9 Things Not to Do in Iceland

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 a mad Icelander, but make no mistake, they can be offended, albeit it in an undramatic manner. To get the most out of your trip, here are 10 actions and topics of conversation that are best avoided. 

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

    If you are planning to take photos of people and their homes, you better kit yourself out in Viking paraphernalia or your local sport team shirt so people know for sure that you are a tourist, lest you want them to consider you with extreme suspicion. A camera pointed at the wrong subject or seemingly inoffensive object can get you in trouble otherwise. And, please, don’t be one of "those" tourists who shoves their cameras in everyone’s faces, especially if the person is not interested in posing. This is also annoying everywhere else in the world, by the way.

  • 02 of 09

    This might seem like a pointless statement to make, but you will be surprised at what tourists can come up with when they’re away from home. The wild Icelandic swans can be brutal, especially when they're 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 a fool to everyone else for trying to touch the swans.

  • 03 of 09

    Or their history, unless you're 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, “You’re like Norway’s adopted brother.” Just don’t. It is always a good idea to read up on the places you're planning to visit to avoid a social faux pas.

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

    Another thing not to do in Iceland: Be loud. (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 you're trying to enjoy a treat. You are in their country, so be courteous. If the delicacies do not appeal to you, don’t eat them; simple as that. There is a wide selection of nondubious food 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

    One thing not to do in Iceland: Use sarcasm. Your sense of humor back home will not be appreciated everywhere else in the world. Remember, 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 to follow is one of sincerity and friendliness. If you are in the wrong, 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 the local linguistics. Icelandic 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 don’t recognize the words that are coming out of your mouth.

About Icelanders

Like the rest of its Scandinavian neighbors, the Icelandic locals tend to be a little on ​the reserved side, but they are as a rule of thumb usually very kind and tolerant toward foreigners and travelers to their volcanic piece of heaven. Unlike most countries in the rest of the world whose favorite pastime is to speculate on the comings and goings of their neighbors, Iceland is too absorbed in their own business to be bothered. When engaged in a conversation with locals, you won't be sure what passes through their mind, but at face value, they seem patient and laid back. A conversation can be a truly stimulating experience, as long you steer away from mindless topics such as the weather. Believe it or not, there are places in the world where 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. See how peaceful a country can be when people mind their own business? Now to keep the peace, just remember these things not to do in Iceland.