It started before I even came here. When I told the family I was going to Iceland, it made my slightly choleric grandfather burst out, ”Damn Icelanders – running away during the war.” (Iceland proclaimed their independence while Denmark was occupied by the Germans during the Second World War.) Ok, my grandfather has nationalistic tendencies and would also like the West Indies back, so I just let that pass.
During the introductory meeting at the University of Iceland, we are asked to tell the group our names, nationality and what we are studying here. Another Danish student provides the necessary information, which makes our teacher break in to a sadistic smile, ”Ahhh! One from the old colonial power.”
Evil to Iceland,
Buns to Everyone Else
And indeed we are. We were evil to the Icelanders; we made you learn our silly language and introduced pork and pylsa to the Icelandic cuisine. And during the trade monopoly, we practically stole the fish. But recent research from the economics department at Háskóli Íslands has shown that it was not entirely the colonial power’s fault that Icelanders remained underdeveloped despite having some of the world’s richest fishing grounds right at the front door. The strong and conservative farming culture (farming was considered a more honourable and reliable profession) and reluctance to let people settle on the coast held the Icelandic fisheries back for a long time.
So we Danes can warm ourselves to the thought that it was not all our fault. We now sit back in Denmark and watch Iceland pass us by in living standards, life expectancy, economic growth and low unemployment rates. And buy Danish companies – most prominently the department store Magasin du Nord at one of the best addresses in Copenhagen.
A War of Words
The deal involved the Danish conservative newspaper Berlingske Tidende in a war of words with Fréttablaðið. Berlingske compared the Icelandic economy to the dot.com phenomenon and warned that it could burst any minute, pointing out all the cross-ownerships in the Icelandic financial world. Fréttablaðið ended up calling Berlingske nostalgic about the colonial times, and I can’t recall Berlingske actually denying it. Nostalgia about Denmark’s past as a colonial power is all we have left of that nowadays.
Meanwhile I can enjoy the fact that being Danish really helps me when I do my shopping and need to know what I’m buying. 8.4 percent of Iceland’s imports – a lot of it food – still comes from the old colonial power. And enjoy the fact that Icelanders did not let the Danes teach them the tradition of thinking ill of people who do well (no, here we quite happily hand them our money –ed).