9 Things Not to Do in Iceland

A Little Common Courtesy Goes a Long Way

Geothermal spa blue lagoon
Samuli Vainionpää / Getty Images

Are there things you should not do in Iceland? Definitely. It is a rare sight indeed to see an irate Icelander but make no mistake, Icelanders can be offended, albeit it in an undramatic manner.

To get the most out of your trip, nine things should be avoided while visiting Iceland such as talking about politics, being loud, and complaining about Icelandic delicacies. Before you go, learn the other things that are shunned in Icelandic social circles.

  • 01 of 09
    Aurora borealis in Iceland
    Inglfur Bjargmundsson/Getty Images

    A camera pointed at a person or a seemingly inoffensive object can get you in trouble. If you are planning to take photos of people and their homes, people might get offended. Do not be one of "those" tourists who shoves their cameras in everyone’s faces, especially if the person is not interested in posing. It is annoying in Iceland, oh and, pretty much every other place on the planet.

  • 02 of 09

    This might seem like an odd thing to say, but you will be surprised at what tourists do when they are away from home. The wild Icelandic swans can be brutal, especially when they are nesting. An adult bird can break a person's arm to protect its young. Not only will it hurt a great deal, but you will look like a fool to everyone else for trying to touch the swans.

  • 03 of 09

    Do not talk about politics or Icelandic history unless you are a buff who can speak with great authority. Discussing politics civilly when the topic comes up is perfectly acceptable, as long as you are not the instigator. And for heaven’s sake, whatever you do, refrain from saying things such as, “Iceland is like Norway’s adopted brother.” Just don’t. It is always a good idea to read up on the places you are planning to visit to avoid a social faux pas.

  • 04 of 09
    Downtown, outdoor dining, seating, restaurant, eat
    Christian Aslund / Getty Images

    Do not be loud and obnoxious. This is a good rule of thumb most everywhere, by the way.

    With the exception of the lively weekend crowds in the downtown club districts, Icelanders are generally a quiet people. In fact, even the loudest most obnoxious local is still less rambunctious than your average intoxicated person from elsewhere in the world. How do Icelanders recognize foreigners? They look for the loudest person on the street. If you want locals to treat you like a rude drunken lout, just start shouting.

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  • 05 of 09

    Locals love their delicacies of whale, puffin, fermented (a fancy word for rotten, in this case) shark meat, sheep’s head, and testicles. There is nothing more annoying than an ignorant foreigner who makes gagging noises while people are eating. You are in their country, so be courteous. If the delicacies do not appeal to you, then don’t eat them; it is as simple as that. There is a wide selection of more comfortable foods for you to choose from.

  • 06 of 09
    People swimming in Blue Lagoon, hot pool powered by Svartsengi geothermal power station.
    Martin Moos / Getty Images

    Social gatherings in saunas and thermal pools are like a national sport in Iceland. What makes these pools so great is the strict hygiene rules that apply to them. Out of respect for these rules, you will be required to take a shower in your birthday suit before you may enter.​

  • 07 of 09

    Iceland had no distinguishable upper class for 700 years, so they are not as bothered as the rest of the world about going about their natural business. Don’t be surprised if you find someone burping, slurping, or farting in your general company. This is just the natural order of things. Join in, or pretend not to notice.

  • 08 of 09
    Friends having meal at restaurant
    Portra Images / Getty Images

    Don't use sarcasm in Iceland. Your wit from back home likely will not be appreciated everywhere else in the world. English is not the first language here. Your jokes might get lost in translation, and your sarcasm might be considered as a sincere answer. The best recipe is to be sincere and friendly. If you are in the wrong, then just apologize and move on.

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  • 09 of 09

    Unlike the rest of the non–English-speaking European countries, you have to get by speaking English in Iceland, unless you had formal tutoring in Icelandic. The language is astoundingly difficult to speak and even harder to pronounce. It is not that the locals will find you silly or incompetent when you are trying to speak their language; it is just that they will not recognize the words that are coming out of your mouth. To be courteous, you can get by with hallo for "hello," bless for goodbye, and takk for "thanks." Say the rest in English. Most Icelanders speak very good English.

About Icelanders

Like other Nordic countries, Icelandic locals tend to be a little on the reserved side. As a rule of thumb, they are usually very kind and tolerant toward travelers who visit their volcanic piece of heaven. Unlike other world nations whose favorite pastime is to speculate on the comings and goings of their neighbors, Iceland is absorbed in their own business. At face value, Icelanders appear patient and laid back. A conversation can be a truly stimulating experience, as long you steer away from banal topics such as the weather. Small, mindless talk is not appreciated. You will also almost never see a sober Icelander fight over anything, be it in public or in the privacy of their own homes.