Mix work, play while doing business in Iceland

 
 
Published5/3/2008 8:40 PM

I was amazed when a colleague told me that nearly every member of Iceland's general population is listed in the phone book by his or her first name.

In fact, even though my source is a very good reporter, I didn't believe him.

 

Then I had the fleeting thought that perhaps this oddity occurs because everyone knows everyone else in Iceland. After all, we are talking about a tiny island country situated just a bit south of the Arctic Circle with a population of approximately 300,000.

Still, that's a lot of names.

So, I did some further research and found out my friend was right and I was wrong.

Apparently, the majority of Icelanders use this phone book practice to be, well, practical.

The reason?

In Iceland, last names are patronymic, born from the combination of the person's father's first name and then paired with the Icelandic word for son or daughter. So, Dewitt, the son of Donald, would be dubbed Dewitt Donaldson and Cecilia, the daughter of Michael, would be known as Cecilia Michaeldottir.

In addition, women do not take their husband's name when they marry.

Talk about complicated.

However, other aspects of life in this land located in the North Atlantic Ocean between Greenland and Norway is far simpler. That said, here are some key customs to consider should your work take you to Reykjavik, the northernmost national capital in the world:

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• Expect to have fun if you travel to Iceland for business because locals encourage visitors to mix work with play. So, while you might be expected to fit in the requisite number of meetings with a prospective client while you are there, you will also be expected to see the sights as well as interact in a number of social situations. In fact, taking part in the latter should help you establish a good (read: friendly) relationship with your Icelandic counterpart, something that will do wonders for your working relationship as well.

• If your travel to Reykjavik is planned for the summer and you expect to entertain a prospective client while you are there, book your restaurant in advance since tables might be hard to find if you wait until the last minute. The same holds true for finding a place to stay at this time of the year because hotel rooms fill up fast during June, July and August.

• It is OK to talk turkey over dinner with an Icelandic counterpart unless you have been invited to dine with your spouse in tow. Then the conversation should be kept off of business and on to anything else that comes to mind, from family and fashion to travel and food trends.

• When you do get down to business, expect an informal atmosphere but also expect to be fully prepared for the work at hand. Also keep in mind that there is a good chance that the person with whom you will be meeting will also be the person who will make the final decision in deciding the fate of your working relationship.

• Meetings, planned in advance, should be straightforward and to the point. Be clear and concise about what it is you are proposing.

• Finally, when getting ready for your trip to Iceland, be sure to pack the way you would if you were heading for a Western European country -- Sweden, for instance -- where going out on the town means wearing your Sunday best. People who live in Iceland generally enjoy gussying up for an evening of enjoyment and so you should definitely follow suit (pun intended).

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