But yes, given their low population with large distances between settlements (unlike Iceland, which is mostly settled on the west coast of a relatively small island) there's bound to be a higher incidence of intra-familial procreation.

On the other hand, this isn't really much different from how America between Rio Grande and the Mississippi - or the Amazon basin - worked pre-conquest. Much lower population density back then over vast stretches of land. Not to mention Siberia, which is still mostly empty.
posted by brokkr at 1:29 AM on April 17, 2013


If you don't know each other well enough to even know whether you're related, go ahead and fuck for the fun of it. You can always swap family trees later and see if there are any surprises.

But also: genealogy must be trivial in Iceland.
posted by pracowity at 3:54 AM on April 17, 2013


Adoption buggers it all up, though. When you're out on the pull, you just never know... And if adopted non-genetically related siblings have sex, is it incest? And can gay same-sex siblings get married?

Questions, questions...
posted by Devonian at 4:48 AM on April 17, 2013


Dammit, Metafilter, I spent last night reading about Charles the II and holy crap, that was sad and horrifying.

Thanks a lot.
posted by Kitteh at 4:58 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


And if adopted non-genetically related siblings have sex, is it incest?

Yes.
posted by jeather at 5:24 AM on April 17, 2013


"She might not be a blood relative but she's still family and that's a bond that lasts forever."
posted by mountmccabe at 6:00 AM on April 17, 2013


A patrilineal history of Fred. All it takes is for one wife to have had other ideas, and your mulitgenerational name ain't worth the vellum it's written on.


A couple is celebrating their fiftieth anniversary. Around them at the big dinner are their dozen children, twenty grand-children and even their first great-grandchild. At one point while everyone else is in animated conversation, the husband leans close to his wife and engages her in quiet discussion:

He:"Dear, you know I love you and I will be with you until the end, but there is something that has been troubling me for years."

She:"What is that?"

He: "Well, I have always thought that our youngest son does not look like his eleven brothers and sisters."

She: "Hmm."

He: "Please tell me -- and I promise I won't be mad -- did he have a different father than the rest?"

She: "Er... well, to be honest, yes."

He: "Okay, thanks for telling me. Can I ask who the father was?"

She: "You, dear."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:09 AM on April 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


With so few people and the number of population bottlenecks they've had? What they really need is some completely unrelated DNA on the scene. Isn't everyone basically related to everyone else at this point?

No. No, no, no, no and no. I really have to emphasise again: no.

The meme that Icelanders are an ethnically homogenous people has been touted by idealizing foreigners and Icelanders alike, but it is demonstrably false. Icelanders have a background that hails not only from various Nordic peoples and Celts; foreigners from all over have been landing on Iceland's shores for a thousand years. Some of them stay for a short while, some stay for good. But although immigration to Iceland has always been light, this does not mean Icelanders have been sitting on this island with absolutely no carnal interaction with other peoples around the world. It has even been speculated that the extent of inter-ethnic mixing has been downplayed, on account of most families not wanting to record "[Some French fisherman whose name we can't remember]" somewhere on the family tree.

Sorry to ruin the mystique of the quirky elf people and all, but the subject hits some of us close to home, as we've suffered jokes about inbreeding from thoughtless visitors pretty regularly.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:51 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


But I don't think it's any more or less awkward than to run into any other kind of ex.

Yeah, but knowing for sure you're seeing them several times a year? Ugh, no.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:59 AM on April 17, 2013


Think the abstract of this paper says that it's a bit more complicated than just a few boatloads of emigrants some centuries back forming most of todays population(?)

(Partial sidetrack) Historical Icelandic woman is cool.
posted by Wordshore at 12:36 PM on April 17, 2013


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing: "Some of them stay for a short while, some stay for good."
Others just hit and run.
posted by brokkr at 1:29 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jon Somefrenchfishermanwhosenamewecantremembersson.
posted by Kabanos at 1:48 PM on April 17, 2013


Richochet biscuit, on the same note there's also this old song.
posted by Phalene at 3:20 PM on April 17, 2013


Iceland appears to have its own dating website (as in, this is the only Iceland-specific one could find; any more?).
posted by Wordshore at 4:18 PM on April 17, 2013


Also on that dating website; the options as translated by google are:

"and wants to do Dating [] Friendship / Chat [] Skyndikynni []"
posted by Wordshore at 4:22 PM on April 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


What a useful new word!
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:46 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am learning many things via this post. I'm particularly astonished by the Icelandic naming committee. Only approved names allowed!

'As of the end of 2012, the Personal Names Register contained 1,712 male names and 1,853 female names'

Somehow this entirely harmless authority is more disturbing to me than the potential for inadvertent incest.
posted by freya_lamb at 5:34 AM on April 19, 2013


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