There are definitely some places you need to visit and some things you need to do when you visit Iceland. There are some amazing videos out there that will make you want to visit Iceland for sure and take your video camera with you.
This is an amazing country, easily reachable from the east coast. You can use tools like Expedia to find cheap flights to Iceland, and the stays there are pretty reasonable as well. A good rental car is a must if you intend to explore the countryside (you should), and be sure you make reservations for whatever you want to do, especially in the height of tourist season.
However, there are also some words of caution. Like any other country, Iceland has its own traditions and customs, and you don’t want to be that person who does the thing that really irritates everyone around you. Here are some customs you need to know before you visit Iceland.
Don’t Take Pictures of Everything
Yes, videographers and photographers will want to visit Iceland, but you don’t want to photograph everything, and photograph indiscriminately. Not only is it considered rude, but the natives value their privacy highly. Photographing a building, or worse yet, a person without permission is extremely frowned upon.
Don’t be one of those tourists who just puts your camera in everyone’s face, especially if they don’t want to have their photo taken. And taking pictures of things indiscriminately can not only earn you suspicion but get you in some big trouble as well.
Leave the Swans Alone
This statement may seem pointless and obvious, but what tourists, especially American ones will do when they are away from home is often astounding. The swans are not tame animals or pets, and can actually be pretty brutal. They will fiercely defend their young, especially when they are nesting.
An adult bird can break an adult’s arm easily and seriously injure children if they feel threatened. The locals don’t take kindly to it either, and messing with the swans can get you noticed in a not so friendly way by the authorities.
The Same Goes for Politics
Just like you should not touch the swans, you should also not discuss politics. Avoid the topics of history unless you are a real buff and can discuss it intelligently. It’s a good idea to read up on the history, customs, and politics of a land before you travel there.
This is not to say that you can’t discuss politics politely if it comes up, but certainly don’t be the instigator. You will get enough grief in other countries for being an American without adding insult to injury. No, Iceland is not Norway’s little brother, and natives will certainly let you know when you get things wrong. Best to simply avoid the topic altogether unless someone else brings it up.
Think of it like a family reunion. Don’t touch religion or politics, and realize that listening goes a long way to diffusing potential conflict.
Keep it Down
Americans are known for many things when we travel abroad, and one of them is being loud. Not being loud is a good idea generally speaking almost anywhere, but especially in Iceland. The people are pretty quiet, even the loudest of them.
Other than the weekend club crowd, you won’t find Icelanders to be obnoxious or boisterous at all. As a foreigner, you will really stand out if you are loud, and unless you want to be treated as a loud, obnoxious drunk, don’t act like one. If you do, start shouting. You’ll get picked out of a crowd right away.
Practice Good Hygiene in Pools and Spas
Social gatherings in saunas and thermal ponds are often the norm in Iceland. You’re as likely to meet someone there as for dinner somewhere. One of the things that makes these pools so amazing the personal hygiene requirements, so if you are going to join in for a soak, you will have to take a shower in your birthday suit before you enter.
This spills over into other areas as well. Take care of yourself, wash, and have decent breath or do something about it. Cleanliness is big in Iceland, and if you don’t want to be offensive you will take care of yourself during your stay.
There are other rules as well when visiting Iceland, such as not complaining about the local food or other local customs. There is no discernable upper class in Iceland, so things are much different than in the United States. The general rule is to be polite and considerate, and treat others the way you would want to be treated if they came to your hometown.
One key is to know these rules and customs before you go, and treat the land and the people you visit with the utmost respect.
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