10 Stereotypes about Greenland – DEBUNKED by a Local! Don’t Embarrass Yourself in the Artic!

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stereotypes about greenland

THINK FAST: What do you know about Greenland? Tick tock, what have you got? Probably…polar bears…icebergs…Trump tried to buy it…?? Yeah, if that’s all that comes to your mind, don’t feel bad. That’s the most common response. For the largest island in the world (that isn’t a continent), Greenland is widely under the radar for the rest of the world. Greenland is shrouded in mystery to most people, and from that stems countless myths, misconceptions, and stereotypes about Greenland that…well, simply aren’t true. But I’m here to help fix that! However, since I have only been to the country once, I’m not really fit to address the stereotypes about Greenland.

So I’m bringing in the experts.

Yanno. Local people from Greenland.

And honestly, basically the only people qualified to answer some of the deep cultural complexities of their community and country. SO WITHOUT FURTHER ADO – please put your hands together for our guests!

Elisabeth

instagram: @eliqussi

Hi my name Is Elisabeth, I was born and raised in Disko [Island]. Currently, I’m living in Ilulissat. I’m a chef apprentice in Hotel Arctic. I have a little dream about exploring the culinary crafts around the world and bringing good and exciting foods to the Greenlandic tables. 

Christina

instagram: @christinakislov

My name is Christina. I’m half Danish and Filipino. I was born in Denmark but grew up in a small city called Upernavik, in the North of Greenland. My father has lived and worked in Greenland since childhood. So that’s how we’re attached to this country.  Now I live in Ilulissat, bigger than Upernavik, but smaller than the capital Nuuk. I work as a Flight attendant at Air Greenland on our domestic flights. I love the job because I have the most amazing co-workers and a beautiful office view and flexible hours.

Stereotypes about Greenland

Now that we have some experts on board, where to start, where to start? Oh, how about with the basics! Don’t worry, I’m here to ask all of the seemingly dumb, obtuse, misguided, and low-key-maybe-ignorant questions that you WANT to ask, but don’t want to say out loud. That’s literally my job. You just gotta sit back and absorb!

1. What…do YOU call Greenland? What do you call yourselves?

Elisabeth: We call ourself Kalaallit in Kalaallisut (“Greenlandic”, our language), or Kalaaleq for the singular term. Our country is Kalaallit Nunaat. 

Christina: For those who are not Indigenous Kalaallit, like myself, I say “I come/am from Greenland.” Or Greenlander/Greenlandic.

2. Soo…do some people identify as Eskimo or Inuit?

Elisabeth: Short answer, no.

Christina: Err…..in GENERAL, it is inappropriate to call people in Greenland Eskimo or Inuit.

In terms of Inuit, it’s technicallyyy not totally correct. That is not how current-Greenlanders, Kalaallit or otherwise, refer to themselves. Inuit (and Eskimo) hold a different identity meaning here. Some people in Greenland don’t care what they are called by foreigners in English, they know what you mean. When you say Inuit, we know you mean “(Indigenous) people living in the Arctic,” and people usually extend that to EVERYONE regardless of community. Inuit specifically is a whole different ethnicity. It’s not offensive, but it is wholly accurate either.

Eskimo is more uncomfortable, and potentially offensive to many folks, because of the connotations and usage as a slur in North America (Canada, Alaska). So my advice would be to not use those terms to refer to Greenlanders.

Kay: I think, especially for Americans and other Westerners, we have a habit of identifying people according to OUR racial and ethnic identifiers. THAT’S NOT HOW EVERY COUNTRY WORKS. So although Kalaallisut falls under our definition of the Inuit-Yupik-Unangax language family (covers languages in Greenland, Alaska, Canada, Chukotka), that doesn’t mean that everyone who speaks a language under that our umbrella term self-identifies as Inuit or Yupik. It is still OUR way of categorizing languages.

And you should prob just throw the word “Eskimo” out of your vocabulary. If you are unfamiliar with the backstory, let’s catch everyone up to speed. Where did “Eskimo” come from, how did it get attached to Indigenous groups in the Artic, and why shouldn’t you use it now?

This is probably one of the biggest stereotypes about Greenland we’ll deep dive into.

Words, and language for that matter, is fluid. Bottom line, the colonizers from Europe who went to the Americas were racist. Why? Because being racist served their agenda to colonize the land and take it for themselves. Those colonizers thought the word Eskimo meant “eater of raw meat,” which in their minds equaled barbarism and violence. Aka – not worthy to be treated like a human.

I mean, it’s not like Europeans had steak tartare, mett, carne salada, cipriani…oh wait…but I digress.

This is about stereotypes in Greenland, not European hypocrisies.

The reason ultimately didn’t need to matter OR make sense – they were able to make a racist connotation. So using Eskimo as a slur stuck.

Bottom line?

More recently, however, linguists at the Alaska Native Language Center (University of Alaska Fairbanks) believe the word Eskimo actually came from the French word esquimaux, meaning one who nets snowshoes. So maybe the original intent wasn’t what it eventually grew into. BUT, after centuries and centuriesss of “Eskimo” holding that negative connotation and reflecting the genocide policies of colonization towards Artic Indigenous communities….it’s a little too late to flip the meaning.

While the term wasn’t used in Greenland, and not used as a slur there, it is still important to recognize the harm that comes from the association. Not only are you using terms that have caused physical, mental, and emotional harm to Indigenous groups in the Arctic, but you are also mis-identifying others and carrying over that potentially harmful term to other communities.

So while you may see/read/hear Indigenous peoples in the Arctic refer to themselves as Eskimo for whatever reason they may have – if YOU are not from an Indigenous community in the circumpolar region, YOU shouldn’t use it.

It’s icky.

3. Okay then…what ethnicity are Greenlanders? Are they…white?

Elisabeth: If you mean white as in Caucasian or Anglo-Saxon, I see why you would think that. It’s one of the most common stereotypes about Greenland. Since I was little, I’ve been told of a Viking named Erik the Red. He is credited for “discovering” this country, and gave the name Greenland because of the green hills in the south. But, of course, there were already people living and thriving in “Greenland.”

The early-Indigenous people, who had already migrated from the northern regions of North America (yes!! They were already there!), set the stage for modern Greenland. They settled on the Western coast, and were mostly whale hunters and fishermen. Their communities were strong, but Greenland itself was not a unified country as we know it today. That’s where Denmark comes in via colonization, and they began to build a more cohesive infrastructure in the country.

Of course, at the expense of the Kalaallit already living and thriving on our own.

stereotypes about greenland that icebergs are melting

Christina: If I remember right, it was “Eric the Red” who came to this country and founded a settlement in East Greenland. Those Norse colonies recognized Norway as their ruler. But then Denmark and Norway had the Denmark-Norway union. So in the 1700s, Dano-Norwegian evangelist, Hans Egede, went to Greenland to try to convert that original Norse colony to Catholicism. But…they had all died. So Egede decided to continue his mission with the Kalaallit in Greenland.

So in Greenland, there are white people with European ethnicities, yes, but also Indigenous folks with no European ethnicity. And everyone else who has come to Greenland!

Kay: Fun fact – all of the colorful houses in Greenland aren’t just painted for the aesthetic! Back during colonization, no one could speak the same language, so the Danish painted houses depending on someone’s trade! So you could always find the doctor or a government building based on its color! Also, ethnicity =/= race, which is especially important to know when thinking about Indigenous communities in Arctic regions. If you need a quick refresher, check out my quick Racially Ambiguous Travel Glossary.

4. What is the official language of Greenland?

Elisabeth: The official language of Greenland is Greenlandic. Specifically, West Greenlandic. The other most common dialects of Greenlandic are East Greenlandic (Tunumiisut / Tunumiit oraasiat) and North Greenlandic (Avanersuarmiutut).

Christina: There are so many dialects of Greenlandic (even within West/East/North), that you can’t count them. In school, we also learn Danish as our second language, and English as our third. We study Danish and English throughout elementary school (1-10 class), so many people are trilingual (PLUS their home dialect). There are also opportunities for Greenlanders to study in Denmark.

Greenlanders graduating in Denmark

5. What are the major regions and cities in Greenland?

Elisabeth: The country is divided into basically five different regions, each with their own dialect, speech patterns, and mannerisms. In each region, there is a “main city,” distinct from the other regions. My home is in the North. I may be biased, but it is my favorite place in Greenland. The ice. The landscape. And the sun that never goes down in the summer. The Northern Lights that dance across the endless cold dark winters. It’s magic.

Christina: I can talk about the most popular cities! Decreasing in size, let’s start with the capital of Greenland Nuuk, the population is around 16,000 people. Although it is the biggest city in Greenland, it is the least populated county capital in the WORLD. Nuuk is really Danish-modern. It is the most busy – for Greenland – and most people keep to themselves. Next is Sisimiut, which is similar to Nuuk in style but the people are more “loose” and more direct and honest.

Third is Ilulissat. Most people here are very down to Earth, and the community feels tighter. But people can also be shy to strangers, and that’s even more true the more North and East you go. Not saying it’s a bad thing though. Ilulissat is my favorite because it is more relaxed and you never have to plan things. One of the stereotypes about Greenland is that it is just one hunk of ice with nothing on it. That is not true. We have people, history, and activities just like anywhere else.

6. Does everyone in Greenland know each other??

Christina: This is one of the stereotypes about Greenland that is actually…kind of true. For the most part, if you grew up here, almost everyone in the city knows each other. I mean, there are only 56k people in Greenland. Chances are, if you meet someone from Ilulissat, we probably know each other. Or have a mutual connection somehow.

7. What was it like growing up in Greenland?

Elisabeth: I grew up on the biggest island in Greenland. It was important for my family that I was raised to be confident in my dreams and the freedom to pursue what I wanted to do. I loved going to school, and painting. I also had a strong passion for dog sledding, a family tradition which I still enjoy doing.

Christina: For my family, what we value most is connecting with nature and the people we know in our hometown. The community in general is very supportive towards their children’s passions. I did a lot of sports in school, like badminton and football. I spent as much time as I could playing with my friends.

5. Do many people travel in Greenland?

Elisabeth: People in Greenland travel more than you would think. A lot of us visit Denmark frequently, usually at least for college. We also travel a lot throughout Greenland, either just to visit other cities or for hunting trips.

We hold the same passport at Danish citizens. Our passport is ranked third in global strength, so visas are rarely the travel barrier for us.

6. Is Greenland always dark and cold?

Christina: Greenland is dark and cold in the winter, though it also depends where you are. The further north you go, the more intense the sun. Like in Ilulissat, November to January there is VERY little light. But in the summertime, there is practically 24/7 sunlight. Sounds crazy huh? But I’m used to it. Every season has it charm, but fall is my favorite! Everything is orange over new fresh fallen snow, and it’s not too cold yet!

Elisabeth: Winter is very long, dark, and cold here, maybe for 4-5 months a year. But there are so many great things to do, even when it’s cold outside! You get to be warm and cozy inside and Christmas isn’t long away.

“Spring” is still a bit cold, but it isn’t dark. The sun reflexes off the snow and gives people what we call “an Inuit tan”, where only their hands and faces are dark brown with an obvious sunglasses outline. Summer feels like paradise. The air is the clearest under the midnight sun. But my favorite is fall. The snow is new and blankets all of the beautiful autumn colors. The weather is constantly changing from snowing, to raining, to sunny. 

7. What do you do during Greenland’s long winters?

Elisabeth: In the winter, I usually work. I also spend time with family and get creative inside, like cooking and painting. I also get to spend more time with the dogs and cozy up for good TV!

Christina: I spend my time mostly inside with Netflix, friends, hot chocolate, comfy socks, and big blanket! Oh, and of course the northern lights! I think most Greenlanders do the same!

stereotypes about greenland what to do in winter

8. How do people travel around Greenland?

Elisabeth: In the summer, people travel between cities with their own boats. Or on small boats and ships that sail in the area. In the city, by car or bike. But there are no major roads connecting the cities like in other countries.

stereotypes about greenland are there cars

Christina: But in wintertime, you can only travel by sky (helicopters or planes) because of the ice.

9. Do you feel like Greenland is becoming more accessible to foreign travelers?

Me: a tourist in Greenland

Christina: It’s already accessible to foreign travelers, in terms of being ABLE to visit. But in a couple of years, as we get international airports in Nuuk and Ilulissat, I expect that tourism will boom. Though, at some point, tourism for our country could change everything, both in good ways and in bad ways. No one really knows how it will impact us.

Elisabeth: Most of the tourism industry in Greenland is owned by bigger companies from other countries, and those don’t give a lot to our communities.

Well, except for the FEW Greenlandic guides they might hire.

So that’s a big stereotype about Greenland. But there are some small local owned companies starting up that show the traditional Kalaallit way of living in Greenland. Like Arctic Living! I highly recommend them for tours in Ilulissat like fishing trips, trips to the glaciers, Northern light trips, and even night-over stays! All of their dogs are treated well and trained amazingly, so you can experience Greenland in a safe and ethical environment!

stereotypes about greenland dog sledding

10. Does anyone in Greenland live in igloos?

Elisabeth: This is one of THE BIGGEST stereotypes about Greenland. Basically no one lives in an igloo, except maybe a few hunters in the far North. But that is not the average Greenlandic person. And here, they are called Illu, or Iglo in English, which actually means house.

Christina: I actually do know how to build one though! Although it is not a thing Greenlanders do (you can’t just…build an igloo in the city), it is a big tourist thing! Hotel Arctic has igloo rooms you can rent! They are super cozy with amazing views, but they’re made with steel – not snow.

Greenland – SEE, there are buildings and electricity!

Christina: While we’re at it, let’s debunk another one of those common stereotypes about Greenland. In the city, we don’t dog sled to the grocery store. Snow mobiles and dog sledding is for free time outside of the city. The cities DO HAVE CARS. However, again, there are no highways or roads between cities, and there are no trains. And small towns and villages might not even have streets or cars. Oh, and another thing: WE DON’T RIDE POLAR BEARS TO WORK. How do people think that is even possible???? Polar bears…are literal BEARS.

11. How often do you see polar bears?

Christina: We rarely see polar bears. But when we do, we kill it because they’re very dangerous!  

Elisabeth: Polar bears are very limited to specific areas, so a lot of the Greenlanders have never seen a live polar bear. On the other hand, some see multiple polar bears per year. So it depends on the location. But yes, before you ask, we hunt polar bears (in specific areas), and we eat them. But there is a VERY strict cap on polar bear hunting, and I’ve never heard of anyone illegally poaching polar bears in Greenland.

stereotypes about greenland

Kay: When I was in Kulusk, the museum curator told us that sometimes polar bears do wander into their town. And while killing a polar bear might sound heartbreaking to Americans who are probably having flashbacks to those videos of polar bears being stranded on ice – IT’S THEIR WAY OF LIFE. There are children in these towns. PEOPLE. Polar bears will literally kill them. When the curator explained it to me, she was very solemn.

To everyone looking to visit Greenland just to hunt polar bears:

Killing polar bears is not something done for fun or solely sport, like hunting deer only for their antlers. While most folks in the US (and elsewhere, but I can only speak for Americans) also hunt and use most -if not all- parts of the animal, there are those who only hunt to say they’ve killed a specific animal.

When people hunt a specific animal for clout and not for food or materials, that’s where the difference lies, and it’s called trophy hunting.

You know, like the people who go on hunting trips to Africa to kill giraffes just…for sport? Those same people would definitely want to hunt a polar bear just to say they’ve done it. But…yeah, that’s not sustainable boo. So don’t go to Greenland expecting to join a polar bear hunting excursion for the thrill. That is definitely one of the untrue stereotypes about Greenland.

**bloggers note: I edited the above paragraph due to a reader suggestion I received (see below in the comments).

12. What about whales?? Do you hunt them too??

Christina: Well…yes. Greenlanders pretty much eat any kind of animal from here. Except dogs. It’s not sad either! It’s in our culture. And it’s sustainable! We know how to live in our home without destroying it, and that can be hard for other countries (like the USA) to understand.

The animals here live freely all year around. But in summer, we hunt and use every part of the animal. We use seal and polar bear for our National costume. For hunting animals like reindeer and musk ox, the season is between August and October and you have to send in an application and obey the hunting laws and quotas.

stereotypes about greenland ice melting

Elisabeth: Whales are everywhere in Greenland. I think other countries do not understand the marine life in Greenland. You almost can’t come to Greenland and NOT see a whale in the summer. We eat different kinds of whales depending on the season, but the whales we eat are not endangered.

13. What are your favorite Greenlandic dishes?

Christina: I actually don’t usually eat Greenlandic dishes, but if I have to choose…my favorite is “puisi suaasat.” It is THE BEST Greenlandic dish! It’s like beef in oystersauce with rice in it. I also like mattak and musk ox soup! Those are must try when you visit.

Elisabeth: It is uniquely popular to eat boiled meat/fish with curry and rice. That’s what most “Greenlandic dishes” are. However, most traditional dishes are dried fish/meat. But my favorite is roasted razorbill. 

stereotypes about greenland polar bears

14. What are the biggest holidays in Greenland?

Elisabeth: Most big celebrations are due to the religious reasons, as there are many religious people here. Like Christmas, and the days leading up to it. Easter is another big one. And the national day of Greenland, June 21st!

Christina: We have many traditions! Let’s start with June 21, it’s our national day just like other country. It’s a big day and we only work until 12 pm if it’s weekdays.

In Greenland, December 24,25 & 26 is Christmas holiday and we spend time with family.  Jan 6 is Epiphany Day. It is kind of similar to Halloween-ish, but the costumes are self-made and extreme so that the person isn’t recognizable on the outside. They will go around the city and go into the homes of their friends and family and do a little dance and makes noises. Then people try to guess who it is! Normally it starts on the 3rd of January, so 3 days of fun!

Oh! And birthdays! When you turn 25, you get cinnamon poured over you if you aren’t married. And pepper when you turn 30 and are unmarried! My faaaaavorite holiday is Christmas though, no doubt!

15. Are there any assumptions people make about you when they learn you are from Greenland? 

stereotypes about greenland igloos

Christina: I’m not 100% Greenlandic/Kalaallit, but this is my home. Even though I’m half Filipino and Danish, I come from Greenland. Anyways, people always have such weird assumptions about Greenlanders and stereotypes about Greenland.

Like the usual, “Do you eat whales and seals every day? Do you ride polar bears to school? Do you live in a igloo?”

It was offensive at first, because people don’t think we have technology like everyone else. But now I just go with it and laugh at it. I think a lot of us do. It’s not worth explaining to those that aren’t interested in learning.

16. What is one thing you want people to know about your country and the people there?

Elisabeth: The Greenlandic people are more advanced than most foreigners think. And, in general, we are up to date with popular culture too! We are not cut off from the outside world. But we are very open and helpful to tourists! In my opinion, the best way to experience Greenland is to have a local contact or tour company who can give you a very personal perspective of our culture and traditions.

myths and stereotypes about greenland

Christina: One thing is not enough for me. Our country is THE MOST beautiful country you can visit. And I’m a flight attendant. I’ve seen a lot of countries. Greenland is so peaceful and relaxing. The people are open and down to earth. When you come here, you will either be satisfied with that one visit, or you will absolutely fall in love with it. Either way, you have to see for yourself.

Conclusion on Stereotypes about Greenland!

what stereotypes about greenland are true

Yooo thank you Christina and Elisabeth for all of your insight and perspective on your country! It was awesome having the opportunity to learn from you and dispel some stereotypes about Greenland!

I am definitely in the group that has fallen in love with Greenland, EVEN THOUGH THE FLIES IN KULUSK WERE WILD!! I’m obsessed. So Greenland, you will be seeing me again soon! Everyone else, I hope you are now a bit more inspired to know more about this beautiful country! Are there anymore stereotypes about Greenland you want to run by our experts? Ask in the comments below!

Want to help dispel stereotypes about Greenland? Share it!

unusual facts about greenland
is eskimo a slur in greenland

And in the meantime, check out my other stereotype debunking in Cuba!

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38 thoughts on “10 Stereotypes about Greenland – DEBUNKED by a Local! Don’t Embarrass Yourself in the Artic!

  1. I loved this!! I basically knew nothing about the people who actually live in Greenland, so this was fascinating. I love how you interviewed real people for this!

      1. You have no idea why people in the US hunt deer do you?
        You are a great writer and you articulate well but you are very smug.

        1. hi John! First, thank you so much for your kind words about my writing, I really appreciate that, as well as you taking the time to write this comment!

          For everyone else reading this comment, I noted in the post where I edited the post, but previously it had only read (paraphrasing) “…people in the US who hunt for deer for fun or whatever.”

          I live in Oregon so…I do know why people in the US hunt deer (and elk, and turkey, and all that other good stuff haha). I apologize that my writing came off as smug, as that wasn’t my intention but I can definitely see how it could come off that way – and that’s not cute. What I SHOULD have wrote was that people in Greenland do not trophy kill polar bears, unlike those who trophy kill in other countries. Most people don’t trophy kill deer (I used a bad example), however I do know of people who had killed deer only for their antlers. A better comparison would have been those who hunt “exotic” animals for sport.

          Basically, thank you John for pointing this out to me. Not only does it help me better clarify what I meant to say (as opposed to what slop comes out of my mouth some times haha), but it also helps make me a better writer overall.

        2. This could be considered a stereotype about hunters. It is how the “Anti” see us. Unfortunately some TV shows help portray this image. Hunting is tradition in some states, and we eat what we kill. Some states like Alaska have very strict laws about waste. Living in Vermont; hunting is not only tradition, but also a helpful way of life to lower the cost at the grocery store; at least for a few meals if you are lucky enough.
          I liked the article, but did not care for the portrayal of US hunters. Greenland is a place that I would love to visit. I like the cold, and despise high temps, bugs etc..

          1. that is why I specified TROPHY hunters and noted that hunting for food is also a thing in the US. I was talking SPECIFICALLY to people who want to visit Greenland to hunt polar bears

  2. Alright, so I didn’t know any of this about Greenland. What an eye opening article. I truly loved getting local perspective and shedding light on their culture! The photos were beautiful. I learned so much from this article thank you for sharing. Greenland is on my list now.

    1. It is surprisingly super beautiful! I still can’t get over flying between the mountains of Kulusuk! Thank you for reading!

  3. Great post! I have to admit I didn’t know much about Greenland outside of its small population and beautiful nature. It sounds like such an amazing place. On my list!

  4. I really enjoyed reading this post! I didn’t realize how much I DIDN”T know about Greenland. It was fascinating to read the insight from Christina and Elisabeth. I’ve thought about visiting Greenland before, but now I REALLY want to go!

  5. This was an awesome read! I learned a lot, don’t think I’ve ever seen an interview with any Greenlander so I appreciated learning from 3! Thank you for this!

  6. What an excellent post! I have to admit I didn’t really know much about Greenland but love how you got perspectives from locals. I feel like I have such a better understanding and insight to what Greenland is like! Would love to visit one day. 😁

  7. This is so interesting. Thanks for being bold enough to ask some of the questions. I had never really thought much about the people of Greenland, the language, the culture, etc. This is a fascinating eye-opener.

    1. Hahaha I’m always asking borderline-offensive questions *cry emoji* but I’m glad I had trusted people who knew me and would be willing to answer!

  8. This is such an interesting post and great to see an insight into Greenland! “Do you ride polar bears to school” hahahahaha I’m almost disappointed you didn’t ask that! You mean Philip Pullman – Northern Lights ISN’T based on real life?!

  9. I’ve never had much curiosity about Greenland, but this post was so informational that now I wonder why I never knew much about it before?! Thanks for such a great post!

  10. This was so informative! I really appreciated the local perspective. One thing I’d like to add though is that the term “Eskimo” is a pretty offensive here in Canada, one we do not use. I did some research though and apparently some Alaskan people self-identify as Eskimos, so the term isn’t altogether outdated.

  11. Thank you for sharing this interview! I learned so much from Christina and Elisabeth. Greenland (along with the Faroe Islands) have been on my to-visit list since I visited Iceland a few years back. It sounds like an incredible place.

  12. I came across your article while searching for information about Qaqortoq where our cruise will stop for a few hours. I truly enjoyed reading the candid answers from the good questions. Greenland has been an interesting place but few has written or talked about this Island. For this cruise, by looking into this port, I get to learn from you, more than I have ever known about Greenland in my past 65 years. Thank you.

    1. omg THANK YOU so much for reading and sharing!! That really means so much to hear, and I am glad I was able to pass along the info I learned!

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