'Our lives depended on being able to swim' Skip to content
Photo: Photo: Golli. Sundhöll swimming pool in Reykjavík.

‘Our lives depended on being able to swim’

“Is the secret to Icelandic happiness in their pools?” a new documentary short produced by the BBC asks.

The conclusion drawn, not unexpectedly, is yes, for many reasons.  For one, the pool is a great equalizer. “You’re nearly naked, so we’re all equal,” remarks a swimmer warming in a hot pot after a sea swim. “You have to take all your clothes off in front of everybody else,” agrees professor of sociology Viðar Halldórsson. “You leave your status outside—there’s no VIP section.”

Moreover, having to leave your phone in your locker also means that people socialize more in the hot pot, several interviewees agree, and have a chance to interact on a more personal level with people they might normally, like work colleagues.

Learning to swim has been mandatory in Iceland since 1940, which only makes sense for an island nation that has long depended on fishing as a means of survival. “Our lives depended on being able to swim,” explains Viðar.

Having access to ample hot water is also a gift in a country that even in the summer rarely crests 20°C [68°F]. “It’s such a great feeling,” says one interviewee. “It’s like being reborn.”

You can watch the full video here.

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