The traveler who comes to Iceland is sure to experience the proverbial culture shock. Iceland is something quite distinct. Let us look at some factors that contribute to the uniqueness of this phenomenon – culture shock in Iceland: 

Culture shock in Iceland

Icelandic culture has a flavor of its own, just like the culture of more exotic and far-away places, like, say, Mexico.

The language is unfamiliar to the visitor. It is unlike anything spoken elsewhere, though the written form strongly resembles that used in the Faeroe Islands. The harsh-sounding unvoiced consonants may be compared to Spanish, but the words are mostly unfamiliar gibberish to the untrained ear. 

People’s names seen outlandish to you, the newcomer, except for the odd María or Anna or Tómas or Jakob you meet, For instance, why do married people have different surnames? And why do their offspring have different surnames from that of their parents? 

Another distinctive feature is the Christmas tradition in Iceland. There are monsters afoot at Christmas Eve, and the merry grandfatherly Santa Claus is a newcomer.

Iceland used to be a cultural melting-pot during the colonization era, over a thousand years ago. The history of Iceland is quite distinct from that of other Scandinavian countries and if you intend to stay in Iceland, there is a lot of things you have to know about ghosts and spooks. Some of them can even be dangerous. 

Today, Reykjavík seems full of people hailing from other countries, working for a spell or intending to settle. A new kind of migration era is upon us, and diversity becomes a key word. 

Protest against Alcoa in Reykjavik sumer 2006


Of course, art in the broadest sense of the word is the key to a new culture. Rock music from Iceland is listened to world-wide. Let us name Björk and Sigur Rós for starters.  There are also festivals such as the Reykjavík Art Festival, featuring concerts of all sorts, and the rock festival Airwaves. Another gathering that has gained momentum in Reykjavík is the yearly Gay Parade. 

Icelandic films are also worth mentioning, and Icelandic directors have become well-known. Icelandic theatre productions are performed in major cities both sides of the Atlantic.

Writers galore, from all periods, both famous and anonymous. In the Middle ages, Snorri Sturluson wrote several sagas and other gems, some of which had been part of an oral tradition since heathen times. He had quite a few medieval colleagues, and readers all over are still enjoying their works. Nearer to us in time there are some fantastic writers ranging from crime fiction to poetry and all sorts in between and of course Laxness who received the Nobel Price for literature 1955.

Let’s not forget about the visual arts. Painters, sculptors… you name it. There is Erro who chose to live in Paris, and there is Ólafur Elíasson, author of the Weather Project. He lives in Berlin. 

The Weather Project by Ólafur Elísson in Tate Modern


Culture is also to be found on street corners downtown. You will find a lot of pubs in Iceland, and it may come as a surprise that beer was actually banned from 1915 to 1 March 1989. Alternatively, your average Icelander relies on the swimming-pool when he wants to socialize. In the hot pot, everyone is equal, and equally semi-naked. The minister wears the same type of swimming-trunk as everybody else. 

Culture can aim at shocking. An instance of this is tag art, graffiti, savage mural painting, of which we have plenty in the capital of Iceland.

Culture shock, anyone?