Ever since I was a child here in Iceland, I have been a silent spectator of my own “strangeness”. Due to the fact I can only trace my Viking heritage on my mother’s side and have a slightly higher melanin count than most Icelanders, at least the ones not of French descent, I am often asked “how can you possibly be Icelandic?” Other questions that I receive are: “Why do you have a foreign name?” and “Why do you live here?” The answer to the first question is quite simple: My name is quintessentially more Icelandic than most Icelandic names, e.g. any first name also coming from a Christian heritage, such as Icelandic names. The other answer is undoubtedly more complicated.
However, like I often was as a child, it wasn’t so long ago that Icelanders were put on display in Copenhagen as “freak shows” along with Inuits and people from various other nations. To the dismay of the Icelandic Student Society in Copenhagen, Icelanders had been categorized as a “second class” colony along with coloured people. Not surprisingly, Icelanders have separate names for these “strange people”, Skrælingjar (Peeled Ones) for Indians and Blámenn (Blue men) for the more melanin-afflicted individuals.
Personally, as a child, I was often disgusted at the stares I would garner during my very brief excursions to this strange land. Later, when I moved here, I had to learn the language from scratch – and be chastised for years to come for my grasp of the language, despite the fact the most Icelanders have a very shaky mastery themselves over our great language. So, obviously, it has always been easy for me to pose as a foreigner in my own country, somewhat like a reverse pied-noir. For this reason I decided to go downtown and experience Reykjavík’s nightlife as a “stranger” for the Grapevine.
Before I talk about my experience posing as a foreigner, I have to mention my other “safari trips” downtown. I call them safari trips because when I was younger going out was like going shopping. If you had sufficient funds and charm, some even have pick up lines, you would go home with a brand spanking new bed accessory. Sometimes for the fun of it, I would pretend to be a foreigner – because getting annoyed at being mistaken for one can only get you so far. If I travel by plane the flight attendants will speak to me in English; if I stare too long at a person when they are speaking, they will revert to speaking English. When I order food I can see the worrisome stolen glance, i.e. when a person will size me up before deciding what language to speak. Of course, pretending to be a foreigner has often been fun. One time I lied that I had been adopted, I said I had been found afloat on a raft that drifted from Jamaica. A couple of times I have pretended to be from a Spanish-speaking country, which is absurd considering how pathetic my Spanish is.
Maybe always being in character comes easy to me. My looks might play a part, seeing as how I have been mistaken for Japanese, Portuguese, Mexican, American, Native American – and even once yelled at on Laugavegur for “being a terrorist”, or what some would call, an Arab. However, the last two weekends when I tried to pretend to be a foreigner it just lost its charm and I found it quite ridiculous to be completely honest.
My attempts at being a foreigner and to phase out the Icelandic played out in a mixed cacophony of bottles being smashed, cars beeping and hissing along the street, along with the various mix of languages being spoken. As a matter of fact that is exactly the reason why, perhaps along with my reluctance to be a foreigner, that my little study didn’t go so well. Naysayers could say that my demeanour was probably too Icelandic and that too many people that I know were walking up to me.
As a foreigner, I walked into Barinn totally at a loss for words as to what to do; perhaps you have to be really drunk to enjoy yourself properly there. No interaction there, despite the fact that I was staring and glancing around like the idiot savant that I perhaps am. When I finally got to Sirkus, I discovered how fucking irritating the place can really be. Often I would stand in line and watch as all the foreigners scoffed and puffed at the door and the door-girls who usually denied them entrance, despite the wild weekend they had been promised here in Reykjavík. I stood in line and listened to a person repeatedly say, with his decent attempt at Queen’s English: ‘VIP, VIP, VIP.’
Yes, people complain all the time about the supposed clientele of Sirkus. It would seem that you have to possess a secret knock, know the person, or “be someone”. As a business model and foreigner, I find this quite distressing; you lose word-of-mouth business and also manage to disprove the famous saying of Oscar Wilde’s. Maybe this is the point: “Will you be the lucky foreigner to get into Sirkus after the witching hour?” Perhaps you should bring some dinner and buy drinks there and stay to actually “get in”.
My attempts at being a foreigner fared much better at Vegamót. Before I could get in a word edgewise, a shorter, porcine version of Paris Hilton cut into the line and pushed me away. I tried to chat her friend up, who was busy texting someone and way too busy to respond to my feeble attempt at a “come on”. To retort to such an attack, I asked an Icelander: “Where are all the pretty women?” with a pitiable plea of distress. “Are they all inside?” and pointed to the women in front of me. He laughed at my audacity and pointed out that there are many beautiful women in Iceland, insinuating with a coy jest that I might be repelling them from him! As is common when you speak in English, a foreigner will often interrupt the conversation, as most people are not that accustomed to long lines outside clubs. In this instance it was an American girl defending the beauty of Icelandic women, mentioning that blonde bimbos only come from California, Texas and Florida (the places where I had resided). A strange rant seeing as how most of the women in the line actually were blond bimbos. I demanded the pretty and easy women that Iceland Air had promised me. As my Icelandic friend said to me, I came here for “mostly pleasure”.
Although my red wine stupor was fading, I kept overhearing conversations that other foreigners were having, such as the guy who told his friend that waiting in line was for pussies and he wouldn’t have that. He wanted to get laid, now! During this vigil of mine, I came to a stunning conclusion as a foreigner. First of all, I am not a foreigner; secondly being foreign has stopped being such a “foreign thing” as I watched the various nationalities in the faces of these people that stood like vultures all around me. I also discovered another thing: The Meat Market is universal. Enjoy your stay and happy shopping.