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How to Make Icelanders Like You

|January 10, 2024
Anthropologist, social media guru, Icelandic nature and food enthusiast.

I am Icelandic, so this might seem like a weird thing to write about, but the more I travel, the more I realize that Icelanders, living on an island far in the North, have slowly developed a culture that is quite different from anywhere else.

To figure out what we find rude and offensive might also be a bit of a challenge since we don’t necessarily tell you. You will see this, for example, in the traffic. We don’t really honk. Even if you almost crash into my car, I am more likely to swear in my vehicle than use honk to let you know about your wrongdoing. So, to help you, I have put together a small list. I like to call it the top 10 things that will make Icelanders like you.

Travelers take a selfie in Green River Through Studlagil basalt canyon, Iceland

1. Learn an Icelandic word

We aren’t that many (approx. 320.000 people), and still, we have our own language. So, it might not come as much of a surprise that there are few in this world who actually speak Icelandic. If you take the time to learn one word, we will almost instantly love you. Try, for example, an easy one “takk”, which means “thanks." You’ll soon learn that it’s a word worth knowing.

2. Talk about the weather

We like to talk about the weather a lot. When you feel like an awkward silence might be approaching, always start talking about it. The weather is always something we find worth discussing, especially because it changes every 5 minutes.

Wanderlust explorer discovering icelandic natural wonders

3. Take your shoes off inside

Iceland is full of geothermal water, and we use it to heat our houses. Because of this, we pay very little money to heat our homes, so there is almost no need to wear shoes inside. When entering a home, always take your footwear off unless the owner of the house tells you not to.

4. Don't call Icelandic horses ponies

The Icelandic horse has stuck with us through glaciers, volcanoes, and the times we ate rotten shark as a treat. The least we can do is give it the honor of being called a horse. Even though their size varies from 125 cm to 145 cm in height, which is a similar size to a pony, you can never call an Icelandic horse so because of how strong and respected they are by Icelanders. We know they aren’t the largest, but they are at heart, and that’s what matters.

Woman tourist in bright clothes with beautiful horses , Iceland

Want to see the Icelandic horse from up close? How about going on an adventure and trying out horse riding on an Icelandic horse?

5. Don’t talk about whale hunting

Icelanders are either strongly against it or not at all, but you can never really tell beforehand. So my advice to you is just not to bring it up. We usually have a pretty strong opinion on this, and it can quickly turn into an argument. 

What’s interesting to know, though, is that from 2024, Iceland will no longer hunt whales due to decreasing demand. You might have heard that trying out whale meat is something of a tradition in Iceland, but the truth is quite different – it’s not that popular. Don’t forget that there are plenty of other exciting foods and drinks to try on your trip here.

Spend your day watching whales by booking one of the Whale Watching tours in Iceland.

6. Say you love Brennivín

Even though you don’t. “But what’s a Brennivín?” you might ask. It’s the ultimate Viking drink, and we are ridiculously proud of it. Brennivín is actually a traditional spirited drink that’s made out of fermented grain mash flavored with caraway. This beverage is also called “black death” because of how strong it is. Its taste is also quite intense, so it might not be up to everyone’s alley.

Friends drinking beer at brewery bar outdoor on winter time

Looking to try out Brennivín? How about doing it right under the Nothern Lights? Our Northern Lights Explorer tour has a Brennivín shot included!

7. Use bathrooms/restrooms

I know, you probably think it’s weird that I’m even mentioning this, but it’s happening quite often when people are being inconsiderate and do their “business” just somewhere outside. This makes for a very unpleasant surprise for the next person arriving at the spot. A lot of public places, such as cafes, bars, restaurants, and supermarkets, have bathrooms. These facilities can also be found at the rest stops on your way to various attractions.

8. Don't question the existence of elves

We are unlikely to admit to believing in them even though we do. Not many Icelanders will look you in the eye and say, “Yes, I believe in elves, I talk to them all the time,” but we will still believe all the elves stories we hear and are very aware of their existence. Most of us are just a little shy to admit it. But how can you stay skeptical when there are so many Icelandic folktales that make elves or “hidden people” very real? There’s even an Elf School that’s ready to teach everything there’s to know about these creatures.

9. Shower naked before entering a pool

Yes, we know it can be scary, especially if you come from a country where this isn’t the custom, but you’re in Iceland. We love our swimming pools and would really appreciate it if you help us keep them clean. Since water in the swimming pools is geothermal, it contains no chlorine, so it’s important not to bring any bacteria in. If you have any further questions on what you should do before entering the swimming pool in Iceland, just read about Iceland’s pool etiquette and enjoy our clean waters.

Back view of young woman relaxing in hot pool in Iceland

10. Join a tour

I know that your dream might be to travel the vast Icelandic highlands by yourself, but it’s not always safe. Actually, the rescue squad now spends more than half of their time getting tourists from the terrifying situations they seem to get themselves into while on these ventures. Icelanders love the rescue squad. They have saved so many lives in storms, avalanches, or earthquakes and shouldn’t be called out because someone didn’t know you couldn’t drive a Yaris on a glacier. So join a tour where an experienced guide will take you to enjoy all of the adventures and beautiful things Iceland has to offer, all while keeping you out of harm’s way.

The aerial view of a man hiker enjoying beautiful waterfall of Godafoss at sunset light.

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