Social Etiquette in Iceland

Although Icelandic nature seems like outer space to many travelers with its black sands and lava fields, most find the people and culture to be quite modern, western and rather hip if anything. Nature usually gets most of the adjectives but there are a few things to be said about the Icelandic mindset and our social customs. So here’s a list of a few differences in etiquette, that may or may not surprise you.

Iceland,Blue Lagoon,Hot Spring
Image copyright Roderick Eime:
  • Icelanders never kiss when greeting strangers. Kisses are reserved for relatives or close friends and a handshake is more than enough for a first encounter, a friendly nod will often do. We never address each other with our last names; even our president is referred to as Guðni.
  • Icelanders don’t wear shoes inside their homes. Given the unpredictable and often extreme weather, we would do little else than clean our floors if we tracked the outdoors inside with us. So guests always take off their shoes right after entering, unless specifically told otherwise by the host.
  • One of the worst social mistakes you can make in Iceland is entering our popular and beloved pools without showering properly. All guests are required to shower thoroughly without bathing suits before entering the pool. Some pools have private shower cubicles in the shower rooms, others do not, but they are always separated by gender. Suck it up and embrace the liberating nudity with the locals.
  • The Icelandic horse is a horse. Sure, it’s small, but calling it a pony is considered an insult. It has an extra gait, an incredibly smooth ride called tölt and you really haven’t ridden a horse until you experience your Icelandic horse shifting its gait to what feels like it’s gliding just above the ground.
  • The closest Iceland comes to an elite are the farmers. Icelandic farmers, as you can imagine, are badass, hardworking survivors and most of them are eerily well read and knowledgeable in matters of geography and history. Never underestimate an Icelandic farmer and always respect their authority when crossing their land.
  • Icelanders never tip for anything and it isn’t expected but with growing tourism, we’ve grown to love the surprise of extra money handed our way so feel free to tip if you’re pleased with the services.
  • Breastfeeding in public is considered normal and natural. Go ahead and whip out the boob if your child is hungry. That’s what it’s there for.
  • When it comes to nature, Icelanders have no sense of humor. Treat the great outdoors, and the weather that comes with it, with respect. That means dressing accordingly, preparing your excursions with care and taking no chances. Our rescue services are excellent, provided free of cost by volunteers that are ready to leave their daily lives to come save the rest of us, but in the end, nobody wants to have to call them. Never, ever drive off-road. This beautiful unspoiled wilderness is more sensitive than you might think and a little recklessness can have a terribly damaging and long-lasting impact on the environment. Leave everything exactly like you found should be every traveler’s motto but is especially apt in the delicate black deserts and lava fields of Iceland.

That said, Icelanders are generally laid back and aren’t easily offended so don’t worry too much about it. Except for the bit about the pool and nature. That’s serious business.

Image copyright mtch3l:
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