“Xenophobe’s guide to the Icelanders” - The Reykjavik Grapevine

“Xenophobe’s guide to the Icelanders”

“Xenophobe’s guide to the Icelanders”

Published June 19, 2009

Here’s a book about the Icelander and his or her true self – told from the foreigner’s point of view. The author, Richard Sale from the UK, mocks Icelanders in every respect. Nothing that foreigners consider odd, special or different about Icelanders remains untouched. Sale makes fun of their belief in hidden people, trolls and elves, their infatuation with money and hi-tech, their obsession with family trees, their nutty interest in weather. Their pride of old literature and the Sagas, which even teenagers can quote, and their craziness about cars – big cars, the bigger, the better. There is of course a small chapter on Þorrablót, that time of the year when Icelanders eat traditional and literally old food like sheep heads and rotten shark, and also one about Bun Day, on which kids spank their parents.
Once the reader stumbles across the fact that it’s not possible to study architecture in Iceland (or wasn’t at the books time of writing), a lot of the architectural faux pas all over the country seem more understandable. Apart from some of the obvious Icelandic tics, the foreign reader will also discover new things about the nation that he or she is so fond of. Even if they might sound quite unbelievable, there is always truth in them. For example, the supposed Icelandic fear of toilet paper, since its ownership might imply that the owner is less than perfect (the reason makes sense though!) and therefore, in the old days, toilet paper was always carried around in anonymous brown paper bags when it was bought in the store. Interesting is also the fact that in the old days fishermen threw away the lobster in the catch, because it was too ugly to eat. The reader will also get to know why the Icelandic word for “intercontinental ballistic missile” literally means “long distance fiery flying thing”.
This little book is hilarious, highly entertaining and filled with wonderful details. Every reader – having lived in Iceland for a while or just over for a short visit – will discover that he already found himself wondering about exactly this or that peculiarity on rather more than less occasions. Yes, Icelanders are notoriously unpunctual. Yes, they have annoying breaks in movie theatres in the middle of the show. And yes, they don’t know moderate drinking – at all. Whilst indulging in xenophobic, shallow and superficially appearing, yet “so true” facts about Icelanders, it becomes clear that Icelanders are charming folk, who the author loves just as much as the reader will.

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