Okay, full disclosure: I am from Britain. The British have a very weird (read: unhealthy) relationship with ‘fame’ and those who are ‘famous’.
In lieu of any sort of real opportunities to do something that doesn’t involve staring at the grease marks on a Primark till for two crumpets an hour, most of us turn our gaze towards our increasingly shiny and less ‘talented’ elite—in the hope that we can one day join them. As well as colonialism and every other horrible thing, Britain is responsible for pretty much every shitty Hunger Games-style ‘talent’ show that Simon Cowell has implanted across the globe with his hairy-knuckled tentacles. Thanks to him and Tony Blair, the British cultural / military circle of imperialism is complete once more, with Ant and Dec forming the pentagram in the centre of it. (“Who are they?” you ask. “What are they?” Exactly.) We throw parades made out of solid gold just for a tiny baby. And who can blame us? Everything else is terrible.
In Britain, it is acceptable (even encouraged) to apprehend people we consider ‘famous’ in the streets—even if you are total strangers. Whether it’s Bill Nighy, or Davina McCall, or one of the animated meerkats from that one car insurance advert, we Brits go absolutely apeshit for famous people. We shout at people,“Hey, [Celebrity Big Brother contestant], you are famous! You were on that show about the famous people! Can I get a selfie!” They’ll take that selfie. It will be their Facebook profile picture for the rest of their lives. It will get 200 Likes. Their friends will go on to talk about them to strangers in the smoking area of a Wetherspoons. “My mate over there? Yeah, him. He met Lorraine Kelly outside Poundland once. Yeah, they got a selfie. Yeah.” That person will become famous for knowing that person. That’s how it works.
Thanks to our extensive tabloid press investing many years into stoking the proverbial flames of this bullshit fire, meeting a famous person in Britain is probably one of the best things that will ever happen to many people. Relative to how jawdroppingly terrible everything else is, it can be pretty exciting—but it’s not exactly healthy.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t buy into this at least a little bit. I mean, I’d take that selfie with Bill Nighy. He’s a cool guy and I have no shame. He’d say “cool” to me, and maybe give me a thumbs up. Fame is a big deal back home. So imagine my surprise when I first moved to Iceland and realised nobody really gives that much of a shit whether you’re famous or not.
I saw one half of Pascal Pinon in Tíu Drópar in my first week here. She was enjoying a bagel. I thought, “that is a famous person I am a fan of. Play it cool, Ciarán.” I played it cool and left her to enjoy her bagel—and it’s just as well that I did.
The following night at about 4AM, there was a pretty wasted guy in Ingólfstorg. My friend pointed at him and said, “That is a really famous Icelandic actor. And he is fucked.”
“You wanna say hi?”
“Nah, we don’t do that shit to people here.”
There was no paparazzi. There were no cameras. There was just a drunk dude, who was also an actor. And that was fine, because, whatever. In Britain, a wasted famous actor would at least make some sort of headline—probably related to their ‘suspected alcoholism’. But honestly, nobody cares here and nobody should care there.
Maybe it’s something to do with the fact that a much higher proportion of people here are in the arts or have some sort of profile, so people simply don’t care as much about who you are—it tends to be more about what someone does, e.g. “oh, her music is pretty good.” Maybe it’s a big fish / small pond sort of thing (which is definitely something certain local rappers revel in). Or perhaps it’s because people here are quicker to recognise that other people are not public property—no matter how ‘famous’ they are—and that approaching them in public as they’re trying to do Normal People Things is weird and awkward.
This is something I learnt very quickly. Icelanders seem to intrinsically know something that the British do not (tourists, take note): that it is not cool to call up Björk simply because she is in the phonebook and you have a phonebook. Yes, Jónsi lives here. No, you can’t enter his house uninvited just because he has windows and you have a brick. People are not zoo animals. If you want to see zoo animals, there is a nice fox at the Reykjavík Zoo. He doesn’t want to be there, either.