Icelandic customs


Icelanders are extremely informal in manners and conduct. We greet everybody alike – we use first names and we don’t use titles.

·         The only people for whom we use the terms herra or frú (Mr/Ms – Sir /Madame)  are the president and the bishop of Iceland. And even this is fast disappearing because basically this just feels alien to most Icelanders.

·         The name system in Iceland is patronymic/matronymic – i.e. only a handful of people have surnames – the rest have the name of their father or mother with the addition of dóttir (daughter) or son (sonur). The tradition is to use the name of the father but nowadays more and more people are opting for their mothers’ names, particularly in families where the mother is the sole provider.

·         This system means that in most families, people have different surnames, i.e. the mother will have the name of her father + dóttir (like Jónsdóttir: daughter of Jón) and the father will have the name of his father + son (like Sigurðsson: son of Sigurður).  The children will have the name of their father (or mother) + dóttir or son.

·         NB. Women do not adopt the names of their husbands when they marry.

·         Never greet an Icelander with Mr/Ms + their surname (or patronym).  Always use first names.

·         Greetings are generally informal as well:

o   To people we know: halló, hæ,  sæll/sæl, (hello), góðan dag (good morning, good afternoon)

o   To people we don’t know: hallo, sæll/sæl, góðan dag.

·         Goodbye: bless (to everybody)


·         Dress is similarly informal in most places but many offices and banks have some sort of dress codes though it is rare that suits are obligatory – even the Icelandic parliament no longer expects men to wear suits and ties.



·         Our winters are generally long and dark so in our anticipation for the summer we celebrate the first day of summer (sumardagurinn fyrsti) in April (the third Thursday in April).  This is a national holiday in the country when optimistic people (mainly kids) parade with brass bands and sing about the joys of summer.

·         Our national holiday (Independence day) is on the             17th of June and is celebrated in a similar fashion, though the weather is usually somewhat warmer.

·         May 1st is also a national holiday – where we celebrate international workers’ day and also celebrated with outdoor activities.

·         Sailors’ Day is celebrated on the first Sunday in June so there is no extra day off for people.

·         The first weekend in August (bank holiday weekend) is a time of great outdoor festivals in several places around the country.  This is the biggest camping holiday in Iceland and I’m sorry to say – basically a drinking orgy for a lot of people.


·         Iceland is a very mountainous country and several small villages are surrounded by high mountains, which basically means, that they don’t see the sun for 4-6 weeks during the shortest days of winter.  In those villages it is customary to bake pancakes when the sun starts to shine again (usually around the end of January).


·         During the winter month of Þorri (from ca 20th January to 20th February) Icelanders have feasts all over the country where they eat traditional Icelandic food, such as singed sheep-heads, rotten shark, ram’s testicles marinated in whey and other such delicacies.  I don’t know how long we will keep this tradition because most of the younger generation would rather have pizzas and hamburgers.

·         Religious holidays are the same as everywhere else I suppose: Christmas, Easter, Whitsun.

·         It is customary for Icelandic students to work during their summer vacation (it is after all three months) and even during their Christmas vacation (which is 2-3 weeks).



·         In Iceland people always take off their shoes when they go into a private house, unless it is stated that shoes are allowed.