How to blend in with the Icelanders

Culture and Culinary Tours

As tourism grows like crazy the world over, savvy travellers are choosing to blend with the locals for friendlier service, to avoid possible tourist scams or pickpockets and last but not least (and probably most important), to gain a more authentic experience.

In fact, we Icelanders are still quite happy with our tourists who bring a lot of flavour and fun to our sparsely populated island and we don't have any pickpockets here either (I don't think…).  Still, you may want to: "while in Reykjavik, do as the Reykjavikings do". So, here are our top five tips on how to blend in with the locals:

1. Ditch that Parka!  Yes, it's cold(ish) here 9 -10 months of the year and yes it's, indeed, very clever and advised to wear hiking boots, thermal pants, that North Face parka, a woolly hat (a.k.a. beanie) and gloves in the wind, rain, sleet or whatever Iceland might bring. But you rarely catch us Icelanders dressing according to weather, at least in the city.  So, if you want to experience the Reykjavik nightlife like a local, ditch that parka, and dress up!  When we go out on the weekends for dinner or a pub crawl we like to dress up – and yes even sometimes put on short skirts and high heels in spite of 10 inches of snow.  The outfit of choice is black, oh, how we Icelanders love black! … surprising really, when we have almost no sunlight in the winter months but there you have it.

How to blend in with the Icelanders

2. Prance around naked in the swimming pool changing rooms.  So, maybe you haven’t been naked in front of anyone in daylight since you were 3 years old, but hey, this is what the Icelanders do and no one knows you here so just go with the flow.  It's really very liberating to strike up a conversation with a stranger by the shower stalls or blow dry your hair in the nude!

 Shower before swimming

3. Nod and smile at random strangers – we Icelanders are all, either related, former school buddies, ex-work colleagues or old one-night-stands. So even though you don't remember someone, it's more likely than not that you know each other. So if someone greets you, it's always safest simply to nod and wave back, no questions asked.

4. Don't acknowledge the northern lights.  You know you've gone local when someone yells there are amazing northern lights out but you're watching that latest episode of Poldark and just can't be bothered to go outside and take a look.  So, if you're wandering downtown Reykjavik late at night and start to notice upturned heads and a lot of oohs and aahs, don't look up and shout "OMG, they're amazing!", just keep your head down in quiet admiration and keep going.  Pro-tip: Avoid the light pollution of the city and take a northern lights tour in the countryside instead, where dropping your cool is acceptable.

Liqourice

5. Buy candy.  At the supermarket, nothing screams Airbnb tourist like a shopping cart with nothing but a jar of Rapunzel organic peanut butter, a box of skyr (Iceland's most famous dairy product) and a can of beer. First of all, every local knows that the only beer sold in supermarkets is non-alcoholic. You have to go to the liquor store or Vínbúðin to get the real thing.  If you need something just to quench your thirst, buy a coke and please, no bottles of still water – the tap water is the same exact water and it's free.  And for god's sake, buy some candy to throw in there!  We Icelanders love our full-sugar candy, so a box of, for example, Hraunbitar chocolates and any sort of black liquorice would look good in there. Now your shopping cart looks like you‘re a local heading home for a "kósíkvöld" or cozy night in front of the telly. (FYI Poldark is on Sunday evenings AND has an Icelandic actress in a lead role.) Pro-tip: The Icelandic grocery store chain Hagkaup has half-off on bulk candy on Saturday nights. It's the start to any great weekend! 

 

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