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What Are Icelanders Talking About?: Football, Football, Football And Backlash

What Are Icelanders Talking About?: Football, Football, Football And Backlash

Photos by
Art Bicnick

Published June 15, 2018

It used to be that Eurovision was Iceland’s one and only chance to shine on the international stage. But now, with Iceland going to the World Cup, we have another reason to celebrate. As with Eurovision, there are the fans, those who are maybe a little too excited about the event, and the buzzkill detractors.

First, there was a promo video from the Icelandic Football Association (KSÍ), which featured a hyperbolic Viking-themed illustration with the hashtag #fyrirísland (#foriceland). We do a lot of Viking-themed promotion of Icelandic football here at the Grapevine, so it was interesting to see the reactions to this illustration. Namely, many Icelanders expressed embarrassment, with music critic Arnar Eggert Thoroddsen saying it had “Aryan undertones”, while many non-Icelanders thought it was a great representation of the national men’s team.

“The apex of consumption and wastefulness”

In the same vein, a supergroup of Icelandic musicians released a song that was presumably supposed to pump us up for the upcoming event. Instead, the vast majority of Icelanders have reacted much the same way they do to our Eurovision entries: pouring scorn and ridicule on the effort, calling it cheesy and schmaltzy, and being generally embarrassed.

But the crowning point in all this has been recent news that came out that the Icelandic men’s team would be bringing 2,900 pairs of socks with them to Russia. For the record, washing machines do exist in Russia, and no one is entirely sure why a couple dozen players and staff need so many socks, but Rakel Garðarsdóttir, the spokesperson for Vakandi, a group dedicated to more sustainable living, has criticised it as being “the apex of consumption and wastefulness”.

Fool shivers

There’s a special word in Icelandic for the feeling of being embarrassed for someone else: kjánahröllur, literally “fool shivers”. It’s a word that’s been popping up a lot when Icelanders talk about the news and pep-up events around the World Cup.

What’s striking is that the more embarrassed Icelanders are by how some are choosing to represent the nation at the World Cup, the more foreign fans of the Icelandic men’s team seem to absolutely love these representations. You could probably chart a line graph illustrating this: as Icelandic kjánahröllur rises, so too does the enthusiasm of the foreign fanbase.

Icelanders, like people everywhere, are creatures of contradiction. They won’t be pushed around by larger nations, and are very proud of their language and culture. But that’s supposed to be an inside thing. When these attitudes are expressed to the world at large, they suddenly become self-deprecating and embarrassed for themselves. Icelandic national pride is always going to tread a thin line between self-satisfaction and fool shivers.


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