Iceland is beautiful, no doubt about it.
Indeed, we all love hearing about societies made up of creative and eccentric weirdos living dangerously close to the edge of the map. Especially if the land they inhabit is a constant and active playground for the elements. Especially if it comes with a history ripe with myths of elves and trolls.
While the PR guys in your average run-of-the-mill country need to lie to themselves about their motherlands’ potential for tourism, and then further lie to the outside world, Iceland remains unconcerned. Its image is perfect. Everybody is an artist. Nobody has to work. There’s no crime, and no need to lock your front door. Everyone agrees—Iceland is the taste of week, every week. It’s been that way for a while now.
Well, you see, there’s that, and then there’s reality. And I want to talk about the latter.
1) There are no trees in Iceland
Errrm… no. There are trees in Iceland. In some places, they have even reached a proper size.
Thus, if you for some reason find an Icelander that’s willing to talk to you, and he winds up telling you that joke—sporting a weird, artificial smile—about getting lost in an Icelandic forest, you can rest assured that he’s doing that because he wants to be nice to tourists. He wants to give you little something, anything, to repeat to your loved ones back home. Or maybe blog about.
2) Icelanders believe in elves
Let’s be honest now. Only idiots believe in elves. What I mean is this: you have to be an idiot to believe in elves. And let’s not forget that most Icelanders are quite educated.
Then again, there is this strange, widespread conviction about Icelanders commitment to the elfin cause.
In a way, they got what was coming to them. They played out their elf card for a long time, feeding it to any foreign freelance journalist who would listen. Icelander don’t seem to mind fostering an image that depicts them as a little bit “crazy,” a little bit “weird,” but when next fun trivia fact about them is doing another round in world media, subjecting their nation to ridicule, they tend to abandon their cool facade, hit you back with a grumpy stare, expecting rectification and an official apology.
The current state of affairs is that the Icelanders are retreating from the whole myth, and they are doing that with characteristic touch of superiority—claiming that it was all a joke to make everyone feel cute, and you have to be at least silly to believe that someone takes this whole elf talk seriously.
3) Nobody locks their doors, or their cars, in Iceland
This is a spectacular myth, which might have been true a couple of centuries ago, when butter was the national currency. It isn’t true now, when a large part of Icelanders own shiny expensive SUVs and keep fancy plasma screen TVs in their living rooms.
4) Icelanders are one with nature
This is a very sensitive, touchy subject. It’s not easy to describe Icelanders’ relationship with the nature that surrounds them. Environmental protection is a source of major conflict, debates, and protests. Common people seem to be sensitive and try to keep a finger on the pulse, but generally seem to vote into office folks that are all to eager to approve the construction of yet another aluminium smelting plant, and sell substantial parts of the country to Chinese investors interested in establishing Arctic Circle theme parks.
All the while, whales are slaughtered, even if absolutely nobody eats them anymore, and yes, I’m shameless enough to mention it: any polar bear that makes it to Iceland is killed on sight.
5) It is safe in Iceland
Iceland is probably safer than anywhere else, but there is absolutely no reason to get excited about it. The living conditions in Iceland render it an ideal terrarium for mental fucktards, for which winter darkness perfectly imitates the natural ecosystem of disturbed depths of their brains. Try to wear an anorak during weekend nights in some random pub, and you will run away under the influence of indulgent glances from skinny, tattooed guys in ponytails, just to come back next day feeling like a socially isolated monster.
It’s that easy to get confused up there. Apart from that we can meet folks threatening us with dirty needles, wanting to rape us (over 250 cases of sexual violence a year), or kill us (26 murders since 2000).
6) Icelanders are ambassadors of equality
… and they buried a pig’s head at the site where a mosque was to be built, rampant violence against women, and a gender-based wage gap to prove that.
7) Politicians in Iceland are your friends
It would appear so with all those news about witty lesbians taking higher positions in Icelandic government regularly reaching foreign media in the past, but this doesn’t change the fact that politicians in Iceland are currently some of the worst in the history of politics. Quite often, people gather in front of parliament to remind them about it. Folks in charge don’t even try to pretend that they fooled everyone, and society can only helplessly watch news about their PM being so stoked about meeting Barack Obama that he allegedly bit his toenail too hard, and had to wear two different shoes for the occasion.
Well, it all doesn’t matter, really. People tend to glorify places, believing that “somewhere out there, life is better”, as a sad violin plays along. Hell, how can you resist glorifying Iceland, with all those amazingly looking, over-saturated landscape photos of its nature all over the place? Anyway, Icelanders will manage. They can handle themselves, they’ve heard everything, and they are immune to hearing it again. Even if some tourists will come dangerously close to making them publicly burst into tears, they can always tell them that “if you like weather in Iceland, wait fifteen minutes,” and quietly wipe their sweaty palms on their pants.
Bart Zielinski is Cracov based journalist who, with such claims as “I’m better than others” and “I see so much more than the others,” was a well- targeted tourist back in the times of the “Inspired by Iceland” campaign. And boy is he grumpy about it. Shamelessly bad at playing guitar, he luckily got his money back by playing “Wonderwall” over, and over again on the streets of Reykjavík.