Ethnic groups: 93 percent Icelandic, 2 percent Scandinavian, 5 percent other
Language: Icelandic (de facto official), English
Currency: Icelandic króna (ISK)
National holidays: New Year’s Day (January 1), Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Day, Easter Monday, First Day of Summer (all moveable), May Day (May 1), Ascension, Whit Sunday, Whit Monday (all moveable), The Seamen’s Day (first Sunday of June), Icelandic National Day (June 17), Commerce Day (first Monday of August), Christmas (December 24 – 26), New Year’s Eve (December 31)
Business hours: 9am – 5pm typically, but Government offices will close at 4pm or 3pm. Shops are mostly open until 5pm, although in bigger cities they will be open later
‘Straight-talking’ is common in Iceland; in this way it differs to some other European countries, such as Ireland, where politeness and congeniality is favoured above direct and truthful speech. Expect fluent English among a significant proportion of the population; it is almost universal in business, so don’t be afraid to make your approach in English, whether spoken or via email/telephone.
Icelandic business structures vary; many mirror Western-styles, and this makes sense considering the widespread use of English as a business language and also the fact that there is no time difference between Iceland and the UK. Business between the two countries is encouraged, and the similar business structures make this easier. As with many countries, you'll also find a share of family businesses where traditional distributions of authority and power may be different; in these cases get a feel for the company and make sure you respect all familial ties.
Punctuality is considered very important in Iceland – phone ahead if you are going to be late. Handshakes are traditional at the start and end of a meeting; go for a firm handshake and maintain eye contact throughout, and make sure you shake hands with all attendees.
Meetings and presentations are always characterised by ‘straight-talking’ – people are expected to put their cards on the table and be honest at all times. Talking round a subject may be seen as a sign of disrespect or dishonesty so be direct at all times, and never promise what you can’t deliver. Icelandic people are not afraid to talk about pricing, and when payment is due, so don’t be scared to bring it up.
If making a presentation yourself, stick to the facts and keep PowerPoint slides short and snappy.
People in Iceland are very truthful and comfortable with themselves so teams can work very well, although bear in mind that this truthfulness – which can come at the expense of politeness – can also create rifts, so it’s important to try and match personalities and also maintain scrutiny of teams to ensure there are no problems.
Icelandic people take pride in their appearance, and you should do the same, particularly as a guest of the country. Dress formally at all times (business suits for men and women), particularly at important business functions, ensuring your suits are well-pressed. Some people may dress casually, but these are likely to be locals, and you shouldn’t copy them.