Iceland flagIcelandic business culture

Did you know about business culture in Iceland? Watch this video animation to find out some interesting facts:

Icelandic business culture is characterised by business communicationbusiness etiquettebusiness meeting etiquetteinternship and student placementscost of livingwork-life-balance and social media guide.

Located on the Mid-Atlantic ridge where the Arctic and North Atlantic Oceans meet, Iceland is a volcanic island in Nordic Europe. With a population of 320,000 people living on an island of 103,000 km2, Iceland ranks as Europe’s most sparsely populated country.

The easiest and most usual way to reach Iceland is by air. The main hub is Keflavík International Airport, which serves as Iceland’s base for most international flights. The airport is located approximately 50 km from Iceland’s capital Reykjavík, which also has its own airport, but due to its smaller size and runaways, is used mainly for domestic flights. With a population of 323,000 (in 2013) the world’s northernmost capital Reykjavík is Iceland’s heart since other cities in the country are considerably smaller and both governmental and economic activity are greatest in Reykjavík. In 2012, Iceland had almost 0.7 million visitors, twice its population.

As Iceland is not part of the European Union and so also not a member of the EMU, it has its own currency, the Icelandic króna. Iceland is however a member of the EEA, has applied for EU membership and is strongly linked with the EU through trade.

Since Iceland is such a small country with a small economy, it is not well protected from economic turbulence. The Icelandic economy is characterized by strong government intervention and a high level of free trade but compared with other Nordic countries, with the exception of Norway, government consumption is very low. Iceland’s economy relies heavily on exports of, marine products. In addition aluminium, software, ferro-silicon alloys, woollen goods and fishing industry- related products are important exports for Iceland’s economy. Iceland’s main trading partners are the EU, EFTA, the USA and Japan.

Iceland is known for its outstanding natural beauty. This volcanic island with glacier-cut fjords, green valleys and numerous rivers is renowned for the beauty and drama of extraordinary natural landscape. Almost 11% of the land is covered by ice. Because of Iceland’s extraordinary natural resources, it has managed to build its infrastructure in such a way that over 80% of energy consumed in Iceland is from renewable sources.

Iceland is also known for its vivid cultural scene, with a strong literary tradition and world renowned bands and artists such as Sigur Rós, Jónsi and Björk. This is remarkable as Iceland is a country of only 320,000 people. Reykjavik is well known for its art festival, restaurants and museums.

Due to the Gulf Stream the climate at the coast is quite mild when taking into account Iceland’s latitude. In the southern lowlands the average temperature in the wintertime is 0 °C and in July around 12 °C although there are normally a couple of days when temperatures reach peaks of 25 °C.

Iceland belongs to the Western European Time (CET) –zone, which means that the time in Iceland is GMT+0.

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Xenophobia: being a foreigner in Iceland

A common perception of Icelanders is that they can sometimes come across as being a bit withdrawn and uncommunicative. However, since they do not consider excessive cheerfulness and million dollar smiles as normal ways of greeting others, this is usually only the first impression as for the most part they are helpful and friendly people. Despite this, Iceland has a reputation as not being the easiest of places for foreigners, and it seems that there is some truth in this. There are not many foreigners working in Iceland, and it is generally considered a challenge for foreigners to find work in the country.

Iceland has one of the least racially mixed of populations. Almost 300 thousand people of Iceland’s 320 thousand residents (over 93%) are Icelanders. Despite this, Icelanders are culturally aware. Iceland is a highly developed country with a strong education system. In other words, despite few foreigners living in Iceland, there is no need to worry about Icelanders being ignorant about other cultures.

International business in Iceland

When doing business in a foreign country you need to be prepared to experience things that are different from those in your own culture. Without proper preparation and planning you may find yourself being struck by so called ‘cultural shock’ that may have a negative influence on the outcomes of business dealings. It is understandable that as an active business person you can only invest a limited amount of time in exploring cultural differences. Sometimes it is only a few hours after landing in a new country that you find yourself in a meeting room talking business.

General education

The Icelandic education system has its roots in the Danish equivalent. There are four levels of education ranging from pre-school to the higher secondary stage with compulsory and upper secondary levels in between. This means that students can leave school at the age of 16 after the compulsory education stage if they want to. The Icelandic education system is considered to be one of the best there is. It is funded by the State, and there are not many private schools. Local authorities are responsible for primary and lower education whereas the State takes care of the rest including higher education institutions like universities. The Icelandic education system is founded on the principle of equality; everyone should have equal opportunities to get an education.

Icelanders are highly computer literate. As is the case with other Nordic people, they are known for being early adopters of emerging technologies. Icelanders are used to social networks, with over 217,000 Facebook users, over 70% of the population. In fact Iceland has the most internet users per capita in the world.

Educational standards

When doing business in a foreign country it is advantageous to have some knowledge about the language and computer competency of your counterparts. This may prove to be particularly useful in the preparation stage of negotiations. The knowledge of such issues may help to decide whether it is safe to rely on a host speaking your language or whether it is necessary to travel with an interpreter. In today’s world of computer technology and electronic communication this seems to be of the utmost importance as it may significantly increase the pace of the business negotiations. At least some knowledge about the business partner’s computer literacy may help you to have realistic appropriately adjust the expectations and to adjust the level of technology in your business activities, depending on your counterpart’s skills. This may also help to save time and money.

Other issues

Icelandic humour is not much different from that of other Nordic countries. They like to make fun of themselves, they are sarcastic and they make jokes about those who think of themselves too much. Some of this may have to do with the harsh natural conditions that Icelanders have been exposed to for centuries. Cracking a joke now and then even in difficult circumstances makes life easier to handle.

Cultural taboos

There are not many issues that would be taboo for Icelanders. One of the reasons for this might be that Iceland is a classless society that has never had an upper class. Taboos are often found in cultures with strong authoritative groups and class divisions so Icelanders are quite relaxed when it comes to taboos and rules on how to behave. Iceland is also a farming society and people who have grown up in such societies tend to be more open in many aspects. As in other Nordic countries there are often fewer taboos than in places such as the USA. Although Icelanders are relatively open minded and are happy to discuss almost anything once they know you, they are also quite reserved. As with those from other Nordic countries, once people get together for a beer or two the ice gets broken. Public baths in Iceland have the reputation of being places where one can just join a discussion without the fear of facing an awkward situation.

Although not a taboo, interestingly Icelanders have a tradition of not wearing raincoats or carrying umbrellas since rainwear is not considered fashionable and Icelanders are very fashion-conscious.  However, this is changing with the success of companies like 66° North. Iceland’s weather conditions are quite challenging since due to the strong winds, rain rarely falls straight down!

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