On entering a person’s home in Iceland, you must always remove your shoes and leave them in the hallway. This rule applies to some public buildings i.e. medical centres, hospitals, schools; most will provide blue plastic shoe covers on entering the building. This respectable habit links to the weather; leaving your shoes on inside the house means you put snow and mud/sand in the house. There is one exception, and that is when you are wearing fancy shoes to a house party, the host may allow you to leave your shoes on – always ask first to make sure!
In Iceland people always shower naked with soap at the local swimming pool before entering the pool area. Icelanders are quite strict about personal hygiene and so taking a shower without swimwear is quite natural and commonplace at pools in Iceland. The men and women’s shower rooms are separate, and for anyone feeling uncomfortable about getting naked in a public place, there is usually a shower with a curtain in most pools.
When meeting and greeting people for the first time in Iceland, shake their hand and address them by their first name. Icelanders use their father’s first name as their surname and so for example, if you encounter Ragnar Þórsson (son of Ragnar Þór) do not address him using “Mr Þórsson,” just say “Ragnar” even if Ragnar is a priest, a teacher or a doctor.
At the end of a meal or snack in an Icelandic person home, it is customary to thank the host saying “takk fyrir mig” (literally, “thank you for me”). If you meet that person the next day or a few days later, it is polite to thank them again saying “takk fyrir siðast” (literally meaning “thank you for the last time”).
Iceland is an egalitarian and individualistic society, and ethics and unwritten rules between the sexes are not the same as in other parts of Europe, for example, do not expect a man to hold the door open for you ladies, or to pay the whole bill at a restaurant after a romantic evening out.
Icelanders are a nation of workers, and they appreciate conversations with visitors around work and occupation. There could be a possible misunderstanding if you speak positively about your unemployed status or early retirement. As for most Icelanders, they wish to work for as many years as they can in the hope of exceeding retirement age.
The family is very important in Iceland, and having children young is not a problem neither is changing partners during your lifetime. Stepfamilies are common and accepted in Icelandic society, with the whole extended family working well together and treating the stepchildren as their own. It’s rare that an Icelandic woman has her first child after 30 years of age. If you are a man or woman, and you don’t wish to have children, it will come as a surprise to your Icelandic contacts and friends.
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