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Editorial
Do Icelanders Believe in Elves? Really?

Do Icelanders Believe in Elves? Really?

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Published July 26, 2010

“Grönlænderstiv” is a Danish phrase which means essentially “drunk as a Greenlander.” However, recent research suggests that the Danes drink at least as much as the Greenlanders, and teenagers in Denmark drink even more than their counterparts in Greenland do. When it comes to drunken 15 year olds, Danes hold the world record, while Greenland is somewhere way down the list.

One of the reasons for this may be that after attaining nationhood, the local government in Greenland has introduced severe alcohol taxes. This has actually worked in Iceland too. Post-collapse, the price of beer at the state liquor outlet has risen by almost 50 percent. The cash-strapped government introduced yet higher booze taxes to help cover the budget short fall. But rather than do their patriotic bit for their country and drink their way out of depression, Icelanders have largely elected to stay sober. You wouldn’t think it from walking down Laugavegur on a Saturday night, but Icelanders are actually drinking less now than they used to.

From wealth to health

What about home grown drinking products, always a favourite in times of crisis? While we may safely assume that this industry is doing quite well, and with less employment people need a hobby, it nevertheless seems to be the case that Icelanders are actually more health conscious now than they used to be. The boom was one perennial bender, but while sales of alcohol and junk food went up in those days, so did sales of health foods. One might have been excused for thinking that once that was all over, and since health foods tend to be more expensive than the other kind, people would be even more interested in a quick fix.

Quite the contrary, after the focus on wealth came focus on health. An example of this is that Svarti Svanurinn by Hlemmur, once a local favourite for nutritionless and tastefree late night burgers, is now a health store. Perhaps it’s a knee jerk reaction. At least we’ve still got our health. So let’s take care of it.

Elves and Icelanders
So what’s all this got to do with elves, I hear you say? Well, not only Danes but Icelanders too have often used the Greenlanders as an excuse for their drinking. “If you think we’re bad, just see what they do.” Drinking too much is something someone over there does, not us. The same seems to apply to elves.

If you go through the sagas, you find all sorts of fantastical creatures. There are trolls, giants, wolfsheads, unipeds, elves, dwarfs, ghosts, flying dragons and even the occasional blámaður (a person bearing dark skin). However, these beings are rarely seen in Iceland. And if they are, they’re something very much out of the ordinary and only seen rarely in special places.

Swedes and flying dragons

However, if you go to more exotic locales (from the Icelandic point of view), such as Northern Norway and Sweden, beings such as elves and even flying dragons are a much more common occurrence and if you go as far as Finland, you will be hard pressed to find a person who is not at least a half-troll.

From the Icelandic point of view, then, elves and other such beings are something that exist somewhere else. From the point of view of most of the world, however, Iceland is precisely somewhere else. That’s what you get from living on the periphery of pretty much everything. This is why we got stuck with them. But if you really want to see an elf, you probably have to go to Greenland. Just be careful of all the drunken teenagers.


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