With the holiday season upon us, it’s time for a little old fashioned Icelandic hospitality. It seems that visitors from the UK are the most susceptible to our charms, with 53,000 British tourists visiting Iceland in October alone. Iceland has welcomed an astounding 700,000 travellers from all over the world since the beginning of this year, so it stands to reason that we know how to show folks a good time.
While some esteemed visitors get the royal treatment, certain locals have not been treated so well. Take, for instance, the 39 employees of RÚV, Iceland’s national broadcasting service, who were laid off without warning (21 others will soon be let go). In a press release, Páll Magnússon, the director of RÚV, stated that these cuts were prompted by the new state budget proposal. However, these budget cuts will not be confirmed for sure until the end of December. The lay-offs sparked several well-attended protests organised by outraged citizens who–recalling comments by several MPs that RÚV is biased towards EU membership and that the station receives “an abnormal amount of money”–believe that they were “politically fueled.”
Iceland also experienced a sad first in its history this month when police shot and killed a man who had opened fire from his apartment in the Árbær neighborhood in Reykjavík. Two policemen were shot and wounded by the man, who they tried to subdue with tear gas before shooting him. The man later died from his injuries. This is the first time that a civilian has been shot and killed by Icelandic police.
Customers of Vodafone, one of the country’s primary telecommunications companies, experienced another dubious “first” in Iceland’s history. Following a website break-in perpetrated by a group of Turkish hackers, the passwords, text messages, and personal information of over 70,000 Vodafone customers–including MPs and government ministers–were published online. The attack was possible because Vodafone had not encrypted passwords and, in contravention of Icelandic law, was also storing communications data that was more than six months old. With 300 MB of data stolen, this attack is the largest cyber attack that Iceland has ever experienced.
It seems that many people aren’t interested in keeping the private, well, private (or should we say their *privates* private). A recent survey conducted by Masters’ students in journalism and reporting at the University of Iceland found that nearly 15% of respondents admit to having sex on campus. “School isn’t just a place to study,” one anonymous interviewee remarked, which is probably a sentiment shared by some students in the Faculty of Business Administration. It recently came to light that for years, a student entertainment committee has been organising official student events to strip clubs.
Such outings would probably be more difficult if Reykjavík’s notorious “champagne clubs” were given the permanent kibosh, but even as police shut down the VIP Club for suspected prostitution, just around the corner, Strawberries, which was raided in October, still has a valid liquor license and has reopened.
Perhaps it was with these latest strip club scandals in mind that `geirvarta,’ or `nipple,’ was declared the ugliest word in Icelandic. This finding followed the results of the University of Iceland’s Most Beautiful Word contest, which declared the word `ljósmóðir,’ or `midwife,’ to be the language’s most lovely.
Pretty words aren’t enough to bolster the spirits of the many whose hearts broke as Iceland’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup during their away match against Croatia. Or perhaps Icelanders experiencing winter doldrums should blame Daylight Savings Time instead, or rather, the lack of it. The chairperson of an Icelandic health organisation issued a statement declaring that the lack of Daylight Saving Time in Iceland contributes to depression in Icelanders.
But even as the days are growing shorter and darker, Christmas is on the horizon, with all its attendant delights. Reykjavík’s mayor did his bit to herald the arrival of the holidays: in early November, Jón Gnarr travelled to Norway to chop down the city’s 2013 tree himself. At the time of its chopping the tree, which had been carefully cultivated for Reykjavík for ten years, was 42 years old.