A few weeks ago, I visited Iceland. While I knew the country would be beautiful, I also learned on my trip that Iceland is full of friendly, welcoming people. And despite the fact that I was there alone, I never felt unsafe or uncomfortable.
You probably already know some of the more notable differences between life in Iceland and life in the United States, like the amount of sunshine there is (the longest day in December is five hours of sunlight, but in the summer there can be up to 21 hours of sunlight), the money (Iceland has their own currency), and the food (Iceland is known for their eclectic dishes, like whale and shark).
There are smaller, less well-known differences as well, some of which could affect your trip. So if you plan on going to Iceland, they are definitely worth being aware of. Below are a few of the surprising cultural differences between the two countries:
Iceland is ranked number one for gender equality, while the United States is ranked 49
When it comes to gender equality, Iceland is doing a whole lot better than the US. According to data from 2017 research by the World Economic Forum, the United States is ranked at 49 in a list of 144 countries when it comes to gender equality. Iceland, on the other hand, is consistently ranked number one.
From 2009 until 2013, the country had a female prime minister (Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir), and, according to Guide To Iceland, women hold 30 of the country’s 62 parliamentary seats. The difference is apparent when you’re there, as everyone seems to act like equals.
Most Icelanders work two or three jobs
When I was in Iceland, I got to spend some time speaking with a woman who grew up and lives there, and she told me a lot about their culture (most Icelanders are super proud of their country and will talk about it a lot).
One of the most interesting things she told me is that most Icelanders hold two or three jobs, especially in the winter — she herself was a college professor, as well as a representative for Icelandair, and sometimes a tour guide. She told me this is because they have to keep themselves busy during the long, dark days of winter so that they don’t get depressed.
Americans definitely work a lot as well, and while a good portion of the population holds more than one job, but it’s not for the same reasons. In the US, we have more than one job to make money and afford our lifestyles. In Iceland, it seems to be more about keeping busy — which, of course, isn’t true for everyone there.
Iceland is a safer country than the US
Iceland is an extremely safe country and is often said to be one of the safest countries for female travelers to visit alone. You can feel this everywhere you go there — not once did I feel threatened, nervous to walk around by myself, or worried about where I was. In fact, SafeAround.com says that tourists have more of a risk of getting hurt due to natural hazards than anything else.
Iceland has an extremely low crime rate, which could also be attributed to the small population. The tour guide I spoke with while I was there showed me a prison in Reykjavik — it was small, in the middle of the town, and, according to her, empty most of the time. America? Uh, not so much.
Stores close very early in Iceland
One of the most jarring things about Iceland, to me, is that the stores close very early, and open kind of late as well. According to Live Life With A View, many stores, even grocery stores, close by 6 p.m. — and anything open later than that is more expensive. This was a pretty big difference for me, as I’m from New York, where an early closing time is more like 9 p.m. for me.
Icelanders are more active than Americans and have a different view on nature
One thing I noticed about Iceland was the importance of nature and the emphasis on being active. Everyone there seemed fit and active, and my tour guide told me this is definitely true. Many Icelanders exercise very often, especially in the winter. Icelanders also feel a deep connection to nature, as Mountain Guides explains, and they are very conscious of keeping their land safe and clean.
It’s not unusual to see a sleeping baby outside, all alone
Remember how I said Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world? Well, it's so safe that parents don't give a second thought to leaving their sleeping children outside, in a stroller, all alone.
It's not unusual to see a sleeping baby outside while their parents are inside a cafe or in a store. According to Guide To Iceland, many Icelanders believe that being outside is essential for a baby's health. On top of that, crime rates are extremely low and abductions are almost unheard of. This could is something that could never happen in America — and if it did, the parents would surely be getting a visit from Child Protective Services.
Nudity is not as big of a deal in Iceland as it is in America
It's not shocking that nudity isn't a big deal in Iceland — after all, it is part of Europe, which is generally more lax than Americans about nudity and sexuality. But in Iceland, it's very apparent. For one thing, as I Heart Reykjavik says, you have to shower naked before entering any of the geothermal baths (including the popular Blue Lagoon), and you do so in a public shower with no stalls. So, yes, you walk around a locker room full of naked people to shower off before going in the baths. And yes, you are expected to act like it's no big deal.
Elves play a big part in Icelandic life
During many of the tours I took in Iceland, I kept noticing the guides mentioning elves. The first time, I didn't give it a second thought. The second time, I thought, "huh, weird." The third and fourth time, I was feeling very confused. Apparently, elves play a big part in Icelandic life, and while everyone doesn't believe in them, many people do.
While you're there, you'll inevitably hear the story of the elves, called huldufolk, according to Why Go Iceland. Icelanders say that if the elves don't like a new construction project, the project will be moved. If something "mysterious" happens during construction, they will stop construction.
In fact, Why Go Iceland says there is even a school Icelanders can go to to learn how to speak with elves. This is not a belief that would hold very strong in America.
There aren’t really last names in Iceland
There are some exceptions to this, but in general, Guide To Iceland says Icelanders don’t have surnames or family names. Most people have a last name that is patronymic, meaning it’s their father’s first name with the suffix of -dóttir (daughter) or -son attached. Women generally do not change their names when they get married. In recent years, matronymic names are becoming more popular, which is a last name based on the mother’s name.
Another thing about names: in Iceland, everyone is pretty much called by their first name, including teachers, doctors, and politicians. This is clearly very different from the way things are done in the United States.
Iceland has a huge party culture
One thing you'll learn pretty quickly about Iceland is that, like Icelandic Language says, they love to party. My tour guide told me this several times, stating that many people drink heavily there, and everyone loves to party at the bars all night long. Noise is not unusual, and most people there don't think twice about large, loud, drunken groups very late at night.
Icelanders place a higher priority on health
Like many other European countries, Iceland places a lot of importance on health. According to Why Go Iceland, it's illegal to use hormones in meat that people will eat, and there is an emphasis on healthy and organic meals. And, again, they are very active people who spend a lot of time exercising and being outdoors.
On top of that, Grapevine says Iceland has universal healthcare, where all hospital admissions are paid for, and most outpatient visits are paid for as well. Oh, and according to CNN, parental leave is pretty awesome there: they offer nine months at 80% pay, which is three months for the mom, three for the dad, and then three to be divided between the two.
Marriage isn’t that big of a deal in Iceland
Formal marriage is not as popular in Iceland as it is in the United States. In fact, CNN says 67% of the babies born in Iceland are born to unwed parents — compare that to 39% in the US. Marriage is just not as important there as it is in the United States.
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What is Icelandic culture like? ›
Aside from their Viking roots, Icelanders have a strong culture of food, literature and the arts. The capital of Reykjavik has galleries, bookstores, theatres and a symphony orchestra. In fact, Icelandic music has become its own genre, combining pop and folk.Why are Icelandic people so big? ›
A traditional Icelandic diet will include lamb, rye bread, and a huge variety of fresh fish. These foods are high in protein, which is the most important macronutrient for building muscle. The diet is largely free from processed foods, sugars, and flour, especially in the average Western diet.Are Icelandic people happy? ›
Its people are tough and resilient, but they are also genuinely kind. Time and time again, the Icelandic people come out top of the UN's World Happiness Report. Long winters and harsh weather may make living conditions a challenge, but the Icelandic people are incredibly cheerful and optimistic.What are people from Iceland called? ›
Icelanders (Icelandic: Íslendingar) are a North Germanic ethnic group and nation who are native to the island country of Iceland and speak Icelandic.What is the most common hair color in Iceland? ›
In fact, it is thought that up to 50% of the Icelandic gene pool is from Ireland. Thus, the most common hair colour is a dark blonde, or mousey brown... whilst the most common eye-colour is blue (—fine, some stereotypes live up to the name.)What drink is Iceland known for? ›
Brennivín (Icelandic pronunciation: [ˈprɛnnɪˌviːn]) is considered to be Iceland's signature distilled beverage. It is distilled from fermented grain mash and then combined with Iceland's very soft, high-pH water, and flavored only with caraway.How tall are Icelandic people? ›
10. Iceland — 173.21cm (5 feet 8.19 inches) Icelandic people have an average height of 173.21cm (5 feet 8.19 inches.) Icelandic women are 165.94cm (5 feet 5.15 inches) tall on average, while Icelandic men are an average 180.49cm (5 feet 11.05 inches) tall.Do people in Iceland have last names? ›
There are a few exceptions, usually for the children of incomers. In Iceland, a person is called by their first name in both formal and informal situations, or sometimes addressed using both names. As family names generally don't exist, the last name (son and daughter of) is never used on its own.Is divorce high in Iceland? ›
Number of divorces is similar
Although the number of divorces has increased slightly, from 545 in 2000 to 687 in 2020, the divorce rate calculated as divorces per 1,000 inhabitants, is quite stable. The divorce rate was 1.9 in 2020 showing a slight increase from 1.8 in 2000.
For the last two decades, one third of all marriages in Iceland has ended in divorce reports the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, RÚV. Divorce usually occurs after 3 – 4 years of marriage while as break-ups are most common after less than two years of living together outside of wedlock.
What is Iceland proud of? ›
Icelanders are proud of their Viking heritage and Icelandic language and take great care to preserve their traditions. Modern Icelandic remains close to the Old Norse spoken in the Viking Age. Until the Christianization of Iceland, many traditional Viking beliefs were strongly held, remnants of which remain today.What are Icelandic facial features? ›
Light hair and blue/green eyes are two of the most common physical traits of Icelandic people. However, once you spend a little time in Iceland, you'll notice those subtle, oh-so-hard to describe qualities that comprise an Icelandic face.Do Icelandic people have curly hair? ›
A quick glance around Reykjavík would make you think that most Icelanders are fairly tall. There is a high proportion of blonde people with blue eyes, and few locals have curly hair.Is Iceland friendly to American tourists? ›
As a tourist you should not notice "hostility" from Icelanders. Yes there are mixed feelings with the US politics, but it's goes in both directions. In fact USA has been one of Iceland's most important allies for the last 50-60 years. You will be welcomed and treated as every other tourist that comes here.Why is there no McDonald's in Iceland? ›
Iceland was home to 3 or 4 (sources differ) McDonald's restaurants until the country's financial crisis in 2009. With the collapse of the country's currency, the cost of importing the restaurants' required food products reportedly doubled, forcing all locations to shut down.Is there a Mcdonalds in Iceland? ›
Chain Restaurants for Fast Food Reykjavik
As mentioned earlier, Iceland is one of the few countries in the world without a McDonald's and there is no Starbucks either.
Iceland, the land of fire and ice, has become a popular travel destination over the past few years. From the country's magnificent glaciers, thundering waterfalls and epic natural nighttime displays, it's easy to see why travellers are escaping to the edge of the world.What is the rarest color of hair? ›
Red is the rarest hair color, according to Dr. Kaplan, and that's because so few MC1R variants are associated with the shade. “Only three variants are associated with red hair,” she says. “If a person has two of these three variants, they almost certainly have red hair.What country has the most blonde hair blue eyes? ›
Finland. Finland has the highest blond hair population by percentage of the total population. Nearly 80% of the population has blond hair, and an astounding 89% of the population has blue eyes. Blond hair and blue eyes are one of the rarest combinations in the world.What nationality has blonde hair? ›
Some sources, such as Eupedia, claim that in central parts of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Finland, 80% of the population is blonde, with natural fair-haired people in other Baltic Countries (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and other parts of Scandinavia) making up 50-79% of the population.
What is the drinking age in Iceland? ›
The legal drinking age in Iceland is 20. Grocery stores only have low-alcohol beer; all other alcohol is sold in state-controlled stores called Vínbúð, with limited opening hours. If you're arriving by plane and want to have some stronger alcohol on you, we advise to get some at the airport.What is a typical Icelandic breakfast? ›
A typical Icelandic breakfast can include thick oatmeal (hafragrautur), Skyr with jam, bread with butter, and cod liver oil.What is the most popular dessert in Iceland? ›
Undoubtedly the most famous Icelandic dessert product is Skyr which can be found in supermarkets worldwide and is most likened to a yoghurt. It is slightly different to standard yoghurt however and there are several varieties available in Iceland, such as drinkable, fruit flavoured and creamed Skyr.What nationality is the tallest? ›
According to the report, the Netherlands is still the world's tallest nation with the average height in the country for men 183.78 cm, or 6 foot, and 170.36 cm, or 5 foot 7 inches for women.What is the tallest race? ›
* Dutch men are the tallest on the planet, with an average height of 182.5cm. Latvian women are the tallest on the planet, with an average height of 170cm. * The top four tallest countries for men are the Netherlands, Belgium, Estonia and Latvia.Which country has the tallest females? ›
The Netherlands is renowned for its tall population and unsurprisingly the nation has the tallest average height on Earth. The average 19-year-old man stands at 183 cm, while women of the same age are typically 172 cm.What is the most common female name in Iceland? ›
Guðrún. With its origins in Norse mythology, Guðrún is the most common Icelandic women's name.What is the most common name in Iceland? ›
For males the top three names are: Jón, Sigurður and Guðmundur. 6216 people in Iceland are named Guðrún, making it the most popular name of all. The name is female and means the letter of god. 6194 people in Iceland are named Jón.What is my name in Icelandic? ›
How to say "my name is..." and ask "what is your name?" in IcelandicAre the Icelandic people friendly? ›
As well as being open-hearted and kind, Icelandic people are consistently rated as the happiest in the world! That happiness translates into how locals treat each other and how they welcome the many seasonal visitors. Most Icelanders are non-judgemental, laid back, and down to earth.
Can Americans get married in Iceland? ›
The laws regarding marriage in Iceland changed on February 1, 2013 and may affect the ability of U.S. citizens to marry in Iceland. The new law requires that both partners submit a certificate of marital status issued by the relevant authority in their country, state or region.Which religion has the highest divorce rate in the world? ›
Across gender, the disparity is wider (most men remarry but women can't, hence the disparity). For every 1,000 married Hindu women, 2.6 are divorced, while for 1,000 married Muslim women, 5.6 of them are divorced. As for men, the ratio is almost the same (1.5 for Hindu men and 1.6 for Muslim men).What is family life like in Iceland? ›
Family in Iceland is especially important, as the country is so small. Icelandic families are often larger than other Northern European countries. Extended family members usually don't live together but uncles, aunts, and grandparents often help with childcare.What country has the least marriages? ›
|Characteristic||Number of marriages per 1,000 population|
Based upon available data, the country with the lowest divorce rate in the world is Sri Lanka, with a divorce rate of 0.15 divorces per 1,000 residents. Vietnam and Guatemala have the next lowest rate at 0.2 divorces per every 1,000 residents.What is the traditional clothing in Iceland? ›
The one considered most traditional consists of woolen breeches or trousers, a usually double buttoned vest and a double buttoned jacket called treyja. Sometimes a peysa with a single row of buttons is used in lieu of the vest and treyja. On the head is a tail cap, though historically different hats were also used.What is traditional Icelandic food? ›
The most typical food in Iceland involves fish, lamb, or Icelandic skyr (a type of yogurt). These have been the main elements in the Icelandic diet for over a thousand years. Icelandic meals are commonly meat-based due to the lack of farmable lands in the past.Who is the richest person in Iceland? ›
Some of Iceland's earliest settlers brought slaves and servants from their Scandinavian homeland. Some of these servants and slaves were from Asian countries. It's possible that some people in Iceland who look Asian today are descendants of servants and slaves.What religion is in Iceland? ›
According to January figures from Statistics Iceland, members of the ELC make up 62.3 percent of the population; persons not belonging to any religious group, 7.6 percent; Roman Catholic Church, 4.0 percent; Free Lutheran Church in Reykjavik, 2.7 percent; Free Lutheran Church in Hafnarfjordur, 2.0 percent; ...
What happens if you get your hair wet in the Blue Lagoon? ›
The geothermal water at Blue Lagoon has high levels of silica, and while silica is not harmful to hair (I repeat, NOT harmful to hair — don't panic!), it can become stiff and difficult to manage once wet. You will feel the mineral buildup and you will need to treat it.Can you have cats in Iceland? ›
Bringing cats to Iceland
You will need to apply for an import license, and your cat will be quarantined for 14 days on arrival in Iceland, at your expense. Your cat must be microchipped, vaccinated, and tested for various illnesses.
In the Blue Lagoon you will be advised to wash your hair. If you wash your hair before going into the thermal bath, your hair will have less silicia, which makes your hair dry.What do Icelandic people think about Americans? ›
The individual American is most often friendly and kind. Not necessarily so different from the average European. The biggest difference for me is how they will casually start a conversation with strangers (Canadians do this as well).What is Icelandic culture like? ›
Aside from their Viking roots, Icelanders have a strong culture of food, literature and the arts. The capital of Reykjavik has galleries, bookstores, theatres and a symphony orchestra. In fact, Icelandic music has become its own genre, combining pop and folk.What do the locals call Iceland? ›
Currently Icelanders call Iceland Iceland, written Ísland, and pronounced Ee-sland, but Greenlanders do not call their country Greenland. In their Inuit language it is called Kalaallit Nunaat, which means “Land of the People.” The names we use come from our Norse ancestors.What kind of society is Iceland? ›
Iceland is a constitutional republic with a multi-party system. The head of state is the President. Executive power is exercised by the Government. Iceland is arguably the world's oldest parliamentary democracy, with the Parliament, the Althingi, established in 930.Do Icelanders drink alot? ›
People in Iceland consume alcohol less frequently than people in the other Nordic. The European Health Interview Survey (EHIS) suggests that people in Iceland drink less frequently than people in the other Nordic countries.What is Iceland known for? ›
Iceland is most famous for its rugged landscapes and scenery. The Northern Lights, Blue Lagoon, volcanoes, glaciers, and waterfalls top the list of must-sees. Iceland is also famous for its history and being settled by the Vikings. It is known as “The Land of Fire and Ice” due to its contrasting landscapes.Are Icelandic people punctual? ›
Punctuality. When it comes to time keeping Iceland is similar to other Nordic countries. Punctuality is highly valued and if one is running late for a meeting it is both polite and recommended to let the host know about the delay.
What do Icelanders call their parents? ›
In Iceland in 2015–2019, there were a total of 6,100 pregnancies annually. Of these, 2,500 pregnancies were unintended and 990 ended in abortion. Abortion in Iceland is legal on request.What is drinking age in Iceland? ›
The legal drinking age in Iceland is 20. Grocery stores only have low-alcohol beer; all other alcohol is sold in state-controlled stores called Vínbúð, with limited opening hours. If you're arriving by plane and want to have some stronger alcohol on you, we advise to get some at the airport.What is the age of consent in Iceland? ›
It is a criminal violation under the penal code to have sexual intercourse or other sexual relations with a child below the age of 15.What time is dinner in Iceland? ›
WHEN DO ICELANDERS ENJOY DINNER? Similar to many Scandinavian countries, it's very common to have dinner in Iceland at around 6 – 8PM. 7pm being the standard “dinner time”. Of course you can dine at every time you please but most restaurants in Reykjavik have their kitchens open from 6PM and until 22PM.Do Icelandic people have curly hair? ›
A quick glance around Reykjavík would make you think that most Icelanders are fairly tall. There is a high proportion of blonde people with blue eyes, and few locals have curly hair.Do they have McDonald's in Iceland? ›
Chain Restaurants for Fast Food Reykjavik
As mentioned earlier, Iceland is one of the few countries in the world without a McDonald's and there is no Starbucks either.
Amongt the pieces of advice he received were: Sniffing instead of blowing his nose and remembering to take of his shoes before entering a home. Those two things were considered manners in Iceland whereas elsewhere this is considered most impolite. Icelander Albert Eiríksson is an enthusiast on good etiquette.What are the table manners in Iceland? ›
If you are used to dining in other Nordic countries and in Europe, then dining in Iceland should not present any problems at all. Wrists should be resting on the table while keeping hands visible and the fork should be held in the left hand while the knife is held in the right. Throwing away food is frowned upon.Who is the richest person in Iceland? ›