“My nicknames used to be ‘Globey’ and ‘Mapy’”: Icelandic TikTok is calling this geography whiz the smartest man in Canada
Aidan Simardone on going viral overseas for his encyclopedic knowledge of all things Iceland
Aidan Simardone has always been a geography buff, but now his nerdy pastime has turned him into an Icelandic TikTok sensation. It all happened earlier this week, when the 29-year-old immigration lawyer was approached by an Icelandic man with a microphone. The planned gag was to show how little the average Torontonian knows about Iceland, but in the 47-second viral video, Simardone drops an encyclopedic knowledge of the island. Forty-two thousand views later, the so-called “smartest man in Canada” is enjoying his newfound celebrity status (even if he needs Google Translate to understand it).
How did this happen exactly? You’re walking down the street, minding your own business, and then…
It was my girlfriend’s birthday, and we were headed to the Toronto Vegetarian Festival at Nathan Phillips Square. So we were walking, and this guy was like, “Can I ask you a few questions?” I saw that he was filming, and I was skeptical. We’re all familiar with these streeter-style interviews that are funny because the people answering the questions don’t know anything. That’s become a big trend on TikTok, so I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to embarrass myself. In the video, you can see me asking the guy, whose name is Olaf, “What is this about?” He told me it was general knowledge about Iceland.
And you were like, Oh, yeah—bring it!
Pretty much. Like I said, I knew this format. When he told me the topic, I was excited that I would be able to flip the script and maybe even tell Olaf a few new things about his own country.
Smartest man in Canada
I think the mic-drop moment was when you were able to cite the population of Iceland to within a thousand people. Are you some kind of Icelandologist? Where does that knowledge come from?
I don’t think I have a particular expertise in Iceland, but it’s a country I have spent some time learning about. I should say that this moment was almost 30 years in the making. For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved geography. When I was little, my nicknames were actually “Globey” and “Mapy.” When other kids were reading Harry Potter, I was reading atlases, encyclopedias and books about flags.
So you were really popular.
Ha—right? You make a lot of friends as a kid who knows the capital of Guyana. It’s funny, though—all of these years later, I’m still the guy who spends his free time looking up random countries on Wikipedia and learning about their history, different religious groups, populations and economies. Needless to say, this sort of thing doesn’t tend to come up a lot in day-to-day conversation, so when I had that interaction with Olaf, it was just like, Finally, this is my moment.
So you aced the interview. When did you realize you were internet famous?
After the interview, Olaf shared his TikTok handle with us. I kept checking back, waiting for him to post it. My biggest concern was whether my hair would look okay. When the video was posted, I shared it with family and friends. Then, suddenly, I was getting new followers and mentions from people with names like Helga and Olafer.
Could you read what they were saying about you? Do you know Icelandic?
I don’t, but I did put some of the comments through Google translate. A lot of it was like, “WTF? I don’t even know this stuff” or “How does a Canadian know about this?” Some people were complimenting the Canadian education system, but I didn’t do particularly well in school. I was just really into geography.
Like, if I asked you for the population of Papua New Guinea…
Let me think. I’m going to say 11 million. I know it’s not 20 million, and it’s more than 10 million.
Close! It’s 10.4 million, but Wikipedia says 9.9. Wait—Are you smarter than Wikipedia?
It has happened before where I’ve been more accurate than a quick Google search. I would double check. Some of these countries are growing really quickly.
Your geography-savant status must come in handy in your work as an immigration lawyer.
I think it does. If I meet a client from Nigeria, I’ll say, Oh, are you from Lagos, near the coast? Are you from the north, which is more Muslim, or the south, which is more Christian? I think it helps make people feel understood and heard at an often challenging time. In the west, we tend to live in a bubble. Right now, for example, there’s a war breaking out with Azerbaijan invading Armenia. That would be important context if I were talking to a client from Armenia. Maybe I want to help them apply for refugee status. Even just as a person, having a sense of what’s going on in the world is never a bad thing.
Have you ever taken an IQ test?
Stephen Hawking said IQ tests are for losers—they’re sort of arbitrary. I’d be happy to do one, but it’s not something I’d put a ton of value on.
What about trying out for Jeopardy? Don’t tell me Jeopardy is for losers.
I would love to be on Jeopardy. I would need to brush up on my popular culture, though.
Ah. So would you know anything about, say, Joe Jonas’s divorce?
I know that he is getting divorced! I’ve spent a lot of time on Twitter recently. It’s hard to avoid. But, besides that, I don’t know anything about it.
Ah, okay. That’s helpful. See, you tend to retain things that you are personally interested in. Some people can quote lines from movies. For me, it’s geography. But I forget things on my grocery list all the time.
Have you been in touch with Olaf at all since the video went viral?
He started following me. It’d be nice to see him again.
I’m thinking an Iceland reunion.
Well, it’s funny because Olaf actually works for Iceland Air. I’d love to go—maybe he could hook me up.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.