Think Like a Tourist - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Think Like a Tourist

Think Like a Tourist

Published February 9, 2007

I don’t drink and the smell of smoke makes me want to wear a gas mask. And just for the sake of confusion, no, I am not a nun. Based on my “unique lifestyle” and standard appetite for mental, audio and visual stimulation, at times I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to making weekend plans. I have done my share of frequenting the cinema and bowling to funky sounds from the disco era and frankly, I’m a bit tired of the whole scene. In my position, one has to be quite creative in choosing leisurely activities on the weekends in Reykjavik. Thinking of ways to “seize the day” has become quite a challenge, and since being surrounded by the intoxicated or smelling like an ashtray the morning after is not scripted in my daily journal, my only option at this point is to change my frame of reference.
When the decision was made to move from New York City to Reykjavik I knew I would be faced with the dilemma of limited entertainment options. Relocating to any new environment requires adjusting to a whole new social setting, and to avoid wallowing away in the sea of regret I had to take a look around and really recognize what Iceland had to offer. In order to have a satisfying social life I had to think outside of box and adapt a nomadic perspective. Sometimes we need to adopt the mindset of a temporary wanderer to soak up and appreciate the precious time we have while existing in such a unique place.
The majority of weekend entertainment that Reykjavik’s “downtown” has to offer consists of an available seat or private corner to stand in, an expensive glass of liquid courage and blaring beats vibrating from the speakers of a fairly lavish sound system. Therefore the entertainment portion of the evening is left solely up to the consumer and the magical antidote concocted by the slaving bar tender behind the counter. Henceforth, you find yourself not exactly being entertained, but often being the focal point of the show itself. Even still, weekend after weekend downtown Reykjavik continues to be the busiest place in town where life completely changes her wardrobe after 10 pm.
I, on the other, hand prefer the traditional alternative of being entertained – by professionals who at least appear to be sober while performing their God-given talent. Live jazz music on a random Tuesday night, discovering an authentic new Middle Eastern restaurant with old friends or catching a dynamic play or show that won’t be in town too long are some of the things I miss doing without having to sacrifice a quarter of my salary. Although it is quite unfair to compare New York and Reykjavik in the category of entertainment, I do wish the industry could be more creative in its business ventures when it comes to amusement activities. By the sheer number of bars compared to any other form of late night diversions, it is clear what product is valued most by consumers and commerce alike.
In order to feel entertained in this city, thinking like a tourist is beneficial because you are forced to think of outings that promote an experience to remember, therefore making each event worthwhile and devoid of anything routine and ordinary. When I lived in New York City I used to ask native New Yorkers all the time if they had ever been to the Statue of Liberty, climbed the steps all the way to the top of her crown and looked out over the Hudson River. Most people had the same answer – no, but I live here, so I can go anytime.
Unfortunately after September 11th, that golden opportunity to stand atop Lady Liberty has been taken away and now that memory only exists for the millions of people that have simply “passed through” New York City. Thinking like a tourist gives you the motivation and energy to do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do. However, as a resident we often forget to take advantage of the jewels of our distinctive surroundings and, like many New Yorkers, we miss the boat altogether.
Just last week a friend and I visited the National Gallery of Iceland to see the French Expressionist Exhibition. Taking an afternoon to surround oneself with the works of the masters definitely provides a break from the monotony of daily routine. It was a Wednesday afternoon and although the museum was quite empty I felt like a tourist appreciating what the city had to offer. There was also a slight feeling of privilege in taking a moment to value such talent in the midst of work and running errands. Adapting this new perspective in thinking differently about what I do with my time has made life much more interesting and enjoyable. My advice from all this is to take the time to be creative and seize the day before the day ends up seizing you.

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