How Not to be Icelandic - The Reykjavik Grapevine

How Not to be Icelandic

How Not to be Icelandic

Published June 15, 2007

There are few things more exhilarating than visiting a foreign country for the first time, that liberating spark of childlike wonder you search out all around the world. Hopefully, my dear reader, you can experience that same feeling. Alas, in my case, disenchantment with the supposed greatness of Iceland has truly set in. Like Bilbo Baggins once famously said, I feel “like too little butter spread over too much toast”. Iceland has spread out too far, too fast. Somewhat like a ditzy bimbo with silicon lips, breasts and a carrot tan to top. Yes, just like our Miss Iceland. Look for her in the local nightclub like Icelandair promised (if the sarcasm is lost on you, Miss Iceland is also meant to be Iceland itself).
Iceland has sort of lost itself in its relentless and overwhelming “happy meal” propaganda, and in the process lost its elflike, wide-eyed innocence – instead, it has gained wide screen televisions for every home and two cars to boot. To understand Icelanders, you must first take this into account: it really does not matter what you talk about, Iceland is the best in every instance. Take for example the football team. It is not a bad team because they lose nine times out of ten; they are just a great team not winning because they have a bad coach – or insert another excuse of your choice. The same goes for our food, our brennivín (Black Death) and women. You just don’t understand, accent withstanding, the importance of Iceland.
In the process of pimping ourselves out in order to be the next famous tourist minefield, we have somehow lost contact with everything that makes us truly Icelandic and distinct; instead we contracted an American disease, which some of you might know as affluenza: “The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses”. Instead of preserving the cultural heritage of the centre of Reykjavík, we throw down Lego-like buildings. Meanwhile, housing prices are skyrocketing and we erect shopping malls like Smáralind, which is shaped like an eternal erection. Inside Smáralind there is a sperm-like line to follow in the shopping Paradise of Oz. Next to Smáralind there is a smaller building shaped like a vagina, with a sign with the word: EGG. Go figure, “We are the hollow men. We are the stuffed men.” Ask yourselves: is this Icelandic culture or Consumer Culture tearing Icelandic civilization in its jaws?
At the same time the centre of Reykjavík is filled with you, my dear readers; however, at the same time Laugavegur is filled with Icelanders driving along the street, no doubt returning from a trip to the local Americanised mall. Where has the Icelandic culture gone? From what I can see, we seem to flaunt our cultural heritage in the faces of tourists and people in other countries; however, plebeian customs seem to have high-jacked most aspects of Icelandic culture, which is seldom found in the home of an Icelander. There is entire generation of Icelanders who know more about American Idol, Friends and American brand names than Icelandic poets.
Of course, if I were to simplify matters I could just blame it all on the AFRTS (Armed Forces Broadcasting), which infiltrated the minds of young Icelanders in the late sixties and early seventies with shows such as Bonanza and cultural icons such as John Wayne. That would be wishful thinking. Rather, I think our rapid loss of distinct Icelandic culture stems from an all consuming wave of chronic apathy that affects Icelanders in general. To understand what I mean, you must grasp how our cultural division amidst Icelanders is; a division easily spotted in our nightlife, shopping habits, lifestyle and clothes.
Most Icelanders of my generation can be categorised into certain types: either indie (treflar), beatniks/’60s revival types, chavs (hnakkar), wannabe yuppies and yuppies. Nevertheless, the all-encompassing trait that can be found in most of us is a heartbreaking state of apathy. We have become stretched in all directions, a side dish on the plate of consumerism. Icelandic nature, literature and even the language itself seem to be flat-lining. Maybe this is to be expected. Child prostitution seems to have become a problem here in Reykjavík – meanwhile the mayor of Kópavogur is fawning over “exotic dancers” in some sleazy joint. The homeless of Reykjavík are a hidden problem, however that probably does not matter to us. At least the government are riding, i.e. being driven, on sweet wheels while Alþingi is being spruced up. Perhaps apathy is the new Icelandic way.
So I have a request, dear reader. Please tell me, along with other Icelanders you meet, how to be Icelandic. You probably either have the Lonely Planet guide to Iceland or some other guidebook (hopefully an old one) – and dare I say, maybe even some Icelandic sagas?

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