On Friday, May 13 (of all days), New York Times Magazine ran with an article by shock-reporter and radio commentator, Jake Halpern, entitled ‘Iceland’s Big Thaw’. Much in the exaggerated ilk of Michael Lewis’s 2009 Vanity Fair hyperbole (‘Wall Street On The Tundra’), Halpern paints a picture of the new Icelander as a smug, boorish, easy-go-lucky wannabe, who’d rather collect on unemployment than get knee deep in fish guts which, according to Halpern, is the only work going in Iceland at the moment.
The author paraphrases Ásthildur Sturludóttir, Mayor of “Patreksfjordhur” [sic] as saying that the only people who will take jobs in the local fish factory are Polish immigrants. Halpern claims he interviewed a manager of a fish factory outside of Reykjavík, who said: “The Icelanders don’t want to do this [fish processing] work—and it has nothing to do with the salaries—it’s just not fancy enough for them.”
In the article, Halpern supposedly travels across Iceland in search of what Icelanders have become since the 2008 crash. What he claims to have found is a bankrupt, disillusioned nation on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Among others, he interviews Reykjavík’s Mayor, Jón Gnarr, who says that the biggest issue facing Iceland right now is whether or not to adopt the Euro. According to Halpern, Jón Gnarr is all a-tingle with the dollar: “People think we should go to the Euro, but it doesn’t look cool…It’s the dollar that you see in the movies—it has the image.” And it seems, Halpern is taking Jón at his word: “I waited for Gnarr to smile, but he didn’t.”
Halpern also tells the excess stories of Guðfinnur S. Halldórsson, car salesman, who, during the boom years, supposedly managed to resell the same Porsche five times within the space of six months (each time with a profit). Apparently, not one of the five customers ever paid the first leasing instalment to the bank. If such was the case, one wonders why in 2009 Michael Lewis claimed that Icelanders were blowing up Land Rovers for insurance money. Surely Guðfinnur would have been pleased to make yet another sale? Back in the good ole days, Guðfinnur, who Halpern says goes by the name of Guffi (pronounced “Goofy”, as in Mickey Mouse’s sidekick), had regularly invited Ukrainian and Swiss chicas he’d met on the internet to paint Reykjavík crimson red. Now, a picture of significantly more balance, he has decided to settle on a regular Icelandic woman. “I do nothing stupid, and then I have no stress.”
It seems that Halpern has gone far out of his way to seek out the most oddball characters (with the exception of Jón Gnarr of course), and puts across an image of Iceland that borders on the edge of insanity. One has to wonder, with the mainstream press pulling stunts like this, what the rest of the world thinks of Iceland. Do they really think of Icelanders as a bunch of failed wannabe bankers who have now taken up knitting and enjoy vetoing their government’s decisions?
He quotes drama teacher Steinunn Knútsdóttir as saying: “Everyone is knitting. People are also making jam.” Which, Halpern says, he finds incredulous until he says, “one day I saw a woman directly across the street from my hotel, perched on a chair, yarn in hand, stitching some so-called ‘knit-graffiti’ into place around a tree.” He goes on to interview “the knitter”, Ragga Eiríksdóttir, whom he puts across tongue-in-cheek as some kind of new-age-knitting-needle-touting-existentialist-philosopher: “Knitting is the opposite of idolizing money. Knitting embodies thriftiness and is something old that has been with the nation forever. In the 1800s, the state actually published documents that outlined how much citizens should knit. It was said, for example, that a child from the age of 8 should finish a pair of socks each week.”
Honestly, I’m quite surprised that Halpern didn’t manage to slip in an interview with a puffin taxidermist, a rod-dowser, or that little old guy with the three foot beard that lives in the middle of nowhere with four dogs and a two-headed chicken and talks to elves. Perhaps it was a word-count issue?
And, by the way, Jón Gnarr is spot on: the dollar is far cooler! Clint Eastwood in ‘A Fistful of Euros’ just wouldn’t work.