Icelanders can be very kind and tolerant neighbors. It’s very rare to get in a fight with sober Icelanders over most things, probably because either they don’t care much about what goes on around them or because they are too absorbed in their own businesses — unlike what happens in other countries where speculating about neighbors is a popular pastime. I’m not sure yet about what passes through the mind of Icelanders when I speak to them, but on the surface they usually look patient and easygoing. Unless you want to piss them off in special way, it’s not common to see Icelanders snap, but believe it or not, they too have a few things that make them mad, although in a rather subtle and undramatic manner. It’s always wrong to generalize and I cannot guarantee the desired results, but keeping a few of these points in mind if you are going to live in Iceland may help you not getting along with people around you.
1. Be Loud
If you except the crowd of the drunken downtown week-ends, Icelanders are usually rather quiet. Only rarely I’ve heard them yelling in public places and almost never I’ve heard them shouting at home. Teenagers and children are sort of a special case, but they too, on average, are not particularly noisy. Foreigners in Iceland are easily recognizable because they’re louder than any local. If you want to have people in a range of five hundred meters know you’re a foreigner, just be loud. But revealing yourself as a turbulent outsider also means local people will treat you as such, with all the implied pros and cons.
2. Assume Your Sense Of Humor Will Work Anywhere
This is perhaps dangerously generic. Because it’s kind of obvious every person has a unique and personal take on what is funny and what is not. For instance, I don’t get how Icelanders can laugh so hard at the movies during scenes that to me appear to be very tragic and how, on the other hand, they can remain totally indifferent munching their popcorn on other occasions. Anyhow, so far I don’t remember ever being successful with any sarcastic remark here in Iceland. Maybe the sense of what I was trying to say got lost in translation or, more likely, I’m an incredibly lousy humorist; maybe it’s just that I still don’t get at all what the Icelandic humor is made of. If you want to be funny à la Douglas Adams at all costs, first of all be sure your interlocutor has read and most of all understood what is the importance of number 42. Personally, I’ve been risking a diplomatic incident many times already, so as a rule I decided to shut up unless talking is absolutely necessary.
3. Be Straightforward
This is a huge don’t for most Icelanders. They will do anything to keep a friendly appearance without getting too much involved. Ask them anything and they will always reply in a very reassuring manner. This doesn’t mean though they will do what they have promised or that their assurance actually means they agree with you and they are on your side. It would be all right if this attitude were limited only to small trivialities, but Icelanders usually switch to this mode regardless the urgency and the seriousness of the situation. Try to get your neighbor taking action if there is the chance of a fire in the building and see what happens. Very likely he will politely reply he will think about it tomorrow. As a foreigner living among Icelanders, you’re supposed to go along with the flow: content yourself with what your neighbors tell you and try to read between the lines without becoming paranoid, don’t ask for commitments, don’t try to be too frank — you don’t really want to freak the locals out, do you? Er, wait, I’m kinda lost here: wasn’t our purpose to piss them off?
4. Bring A Camera
Unless you disguise yourself as a tourist, sticking puffins, viking paraphernalia and Icelandic flags everywhere about your person, if you walk around with a camera and you actually use it for anything else beyond decorative purposes, then you’re a highly suspicious person. Even if you live in the neighborhood and you are seen everyday going around, running errands or simply taking a stroll — and thus on average days you are the most inoffensive and uninteresting person –, with a camera, especially if pointed at the wrong subjects, your status automatically upgrades to that of a potential crook. You will see your criminal aura skyrocketing the exact moment you will be pointing your camera at something off-limits — cats are not off-limits, don’t worry. If you go around with a camera in your own neighborhood, don’t be surprised if out of the blue somebody comes to ask if you’re a burglar.
5. Get A Dog
For many Icelanders, dogs are still farm animals. For older Icelanders in special way, the fact dogs are now allowed into the city is not only puzzling beyond logical comprehension, but also utterly disturbing. Isn’t it like having a cow or a goat for a pet? No, it’s much worse, because cows and goats at least are of some use. Posh dogs are a bit like cats, so they are almost OK. Other dogs are harder to accept though. Dogs are animals that spend most of their time peeing and pooping everywhere in such a careless manner, licking and scratching at random, intruding on respectable people’s private affairs with their beady semi-human eyes: how can this be legal?! Also, dogs are damn disorderly and noisy at home: their fur is all over the place, they look wild and dirty, they move around restlessly, they play with the craziest shit, sometimes they even bark… Yes, they bark! Terrible, right? Even some of the most open-minded neighbors might be bothered — though they will try to hide it — when your hyperactive scrawny-looking dog tries to approach them to get them and their children involved in an improvised football match.