Iceland is small but not yet sated market. Especially now, when the economy is rising from its knees after financial crisis and people anew start to feel the prosperity and thus boost their consumption. It’s a great moment to start a business in Iceland or with Icelanders. Question is how to start.

Making first contact

If we don’t have any acquaintances among Icelanders best option is to start with Facebook as 95% of households on Iceland is connected to the Internet and 72% actively uses this social platform. Actually Qatar is the only country surpassing them, with an impressive ratio of 81%. Women make up 52% of users and men 48%. Cited survey also shows that social networking sites are mostly used by people aged 25-34, followed by people 18-24. What’s more it’s way more certain that we’ll get a reply than when using emails – Icelanders have bad reputation when it comes to replying to emails.

Another factor that eases establishing relations with Icelanders is the fact that on Iceland there had never been social classes, thus the distance is shortened really quickly and salutations boil down only to first name – it applies to school system, work relations, business meetings and emails. Even in telephone directories people are listed by their first names. This is because of the way in which surnames are built – a combination of the father’s or mother’s first name plus ‘dottir’ (daughter) or ‘son’. For example son of Fridrik Olafsson – Gisli will be named Gisli Fridriksson and not Gisli Olafsson and daughter Birgitta Fridriksdottir. Also just as in the English language, Icelanders do not have a formal way of saying “you”. When needed, formality can be expressed through the accompanying vocabulary or the tone of voice.

There had never been social classes on Iceland, thus the distance is shortened really quickly.

Face-to-face meetings

Once we go through the introductory phase and we’ll agree to have a meeting it’s good to learn few things about what we can expect.

Icelanders are sometimes perceived as uncommunicative or a bit withdrawn at first but that’s only if you consider excessive cheerfulness as a standard. Besides once you break the ice (public baths/hot tubs or beer in a pub work best) there are not many topics that would be taboo for Icelanders. There are few reasons for that – first is, again, their classless society, since taboos usually appear in cultures with strong class divisions. Here it’s just the opposite – Icelanders are laid back when it comes to rules on how to behave or taboos. Second, are the farming roots. People who grow up in farming society seem to be more open in many ways. Of course, same rules apply in Icelandic companies where the organisational structures are flat.

All that indicates that we shouldn’t be too concerned about what’s appropriate to say and what’s not. Nevertheless, we should be prepared for the same – any topic can be pulled out and we shouldn’t feel offended by their straightforwardness. Similarly it works with jokes. Icelanders are really cheerful and like to laugh at themselves but also to make jokes about others. It always helped to break the ice with strangers and made life easier when times were difficult.

Importance of speech

There’s one more tricky virtue of Icelandic communication style – the hidden suggestions. If an Icelander tells you “I’m going to the swimming pool”, it means “Hey, maybe you’d like to go with me to the swimming pool?”. Converting it to a business situation, when hearing “There’s not so many pictures in that presentation”, it means “Add them”. It’s because Icelanders are a high-context society, which means that not everything must be said directly or literally to be understood. That results from them being a small nation, living together on a small island. Due to the same reason body language is being rarely used and written agreements are considered less necessary (oral agreements are actually binding according to Icelandic law).

It points out one more thing, that Icelanders value keeping ones word therefore we should highly consider our promises and assurances. Same applies to punctuality since if we agreed to given hour we should be on time or at least inform about the delay. If we have any add-ons to the meeting in mind like showing PowerPoint presentation we should prepare it in advance so as not to delay the meeting because of that. What’s more, they highly value honesty therefore if we have any reservations about given proposal or agreement we should say it bluntly.

A normal way of greeting people or business partners on Iceland is by shaking their hand. Kissing is appropriate but only among women who know each other well. Exchange of business cards is welcomed at the end of business meeting.

When considering dress code, bear in mind that Icelanders are highly fashionable (it again results from the fact of living in a small country, where everybody knows everybody). Therefore it’s always in good taste to dress formally.

Business meeting at home

Icelanders value time (hence the punctuality), and therefore they try to make formal meeting as concise and aim oriented as possible. Yet, they also take delight in combining business with pleasure what very often means an invitation to hot tub or to their home to talk business further. Of course, at home with whole family or friends and food on the table it’s hard to concentrate on business, thus sometimes such business meetings might be less effective than expected.

It results from great value Icelanders hold for home and family but also in that way they want to know prospect business partner from broader perspective. If they are to consider our proposal they want to build it on friendship and trust and in that case business and pleasure are very often combined.

Knowing that Icelanders tend to talk business over meals and combining work and pleasure remember few kind acts:

  • Icelanders often leave their shoes at the door when going home and one should follow that example when visiting anIcelandic home,
  • Bringing small gifts from the visitor’s home country or foreign wine is highly appreciated,
  • Learn few phrases in Icelandic – your hosts will be amazed, as it’s uncommon language and they don’t hear many foreigners trying to speak it.
  • Icelanders are proud of their origins and their country. For example, they like when outsiders are amazed by their beautiful nature. That’s why, sometimes they ask directly what we think about Iceland. Be prepared to give some positive comments.

Closing the deal

Since Icelanders are fairly relaxed they’re not averse to taking risks. As a result, there is a large degree of openness for new ideas, innovative products and willingness to try something new or different, whether it applies to technology, business practices or investments. They often act on gut feelings and thus make quick decisions in terms of starting something new, yet when it comes to big decisions or finalising the deal they have tendency to be hesitant. To be more precise, they like to leave the final decision-making till the last minute so that they can add or change some conditions at last moment.

Be aware of that and you won’t get discouraged if you don’t get a full and quick reply.