There are many customs American expats in Iceland should be aware of if they want to start adapting to a new culture.
Moving to a foreign country can be both exciting and challenging, and understanding local customs and traditions is vital to making the most out of the experience.
In this blog, we will explore eight customs that American expats in Iceland should be aware of. Whether you are planning to move to Iceland or have already made the move, this guide will provide valuable insights into Icelandic culture, enabling you to navigate social situations with ease and confidence.
By familiarizing yourself with these customs, you will be better equipped to integrate into Icelandic society, build meaningful relationships, and make the most of your time living in this beautiful country.
Table of Contents
Greetings are an essential part of Icelandic culture, and the way you greet someone can set the tone for your entire interaction.
In Iceland, it is customary to greet people with a firm handshake, and it is essential to maintain eye contact during the greeting.
Eye contact is seen as a sign of respect and trustworthiness, so avoiding it during a greeting could be interpreted as a lack of interest or insincerity.
When greeting acquaintances, it is common to give a light kiss on the cheek, typically only one side. This custom is more common among women, but men may also greet close friends or family members with a kiss on the cheek.
It is essential to remember that this is a light and brief gesture, not a full-on embrace or a lingering kiss, so as not to create any awkwardness.
It’s also worth noting that the Icelandic language has formal and informal forms of address, and it’s important to use the correct one based on the context of the situation.
If you are unsure of which one to use, it’s always better to err on the side of formality until you are more familiar with the person.
Understanding and following these greeting customs can go a long way in building relationships and demonstrating respect for Icelandic culture.
So, if you’re one of the American expats in Iceland, be sure to practice your handshakes and prepare for the occasional cheek kiss.
Tipping is a common practice in many cultures, but in Iceland, it is not an expected custom. This is because service charges are typically included in the bill, so there is no need to leave extra money.
However, it is not uncommon to leave a small tip as a gesture of appreciation for exceptional service.
It’s important to note that tipping is entirely optional in Iceland, and there is no set percentage or amount expected.
Typically, people will round up the total amount of the bill to the nearest whole number or leave a small amount, such as 100-500 Icelandic krona (roughly $1-$5 USD), as a token of appreciation.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that in Iceland, the minimum wage is relatively high, and service industry workers are typically well-paid.
As a result, there is not as much pressure on customers to tip as there might be in other countries where wages are lower.
While tipping is not a crucial part of Icelandic culture, leaving a small tip can be a nice way to show gratitude for exceptional service. However, it’s important to remember that it’s entirely up to the individual’s discretion and not expected.
Gift-giving is a way to express appreciation and gratitude in many cultures, but in Iceland, it is not a significant part of daily life.
However, it is not uncommon for small gifts to be exchanged between close friends and family members during holidays and special occasions.
In Iceland, the focus is more on spending quality time with loved ones than on material possessions.
This means that gifts are often practical or sentimental, such as homemade crafts or baked goods.
It’s not necessary to spend a lot of money on gifts, and the thought behind the gesture is more important than the monetary value.
Some common occasions for gift-giving in Iceland include birthdays, Christmas, and weddings. It’s also common to exchange gifts when visiting someone’s home for the first time or as a thank you for hosting an event or dinner party.
When giving gifts in Iceland, it’s important to keep in mind the person’s preferences and interests. It’s also customary to include a thoughtful note or card with the gift.
While gift-giving is not a major part of Icelandic culture, it can be a nice way to show appreciation and strengthen relationships with loved ones.
So, American expats in Iceland must consider bringing a small gift to a holiday gathering or special occasion to show your appreciation for your Icelandic friends and family.
Holidays are an important part of any culture, and in Iceland, they are particularly unique and rich in tradition.
For American expats in Iceland, it’s important to be aware of these holidays to better understand and participate in local traditions.
One of the most notable Icelandic holidays is Þorrablót, a mid-winter festival that takes place in January or February.
During this festival, Icelanders celebrate the end of winter and the beginning of spring by gathering with friends and family to enjoy traditional Icelandic foods such as hákarl (fermented shark), svið (sheep’s head), and lifrarpylsa (liver sausage).
There is also typically live music and dancing, making Þorrablót a fun and festive event.
Another notable Icelandic holiday is the annual arrival of the Christmas book flood or Jólabókaflóð. This tradition involves giving and receiving books as gifts on Christmas Eve and spending the evening reading and enjoying hot cocoa or other festive drinks.
American expats in Iceland should know that this holiday is particularly special as the country has a high literacy rate and a strong literary tradition.
Other holidays to be aware of in Iceland include Independence Day (June 17th), which celebrates Iceland’s independence from Denmark, and the First Day of Summer (usually in April), which marks the beginning of the summer season and is celebrated with parades, concerts, and other festivities.
In Iceland, punctuality is highly valued and is an important aspect of social etiquette.
Icelanders expect others to be on time for appointments and events, and arriving late can be seen as a sign of disrespect.
This is because punctuality is seen as a sign of respect for others’ time and a way to demonstrate professionalism and reliability.
In Iceland, being even a few minutes late can be considered rude, so it’s important to plan ahead and arrive on time or even a few minutes early.
It’s also worth noting that Icelandic public transportation is generally reliable and efficient, making it easier to plan ahead and arrive on time.
If you are running late for an appointment or event, it’s essential to communicate with the person or people you are meeting. Let them know as soon as possible that you are running behind schedule and provide an updated arrival time.
In business settings, punctuality is especially important, and being late for a meeting or appointment can harm your professional reputation. It’s always best to arrive early and be fully prepared for any meetings or presentations.
By prioritizing punctuality, American expats in Iceland can demonstrate their respect for local customs and build stronger relationships with Icelandic colleagues, friends, and neighbors.
Personal space is an essential aspect of Icelandic culture, and Icelanders tend to maintain a relatively large personal space.
This means that physical contact, such as hugs or handshakes, is not as common in Iceland as they are in other cultures, especially with strangers or people who are not close friends or family members.
When meeting someone for the first time, it’s essential to respect their personal space and avoid initiating physical contact unless they offer it first.
It’s also important to be mindful of body language, as standing too close or making prolonged eye contact can be perceived as aggressive or intimidating.
In social situations, such as parties or gatherings, Icelanders tend to stand at a comfortable distance from one another, and physical contact is usually limited to brief handshakes or nods of greeting.
This is not to say that Icelanders are unfriendly or unapproachable; they are simply more reserved when it comes to physical contact.
It’s important to note that close friends and family members may engage in more physical contact, such as hugs or cheek kisses, but even then, it’s important to be mindful of the other person’s comfort level.
When dining out in Iceland, there are a few key customs to keep in mind.
Firstly, it is customary to wait to be seated when dining out in Iceland. It’s considered rude to seat yourself, even if the restaurant appears to be empty. Instead, wait for the host or hostess to seat you.
Once seated, it’s important to remember to always use utensils, even when eating foods that are traditionally eaten with your hands, such as pizza or hamburgers. Using your hands to eat is seen as impolite and unsanitary.
Additionally, it is considered impolite to leave food on your plate in Iceland. It’s better to order only what you can eat rather than leaving a lot of leftovers.
If you are unsure about portion sizes or have dietary restrictions, it’s okay to ask your server for recommendations or advice.
When eating with others, it’s also important to wait for everyone to be served before beginning to eat.
It’s considered impolite to start eating before others have been served or to finish eating before others have finished their meals.
Finally, it’s worth noting that tipping is not expected in Iceland (as discussed earlier), so it’s not necessary to leave a gratuity after your meal.
However, it’s always appreciated to express your gratitude to the server for their service.
For American expats in Iceland, it’s important to invest in warm and waterproof clothing to stay comfortable and safe in all weather conditions.
When dressing for Iceland’s weather, it’s essential to dress in layers, as the weather can change quickly and unexpectedly.
A good base layer, a warm mid-layer, and a waterproof outer layer are all essential components of a proper Icelandic wardrobe.
Investing in a high-quality coat and sturdy boots is also important, as these items will be worn frequently and need to stand up to Iceland’s harsh weather conditions.
It’s also important to note that Icelanders have a unique custom of removing their shoes upon entering someone’s home. This is done to keep floors clean and free of dirt and debris.
When visiting someone’s home in Iceland, it’s customary to bring clean socks or slippers to wear inside.
In addition to practical clothing considerations, Icelanders also place value on fashion and style. Dressing well is a sign of respect and can help American expats in Iceland better integrate into Icelandic society.
American expats in Iceland: Adjusting to a new life
In conclusion, adapting to a new culture can be both exciting and challenging, and understanding local customs is essential to making the most out of the experience.
For American expats in Iceland, learning about and embracing Icelandic customs can help build stronger relationships with Icelandic colleagues, friends, and neighbors, as well as deepen their appreciation for Icelandic culture.
It’s important to remember that adapting to a new culture takes time and patience, and it’s okay to make mistakes along the way.
However, by making an effort to learn and understand local customs, American expats in Iceland can make a positive impression and integrate into Icelandic society more effectively.
In conclusion, living in Iceland as an American expat can be an enriching experience.
By embracing Icelandic customs and traditions, American expats in Iceland can deepen their connection to the country and its people and make the most of their time living in this beautiful and unique country.
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