We have noticed a few interesting things about Iceland. Icelanders, please don't take offense. These are merely the observations we have made of the people we've encountered so far.
1. People in Iceland drive like Mr. Bean.
This is not a compliment, however fond of Mr. Bean we all might be. He is a charming and odd character, but there is little to laugh at on the roads in Reykjavík (besides the completely legal parking jobs where cars face every which way and are covering half the sidewalk). We are glad our darling Fred Salvage (our salvaged title Prius) is not here with us, for we would be terrified to drive him here. As bikers and pedestrians, we have to be vigilant. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mr. Bean, here's a clip to enlighten you.
2. Bikers behave very differently here.
In Minneapolis, we have a great bike culture! There are bike paths everywhere (thanks to our great Mayor, R. T. Rybak), the Greenway is something we boast about with pride, and most of us are aware of at least the basic bicycle safety and etiquette. We say, "On your left," when we are about to pass someone on their left, for the sake of safety and as a common courtesy so we don't startle anyone by zipping around them unannounced. We wear helmets, or at least a lot of us do, in spite of the fact that they make us look uncool. We care about the contents of our sculls, and would rather have terrible helmet hair than think about what could happen if we were to have an accident without a helmet on. We also use our bells when our voices won't do the trick.
This is not the case in Reykjavík. Biking is a newish thing here, so the culture is just starting to catch on. We've noticed newly painted bike paths on some roads (the picture below shows the eagerness with which they are stenciled in lovely pastel colors), but for the longest time, we would only see bikers on the sidewalks. We nudged each other the other day when we finally saw a biker biking on the bike path on the road, and just a moment later, she switched back to riding on the sidewalk. To give bikers here credit, it is legal to bike on the sidewalks here, and as we've already noted, people here drive like Mr. Bean, so avoiding the roads might be the safest thing to do. But since the bikers prefer to bike on the sidewalks, one might think they would need to alert the pedestrians to their presence before zipping around and between them, right? Wrong. Using a bell or giving any verbal warning of your approach is considered rude. Bikers keep quiet (which we've learned is polite and respectful) and we, as pedestrians, are frequently startled by bikers who silently zip by very close to us.
3. Among Icelanders shopping for groceries, manners are nowhere to be found!
We had been warned about this by some very friendly Icelanders we knew in Minneapolis, but discounted this warning because they had also said Icelanders are not nice, yet on every single occasion they were super nice and helpful to us. We found it hard to believe until we experienced grocery shopping here for ourselves. Nobody says, "Excuse me," if they bump in to you, whether or not it was unintentional. On multiple occasions, I've had a cart driven into the back of my legs. People reach around you to grab something that is right in front of your face. And there is no respect for personal space at the register. If you turn to look behind you, you will likely see someone very, very close to you, impatiently inching closer.
4. If you smile at a stranger, don't expect a smile back.
I learned this the hard way. I am a smiley person. I like to smile. But after smiling at some strangers and only getting puzzled looks back, I began to wonder why. When we spoke to a colleague of Chris's from the University, she set us straight. People here only smile at people they know. Otherwise they avoid eye contact. I guess, when I've been smiling at these strangers, they have been trying to figure out whether they know me and wondering whether they should remember me from somewhere. That certainly would explains the confused looks I've been getting! I still smile at strangers, but I understand that I can't expect a smile back. :)