Iceland Mag

3 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag


An American in Reykjavik: Hello…is Anybody There?

By Matt Eliason

  • What is, according to Matt, the biggest absence lacking from the Icelandic culture?

It took 2 weeks, but I have finally encountered the biggest absence lacking from the Icelandic culture! My discovery took place last week at which point I was calling different tourist offices in the various regions of Iceland in search of a contact for a story. I would call the number and patiently wait on the phone as the line would ring and ring… but nothing would happen. I tried re-dialing the contact´s phone number thinking I was making an inadvertent mistake. After failing to reach my intended contact for the 4th time, I gave up and announced the failure to my co-workers. It was at this point, I was notified that the line continued to ring because Icelanders do NOT use voicemail! I was speechless - how do the people of this country communicate with each other?

Without voicemail, I don´t know how the American business culture or customary phone etiquette would continue to exist. Traditionally, when an American receives a call from a number they do not recognize or do not have saved into their phone, the individual will let the call ring through to voicemail. After listening to the message left by the caller, the individual receiving the voicemail will decide whether the message warrants a return call. The voicemail will give a brief description of the caller´s intentions or requests, allowing the phone´s owner to decide how to appropriately respond. The entire system breaks down if no voicemail is recorded!

To be clear, I am over-exaggerating the importance of the average voicemail received during a typical business day; however, I am confident that business-etiquette in the United States would be conducted very differently if no one used voicemail. Fellow Americans - just imagine waiting for an important call from a boss or co-worker without having the ability to receive a voicemail in order to hear the important news. My compatriots and I would literally be diving for our phones at the first sound of our iPhone ringtone. To be fair, a majority of the communication in the workplace is comprised of emails or text messages to deliver quick, concise memos about the business tasks that need to be completed. However, the important business is discussed in person or over the phone. Furthermore, with the globalization of the workplace decreasing the possibility for person-to-person meetings, a growing amount of professional interactions are taking place through the exchanges of voicemail. On a social level, if you are trying to reach a new friend or contact that does not have your number saved into their phone, there is absolutely no chance you will get a return call back if you do not leave a voicemail.

To further add to my confusion, I was informed by my Icelandic roommate that phones sold in Iceland do possess the voicemail option; however, Icelanders choose not to set them up with this essential feature. If it comes with the phone and it could potentially help you get in touch with your intended contact… than why not use it? Every time I have asked this question, Icelanders simply shrug off my inquisitive nature with an unsatisfying - I don´t know, that’s just the way it is. I guess I will have to reluctantly accept this part of Icelandic culture, one message-less phone call at a time.

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