What We Learned Today: 10 Things About Greenland

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The capital city of Nuuk. Photo: Public Domain
The capital city of Nuuk. Photo: Public Domain

To resurrect my irregular series, What We Learned Today, this time we learned a bit about Greenland.

The Greenland flag. Photo: Public Domain
The Greenland flag, whose design represents the sun reflecting off a field of ice. The colors are the same as those of the Danish flag and symbolize Greenland’s links to the Kingdom of Denmark. Photo: Public Domain

Greenland? Isn’t that place green? Or cold? Or something? What’s up with Greenland anyway? So glad you asked. Practically at the North Pole, Greenland is on my “someday” list of places to visit. Mostly I’m curious about what life is like there for its residents, and what might have brought them there in the first place, or brought their ancestors there. How much of it is covered in ice? How do they sustain life? What do they do with themselves?

Things grow there. Photo: CC-BY-SA-2.5 by Hgrobe
Things grow there. Photo: CC-BY-SA-2.5 by Hgrobe

10 Things You May Not Have Known About Greenland

1. Greenland is not always stark. Paging through photos of Greenland, you see glorious sunsets, blue icebergs and glaciers, the northern lights, and extremely colorful houses. Perhaps the residents of Greenland choose to paint their houses in colors that stand out from the landscape, but it adds to the charm and character.

2. It’s not actually too cut off from the rest of the world. Its sovereign state is the Kingdom of Denmark, but is self-governing in most areas. It has plenty of tourism and history. It even has its own airline. There are 15 airstrips, internet access, cell phones, and plenty of 21st century presence.

There is definitely plenty of ice as well. Photo: CC BY 2.0 by russavia
There is definitely plenty of ice as well. Photo: CC BY 2.0 by russavia

3. There is plenty to do during a visit to Greenland. There are museums, Inuit and Norse culture, flightseeing, river fishing, whale watching, culinary delights, wildlife viewing, guided sightseeing tours, ferries, kayaking, diving, cruising, dog sledding, hiking, skiing, snowmobiling, hot springs, shopping, and more. Whether you want an adventure vacation or just to take in nature and culture, Greenland seems to offer it all. As long as you’re not looking for hot, sandy beaches.

4. The people you’ll meet in Greenland are culturally diverse. Many languages and cultures are represented on the very large island, and though 90% of the population is of Greenlandic descent, many are also descended from the Danish. Though they only have a bit over 57,000 people in the whole of the country, and they are kind of spread out, there are some threads that tie them all together, such as dealing with the challenges of weather, and having a sense of humor about it. They live in small towns and villages, and since there are no roads that connect them, they must get around by water or air. Greenland’s capital of Nuuk has just 16,500 people, which seems downright cosmopolitan when compared with the rest of the country. Lonely Planet suggests beginning rather than ending a trip in Nuuk to continue to be awed by the country.

Plenty of Northern Lights. Photo: CC BY 2.0 by Nick Russill
Plenty of Northern Lights. Photo: CC BY 2.0 by Nick Russill

5. The whole of Greenland isn’t one big ice sheet. Sure, 81% of the country is covered with ice cap, but the coastline is covered in inhabitable strips of land. And as our world’s climate gets warmer, the strips are likely to get larger.

6. Greenlandic is a language. I did not know this, but am glad to know it now. Language collector Paul Barbato has made a fantastic video demonstrating what the language sounds like. Give it a listen. Greenlandic words can be long and convey a lot of meaning in one word (like German!). Despite there being a small population, there are still several dialects of the language spoken, probably because everyone is still so spread out. Try learning a bit of the language yourself.

The towns are colorful. Photo: CC 2.0 by Ville Miettinen
The towns are colorful. Photo: CC 2.0 by Ville Miettinen

7. Greenland is technically part of North America. Though it’s not really close to anything (except Iceland, sort of), Greenland is considered part of North America. It often gets forgotten when listing the countries and territories of our continent, but nope! It’s there! Mostly above the Arctic Circle, it’s a country slightly more than three times the size of Texas. So, it is quite a big country, though not as large as the Mercator Projection maps make it out to be. Its climate is arctic to subarctic, obviously, with cold winters and cool summers. Sounds like an ideal summer getaway to me.

8. Their economy is a bit restricted. It relies greatly on exports of shrimp and fish, resource extraction, and large subsidies from the Danish Government. Tourism also plays a small role. I wonder, though, how expensive their food is, for what they can’t acquire or grow locally. (Nevermind, this answers that question.)

The ice there can be very beautiful. Photo: CC BY 2.0 by Rita Willaert
The ice there can be very beautiful. Photo: CC BY 2.0 by Rita Willaert

9. Greenland has a long and interesting history. This history would take a whole blog post in and of itself, but when you think of Greenland’s history, you’re probably thinking of the Vikings and Norse people who explored and settled there. While this is only a part of the island’s story, there is plenty to see about it if/when you visit. The stories of Erik the Red and Leif Eriksson are well represented, and you can follow in their footsteps.

10. You can see it as an armchair traveler. If you don’t have the time, money, or inclination to visit Greenland, Google Views makes it possible to explore the country from your computer. There is a lot to see, and plenty of green hills to imagine yourself exploring. In addition, if you’re interested in learning more about Greenland, there are plenty of travel books, information books, and videos about the island. And if you go, share some photos with us!

A frozen fjord. Photo: Public Domain
A frozen fjord. Photo: Public Domain

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