I should probably begin by explaining the title to those of you who were born to a different generation. It’s a reference to a slogan used by MTV in the 1980s. If you love American culture you’d be considered a philistine not to look this up. Until today I felt like I was living (temporarily) in the most liberal modernised country in the world. The rules seemed to be fair and based on common sense, decency, and intelligence. They were administered by people of equal merit. I was impressed. Then I had a run-in with Icelandic customs law. Olympus, a company I am an Ambassador for, sent me some equipment to try out. Despite my employers labelling the shipments with ”demonstration purposes only” and ”not for resale” and “no commercial value,” the goods were held by customs until a tariff of 78,000 ISK was paid.
After quite a lot of talking on the phone to various intelligent, friendly people, and several emails thereafter, I managed to get the tariff lowered by 18,000 and a temporary levy was placed on the goods, which meant I could get the money refunded once I exited the country. What, you guys don’t take a cheque? Escrow? Faberge eggs? You see, a credit card billing cycle is normally something like 30 days, but this incident falls in the middle of mine, so I will be forced to pay this amount off before then or be charged interest. My only other option was to put the tariff on my debit card and be charged 2.5% plus a £1 foreign transaction fee and not have access to that money for a month. For all I can see this is at best a hostage situation to prevent the goods from staying in the country and selling at a lower price, at worst it is a song and dance. Please note that everyone in this experience was delightful to deal with.
I arrive at DHL to recover the goods and pay the tariff, but the amounts on the invoices haven’t been changed to reflect the new “low” price of 60,000 ISK. My ride waits patiently for me as yet another nice human being helps to remedy this paperwork scramble. About ten minutes later I am charging my English credit card, I am handed an E14 form in Icelandic (thankfully I have made friends with some locals for translation) and told that I can recuperate these funds at the airport when I leave Iceland. In a month. Bring the items for serial number verification please, thank you. As I walk out, I think about how this pedantry concerning the importation of goods must, with every taxed krona, generate a hostile feeling which feeds back into society.
These rules, and many more like them abroad, set up by our governments and businesses to regulate trade and labour alike, pave the way not only for more hostility and stress in a society but goad unruly citizens into the very criminal behaviour that governments go to great lengths to prevent. I’m certain there are a lot of other effects that we could research, pull into focus groups, and draw out on graph paper and pie charts. But why should we?
Most of us inherently sense the limitations to a restrictive system. I wonder how much it costs to administer and enforce this customs process compared to what it brings in terms of government revenue. Really, how is this system benefiting society given its restrictive nature and the all too often negative impact on people it is intended to serve? Because if it makes sense, financial sense at least, then I can work the logic. But if it doesn’t, shouldn’t it be criminal? I mull this over as I consider what life would be like living in Iceland full-time: taking the bus to Elko in the blizzard to buy a television, to wile away winter’s edge because I can’t simply order one on Amazon and have it delivered.
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