The way that people treat you says more about their relationship with themself than how they feel about you. So it makes sense that Icelandic people are so friendly!
As well as being open-hearted and kind, Icelandic people are consistently rated as the happiest in the world! That happiness translates into how locals treat each other and how they welcome the many seasonal visitors.
Most Icelanders are non-judgemental, laid back, and down to earth. Of course, you may meet someone who is having a bad day. But you’re probably going to find Icelandic people helpful and kind.
But with millions of tourists every year, there are inevitably some cultural clashes between visitors and locals. So if you want to avoid offending local people, here are some quick and easy tips to bear in mind.
10 Tips To Get Along With Icelandic People
1. Don’t launch into English
Most Icelandic people speak fluent English, especially those working in hotels, restaurants, and car hire. But if you come across a local and need help, it can be polite to ask if they speak English before launching into any questions.
“Hello, I’m afraid I don’t speak Icelandic. Would you be able to help me?” is a polite and friendly way to engage.
But don’t worry if you forget, it’s true that most Icelandic people speak English like a native!
2. Don’t call them ponies!
Outside of Iceland, people distinguish “horses” and “ponies” by size. But the Icelandic horses are an ancient breed, which dates as far back as the earliest settlers and Vikings. These incredible animals are a great source of Icelandic pride. So even though our horses might look like ponies to a visiting eye, the word pony is just on the wrong side of offensive to Icelandic people.
(Don’t worry if you slip up; it’s not a big deal. It’s just something to be aware of!)
3. Take off your shoes
If you get invited to an Icelandic person’s home, you should take your shoes off when you come in. (Or at the very least, ask whether to take off your shoes!)
As strange as it sounds, Icelandic people lived with mud floors for much longer than the rest of Europe, so we still really respect and appreciate our floors. We also have famously changeable weather, so we take off our shoes instead of walking in the mud and rain from outside.
You might even notice boxes of shoes by the front door of our houses, so they aren’t even coming past the threshold!
4. Keep On The Roads
Driving off-road is not allowed in Iceland. If you leave the road or track, you are probably driving all over someone’s farm, and the sheep are not going to appreciate having their grass ripped up by your tires.
So please keep off-roading for a country where it is allowed. We have some beautiful, delicate ecosystems to protect here!
5. Don’t forget your shower
Most Icelanders hate it when people don’t take a shower before entering the swimming pool or hot springs. In some countries, the showers might be there to wash off the chlorine before getting changed.
But in Iceland, the idea is to remove any sweat, dirt, or chemical products before entering the water. Our natural hot springs aren’t treated with chlorine, so it’s important to keep them clean.
6. Offer coffee to guests
Even if you don’t drink coffee, Icelanders will always offer you a cup! It’s not considered rude to reject it if you don’t drink it, but you may find the locals try to convince you that their coffee is unique and “not like normal coffee” every time you come over! (It’s not, by the way). You can just smile and decline, but you must have coffee to offer when people visit your home.
7. Don’t freak out about the food
Let’s face it, some of Iceland’s traditional dishes may seem a bit terrifying to visitors. From shark to puffin to the really strong licorice we love so much. It’s absolutely okay if you don’t like these things.
But it is considered polite to say: “thank you, but it’s not to my taste.” rather than, “EWW, THAT IS SO GROSS!”
Of course, you don’t have to eat anything you don’t want to. But it’s never nice to say somebody’s food is terrible, especially when it is closely linked to our culture and history.
8. Leave nature as you found it
Since the expansion in tourism in the 1980s, some natural spaces have taken a bit of a hit. For example, some volcanic caves that were once full of ancient stalactites have been stripped bare. The good news is that this only a minority of places.
Iceland still has more stunning natural attractions than you could visit in a lifetime. But considering we have over 2.5 million annual tourists compared to just 360,000 locals, we can quickly degrade nature if every visitor takes just one small rock or flower.
As the old saying goes: leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but pictures.
This way, Iceland can stay beautiful for everyone.
9. Responsible bathroom breaks
Sorry that we have to go there, but respecting nature includes thinking about where you go to the bathroom!
We have had problems in Iceland with people going for a number 2 on the side of the road, on people’s farms, and even (famously) in a car wash one time! Since then, wild camping in a campervan or tent has been restricted, and the problem is much better.
But please do make sure you follow the rules by booking into a campsite with facilities. And if there is a real emergency, do what you can to reduce the impact. For example, you can take the paper away to put in the bin and dig a 6-inch deep hole to cover up your poop. (Sorry, there is no nicer way to say that).
10. Don’t Park On The Road
Let’s face it, Iceland is breathtaking. So it’s expected that visitors will want to pull over and take lots of pictures. But please make sure you find a parking spot, rather than stopping in the middle of the road. (You really would be surprised by how many people don’t think about this!)
We encourage you to take your time and stop often. But for the local postman trying to finish his work for the day or the farmer on her way to feed the animals, it can be frustrating to get blocked by people who stopped for a photoshoot!
If you stop somewhere sensible, everyone can go about their day happily! (And you’re going to get some photos to treasure for a lifetime.)
Here in Iceland, we love welcoming visitors. It’s great to meet so many new and interesting people, not to mention how positive the business has been for our economy. But if you want to receive a warm welcome in Iceland, you’ve got to meet us halfway!
Leaving litter around the countryside or screaming about our national dishes won’t win you any new friends. So long as you are respectful during your visit, you’re going to find Icelandic people to be some of the most laid-back and welcoming people you have ever met.
If you want to learn more about visiting Iceland, you can check out more of our articles, videos, and self-drive tours. We hope you found this article helpful, and we look forward to welcoming you here soon!