Her name I cannot disclose. Since it happened I’ve had recurring nightmares about the dialogue that took place that morning. She awoke hung-over, a smidge sheepish from the previous night’s activities and utterly confused about her environment. The only problem was that her environment happened to be my living room sofa.
“Hi, do you know where you are?” I asked as I tried to comprehend how this anonymous woman ended up on the chocolate brown leather couch before me.
“No, not really,” she replied.
“Well, let me tell you. You and my husband shared a taxi last night. He said that you were so drunk (although this was quite an understatement from the way he described) he didn’t feel comfortable leaving you alone with the cab driver.”
A pregnant pause stood between us as I searched for an ashamed, “Oh yeah, that was me,” expression on her face. But her face remained blank and from the stare she gave me, it was clear that my “guest” was not up for a game of charades at nine in the morning.
“He told you that you could sleep on our couch last night,” I pronounced a bit more directly than the other informative words that seemed surprisingly sweet considering the position I was in.
After my brilliant rendition of an after-school TV special, I finally gave up and said, “You know what, why don’t you go and use the bathroom and then call someone to pick you up?”
“Yeah, okay,” she quickly agreed, as she escaped to a private sanctuary free from my gaze and the awkward silence.
After about 12 minutes of shuffling around the house, she proceeded to make her big exit – I had to stop her. Trying my best to muster up my most non-judgemental voice, I said, “You know, you really need to be careful. What you did last night was really dangerous.” The following statement that fell out of this young girl’s mouth could not have been more shocking. She took one step out of the door, turned to look me straight in the eye and with a most comforting smile responded, “Oh don’t worry; this is Iceland.”
When it comes to exits, Elvis Presley has nothing on this girl.
According to most people, Iceland is a safe place to live. The country’s total prison population is similar to that of a medium-sized church congregation. Young children walk around alone and oblivious to the dangers of lurking kidnappers. I see people leave their cars unattended, keys in ignition, engine running. Although living in a trusting and utopian society seems ideal, I think it may leave its citizens a bit naïve about the realities of the rest of the world. Which leads me to question, what are the consequences of living in such a “harmless” society?
As a foreigner in this country, it’s taken me a moment to adjust and realise that just because a population is unsuspecting of one another doesn’t make them illogical. There is no arguing with the fact that growing up in Iceland has its advantages. To know that your children are protected when you’re not around and that your neighbours follow the Golden Rule is something to be admired. However, the thought of my daughter ending up on a stranger’s living room couch, with no understanding of the full consequences of her actions, leaves me chilled to the bone. It’s as if the thought of rape and murder never occurred to her. As if people were incapable of committing such crimes on this mid-Atlantic slice of heaven.
The formation of our behaviour is quite often dictated by our immediate surroundings. And the danger in carrying such careless behaviour to a place outside of one’s utopia may lead to devastating outcomes. It’s equally critical to concede that our societies are in constant change as immigration and emigration modifies the profile of our “ideal and safe” environment. Most people learn from their mistakes at the moment in which genuine regret sinks in. Conversely, some of us don’t even get the chance to regret because we’re left with something far worse – denial.
Growing up and living in America for most of my life has definitely jaded me in a couple of areas. When I moved to New York City I became disgustingly suspicious of everyone around me. It didn’t matter if it was the postman or the girl at the check-out counter; everyone was capable of ripping me off and by no means deserved to be trusted. I developed a thick skin, a faster walk and no-nonsense attitude about life in general. Being taken advantage of became the worst possible crime that could be committed against me. I was stripped from the notion that relying on society to make the right decision was a realistic concept. Through this experience, I felt that I had grown and learned to read between the lines. However, it also left me incapable of believing that things could be different.
The purpose of sharing this experience is not to highlight the naïveté that plagues all Icelanders but rather for people to recognise the difference between enjoying the benefits of one’s country versus taking risks that could endanger one’s existence in any given society.