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10 things tourists do in Iceland that drive the locals crazy

Photo: Tal Atlas

KT Browne

Iceland has gone the way of Santorini and Barcelona: it’s been overrun by tourists. According to the Icelandic Tourist Board, “the total number of foreign visitors was around 1.8 million in 2016, a 39% increase from 2015, when foreign visitors numbered around 1.3 million.” In a country of less than 335,000 inhabitants, 1.8 million visitors do not go unnoticed. So, to appease the Icelanders who are trying to get used to the invasion, please act like a decent human being and avoid doing the following 10 things or you may not be invited back.

1. Shit on things — literally.

I kid you not. Though Iceland is known for its vast, untouched land, it is also known as a country whose seemingly endless stretches of service-barren roadways prompt, eh, a different kind of natural wonder. But pooping on a deserted, mossy green space is one thing, squatting in the parking lot of a preschool in Reykjavík is another. Somehow, the tales of tourists who feel entitled to relieve their bowels wherever they please keep coming, and so do the “no pooping” signs that have been placed in various locations all around Iceland.

2. Ask where you can try fermented shark.

Most restaurants in Iceland do not carry fermented shark for the simple reason that it tastes a lot like rotten pickles (I’ve even heard people say it tastes like a urine-soaked mattress). Check out the supermarket’s selection of Þorramatur instead — it’s a lot fresher than shark and still includes weird things like ram’s testicles and sheep penis, if that’s what you’re after. Still, if you’re dead-set on trying shark, head to a bar. Many places keep a helping of it in the back for tourists to try. They’ll also try to sell you a generous helping of Brennivín to wash it down with (you’ll need it).

3. Crash their rental car while trying to find the Northern Lights.

The thing about the Northern Lights is that most of the time, they’re rather faint streaks of green that you can easily confuse with clouds. So, don’t try looking for them while driving. If the Northerns are out, you’ll see them. You won’t have to look. There’s nothing more aggravating than seeing a rental car that has fallen off the road because of a driver who was distracted by a cloudy sky.

4. Compare it to whatever country they’re coming from.

It is not like America or any other country in Europe. Here, English is spoken with an accent, people sometimes snort kind of loudly, and they’re super open about nudity — just accept it. This is Iceland. You came here to experience something new, after all!

5. Take pictures of everything.

First, they took pictures of the mountains. Then they took pictures of the water. Then the puffins. Then the rows of shoes outside a local swimming pool. Iceland is known as being a highly Instagram-friendly destination, but tourists have taken things to a whole new level; they don’t just casually carry a camera anymore and snap a photo at a particularly picturesque scene — they turn literally everything into a photo-op. But then again, what do I know? Maybe there really is something aesthetically monumental about Bónus supermarket’s yellow shopping bags.

6. Not showering without a bathing suit before going swimming.

In every pool in Iceland, there are signs everywhere that clearly illustrate that all guests must shower without their swimsuit (meaning naked) prior to entering the water. Icelanders take cleanliness very seriously, and no one hesitates to tell a swim-suited showerer to strip before they dip. You have no excuse — the signs are in about five languages!

7. Act like Iceland is the moon and Icelanders are extraterrestrials.

I mean it’s far, but it’s not that far. It’s a hell of a lot closer to the US than any other country in Europe, for that matter. I was in the pharmacy a few months ago and overheard a group of Americans approaching the cashier to ask “do you have any Aaaadvil here?”, over-enunciating the word with a blisteringly annoying twang as though a bottle of ibuprofen were some kind of rare gem. “Aaadvil. Do you have Aaadvil?” “Yes,” the cashier replied in perfect English. “We have ibuprofen, of course.” And yes, they also have hot dogs and acetaminophen (Tyyyyylenol).

8. Complain about the weather.

It sucks, your flight was cancelled/delayed, you got stuck on a mountain in a whiteout with nowhere to pee but into a water bottle, you ran out of gas, had to be towed to the nearest station fifty-two miles away by a farmer named Aðalmundur who spoke no English, and you arrived to your guesthouse afterhours so there was no one around, and you had to knock on someone’s door who claimed they could call their mother’s sister’s fiancée’s friend and get you checked in despite your tardiness because of the weather, or because of the highland’s potholed roads, or simply because you were scared shitless of the very real potentiality of careening off a mountain road without so much as a railing to protect your flimsy rental vehicle from the white-capped, savage Icelandic sea. We know. We’ve heard it all before. Welcome to Iceland, and deal with it.

9. Rave about the landscape and the light.

While it would be a disservice to the landscape of Iceland not to acknowledge its ridiculous beauty, there’s a fine, fine line between authentic appreciation and constantly raving about how fundamentally life-changing a mountain is. Take pictures, feel inspired, but please find something else to discuss while you’re here.

10. Complain about how expensive everything is.

Honestly, just stop. It’s a blessing for Icelanders. An expensive economy means (usually) wonderful social services, education, and healthcare; Iceland is fortunate enough to have all of these things.

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