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Courtesy and Custom in Iceland

Courtesy and customs that apply when visiting Iceland.

When you meet someone...

courtesy rules in Iceland are hardly different from those we are likely to encounter under our western latitudes. The devil is in the details, of the kind that can mean you are frowned upon if you ignore them.

When you meet someone, you can give them a peck on the cheek without worrying too much about it, as this is not unheard of or simply opt for a firm handshake. You will not risk making a blunder with this custom. However, trying to greet someone by their family name will prove to be an awkward moment as there is no such thing in Iceland! Indeed, it is customary for one to be identified by one's firstname, which is then followed by the father's firstname and is then differentiated by the complement "son" for a son and "dóttir" for a daughter: a real brain teaser in store!

When you are invited somewhere

If you are invited to an Icelander's home, there is one golden rule to observe: take off you shoes when you enter. This is a mark of courtesy and respect that must never be forgotten. Furthermore, in winter, this will also ensure that the floor of the house stays clean and free of snow...

At a party, bringing your own bottle of drink instead of taking your host's fridge for a bottomless pit is well-considered: alcohol costs quite a lot and it is good form to consume your own drink first.

Respect for Nature

Icelanders are proud of their country and they do not hesitate to let you know it. Respect for nature is a national priority and you would do well to be prepared for this before you go there! When hiking, stay on the marked paths, do not trample on protected areas and in geothermal regions, be very careful where you tread so as not to leave any indelible footprints on the fragile local soil and in this way spoil a future trip through Iceland...

If you swim in the hot springs, you must absolutely ban the use of shower gel and soap which would pollute the place. Wait until you get home to have a wash. In the same way, if you go to the local pool, do not be surprised to see everyone taking a shower naked: the taboo of public nudity hardly exists in Iceland (you can solve this problem by asking to use a private cubicle, attendants are often tolerant with foreigners).

Lastly, if in doubt about what conduct to adopt: take a look around you!

Cedric Tinteroff
44 contributions
Updated 22 March 2016

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