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What’s your kennitala?


„There’s a lot of personal information loaded in our kennitala and some of us who have lived in the US for an extensive time find it a tad uncomfortable using our kennitala so openly and loudly.“ Photo by Aron Ingi Guðmundsson

When I think about everyday life in Icelandic society I think about how we flock to the fishmonger at the end of the workday to fetch our catch for dinner, how the everyday colors of nature never cease to insist, how cryptic the culture of email correspondence seems to be, and how openly we use our kennitala (ID number).

Kennitala serves similarly to the Social Security number - information that you guard with your life if you live in the US. Stealing someone’s kennitala however doesn’t prevail in Iceland as one can always find the theft through their internet bank and mail. It would be as equally successful for the perpetrator as Rudy Giuliani's 90 minutes in court last week.

Every Icelandic resident has a ten digit kennitala and it’s paralleled to one’s name. We use our kennitala when signing in at a doctor’s office, applying for a job, purchasing a TV, for all personal billing, at school, and as the Saga miles number at Icelandair.

There’s a lot of personal information loaded in our kennitala and some of us who have lived in the US for an extensive time find it a tad uncomfortable using our kennitala so openly and loudly. Also because the first 6 digits is our birthday - followed by 4 random digits. Meaning, when the clerk at the appliance store asks me for my kennitala as insurance data for my purchase, I’m not just giving up my age to the clerk, but to everyone in the line behind me.

Icelanders do not hide their kennitala and age isn’t a secret for Icelanders - as a matter of fact people of all ages ask each other what year they’re born (or what model they are) as a way to find common ground. We leave our kennitala on open documents at school, at the workplace and next to our signature on petitions.

Kennitala is your key to functioning on paper in society and every individual living in Iceland is registered in the database, Þjóðskrá. The part of the piece that I find tone-deaf is the information about one’s age.

Applying for a job in any sector can be daunting. And if your application lists that you’re born in 1969 - it can easily be received as ancient for the 1984 model reader who’s scanning through the first round of applicants.

My reluctance is female forward, though I’m aware this affects other pronouns. We know that ageism, much like racism, cannot be proved in the courtroom unless it’s admitted by the party holding the prejudice. Therefore, it goes unchecked.

I probably got to think about this because I’ve heard too many stories of ageism from friends who have experienced an overwhelming challenge getting through the first round when seeking employment in Iceland. I’m accustomed to the fact that it’s illegal to ask about age in the US workplace. And because Icelanders are so open about their ages, there are overwhelming (albeit unproven) instances in which ageism in Iceland is very much alive. I could go on, but let’s start by noting that our kennitala reveals our age and that revelation can hurt our careers.


Texti: Anna Rósa Parker


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