whale photoWe all know that we don’t pat the back of a colleague in Korea to thank them for a “job well done”. Or eat with your left hand in India, or sip vodka in Russia. In many countries, these actions are harmless. But in others, they can give a wrong impression or cause offense.

In fact, whatever culture you’re from, it’s likely that you routinely do something that could cause offense somewhere else in the world. So here is:

A primer on how to avoid mistakes in Iceland – 4 things to keep in mind

Some Icelanders believe in the hidden people — called huldufólk — and a few claim to have seen them. They are analogous to elves, but are often considered separate.

There is even a museum in Reykjavík devoted to the hidden people. This is an ancient Icelandic belief and most Icelanders respect the tradition. Skepticism thus can appear rude. Many tourists, including other Europeans, see Icelanders as gruff and unapproachable. This is generally just a first impression and most people are friendly and helpful.

It is customary for one to take one’s shoes off after entering private homes. In case your hosts do not mind, they will say so.

Tipping is not expected in Iceland; some Icelandic companies have started having a tipping jar next to the cash register but these are generally ignored. Punctuality is not as important in Iceland as it is in many other northern European countries. People may often not appear until 15 minutes later than the stated time, and even much later than that for parties or other social gatherings.

If you feel an urge to discuss the global economic crisis, keep in mind that it is an emotive issue – Iceland has suffered more than many in the banking crisis and ordinary people have lost a great deal of purchasing power

It is not uncommon for an Icelander to ask a foreigner for his or her opinion of Iceland as a first question. The standard question is: “How do you like Iceland?” This is in large due to Iceland being a very small country (with regards to population dispersion), but it is also a country-wide inside joke of sorts. It is often best to be positive, as many Icelanders are likely to be offended by negative views of their country and thus get defensive.

Iceland is one of only a few countries with an active whaling industry, and if you choose to assert an anti-whaling position expect some Icelanders to have strong pro-whaling opinions and be well prepared to argue the issue and do not expect to win the argument.

With this, you had the primer on key facts about Iceland, and key facts on culture and customs. Another important part of the culture is the local food and the local drinks. Make sure you read our posts on Iceland food and drinks:

Local food you should try in Iceland and No miss drinks in Iceland.

Other tips that you’d like to share on mistakes to avoid in Iceland? Please comment below.