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What NOT to do in Iceland

February 13, 2017

10 Things that are Guaranteed to Piss off Icelanders

Iceland has grown incredibly in popularity the past few years and the tourism agency in Iceland is quite proud and excited about that. But that doesn't mean the locals are. 

Remember that Iceland is a small country-the size of Kentucky- and has around 330,000 inhabitants. The infrastructure is not accustomed to large volumes of people or high traffic. Stores, museums, and sites can quickly become overrun by tourists. The country wasn't built as a high tourism spot. Icelanders-Scandinavians as well as Europeans, arguably-are very reserved. Not only is the country unprepared for loads of tourists, but the people as well. With the increasing amount of tourists in this previously willingly isolated country, there are just things you don't do.

Iceland isn't here to serve you.

You may also want to check out some odd Icelandic idioms and phrases you are likely to hear! 

1. Touching the Swans

This may seem strange, even unnecessary. But my god, I have heard so many stories of people getting attacked by these birds only to find out they tried to pet one or got too close to the babies. Maybe people forget this, but they are wild animals, not lawn furniture. You really don't want your eyes to be poked out or your arm broken by these beautiful animals. You won't find any sympathy from me.

2. Being loud

Icelanders are fairly reserved and quite quiet (unless it is a Saturday night). The locals say that you can easily spot a tourist just by how loud they are. If you are speaking loudly, shouting, squealing, or doing a number of other unpleasant noises, Icelanders will think you are drunk. Tourists can already be easy to spot, don't make it harder on yourself. Practice some internal squealing.

3. Being Sarcastic

Hey, FYI, English is not an Icelander's first language. While we do admittedly have some dark humor, it can be very difficult for sarcasm to come across in foreign languages or through translation. Your sarcasm may be taken at face value, leading to some confusion and even offense.

4. Calling their Horses Ponies

Icelandic horses are undoubtedly beautiful. They are a bit short, stalky, and have very thick coats. They grew to be accustomed to the Icelandic climate and don't necessarily look like the horses back home. Because they can be short in stature, some people refer to them as ponies. If you do this in front of its owner, you may want to back away slowly...or even take off running.

Icelandic horses are a result of selective breeding and training. They are beautifully unique and truly something incredible. Farmers and ranchers take a lot of time to raise, take care of, and breed these horses. They are a huge pride and joy in Iceland, and rightfully so. What if I went up to your prized car you had worked years and paid a large sum of money to get and I said "what a cute wittle Big Wheel"?

5. Talking about Politics or their History

Icelanders boast a very traceable history and genealogy. They don't need you to contribute any information you picked up on Reddit. Unless you are some kind of expert or historian, maybe let the Icelanders do the talking. As far as politics go-this should be obvious. This is a touchy subject in the United States and you most likely don't know anything about their politics or legal systems (otherwise do you really need to be reading this article?)

And, don't call Iceland "Norway's adopted child" or "Denmark's little brother". My God. For your safety, refrain from this. Please!

6. Expecting to See the Midnight Sun in Winter/Northern Lights in Summer

I have heard so many people complaining they didn't get to see either of these attractions as "advertised". Iceland is a country not a business you dorkface! Iceland does not serve you, and neither does its people. You are coming as a visitor, not as someone entitled to whatever you want.

For the record: Northern Lights are best seen in the winter months. Midnight Sun is best seen in the summer months.

7. Driving Off-Road

Trying to capture the perfect Instagram shot of your car balanced precariously on a mountain glacier? Driving off-road is illegal in Iceland. Not only does it ruin nature (what you are here to see, right?) but it is also incredibly dangerous. While some glaciers you can drive on, be sure that you follow any and all regulations and laws. Do not take any chances. People have died!

You also should get a car with four-wheel-drive. Iceland is rugged, especially in the highlands and glacial areas. You MUST have a 4wd car in the winter.

8. Go For a Walk on Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Why do people do this? Is this really worth the selfie? 

The lagoon itself is beautiful and in the winter you can see the Northern Lights dancing above so there is no mystery as to why this is a popular destination. There are plenty of signs warning people to not walk on the ice of the lagoon and tour guides are often in the area to remind people of this. Regardless, people ignore this and go walking around on the ice and even swim in the lagoon.

The ice may be connected to the land and looks safe to you, it can easily break off of the land and float away. You could find yourself on a block of ice, stranded and drifting away. The ice caps easily tip over and you would be plunged into sub-freezing temperature. The water is so cold that people can't stay in it more than a few minutes. You will get hypothermia and possibly die. The current can also pull you away.


9. Get Close to the Water on Reynisfjara Beach

This black sand beach is undoubtedly beautiful and there is no mystery as to why it is popular. However, there are jagged rocks scattered throughout the area and the waves are unpredictable. The undercurrent in the sea is ice cold and very strong, creating large waves that crash against the rocks.

If you get too close, even on a sunny day, you can easily be swept away. You can get injured, wet, develop hypothermia, and even die. Already in 2017, a woman was caught in the waves and drowned.

10. Complain About the Food/Lack of English

This is true in any country. You are a guest of this country, it does not work according to you. Icelanders have their own culture and language. Just because it is different than yours does not give you the liberty to complain. You chose to come here! 

Now, I've done what I could. If you get in any fights in Iceland you can't blame me! In the event you do succeed to piss off some locals, check out what swear words they may call you. Knowledge is power, right? 

Want more on Iceland? 

Traditional Icelandic Food You're Probably Afraid of

What NOT to do in Iceland

Ask Siggi: When is the Best Time to Visit Iceland? 

Icelandair 7 Day Stop Over

How to get to the Sólheimasandur Plane Crash

Essentials for Your Trip to Iceland

Icelandic Insults

Why I'm Not Impressed by the Blue Lagoon

Siggi Einarson

My name is Siggi-dubbed by my American friends because of the Icelandic yogurt-I am a writer, polyglot, and aspiring expat, not a cup of yogurt (unfortunately).

My love for travelling began with a trip to Iceland and Sweden to visit my family when I was just 15 years old. I spent so long dreaming of the possibilities of life abroad but I always figured these dreams were too far reached. Flash forward almost 10 years, here I am again, both cursing and thanking this damn travel bug.

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