From Iceland — Last Words: To Fit the Needs of the Present

Last Words: To Fit the Needs of the Present

Last Words: To Fit the Needs of the Present

Published August 10, 2017

Photo by
Art Bicnick

In my late teens, when I was still playing football somewhat seriously, I had a teammate hailing from Nigeria. A very fine and gentle guy who also had a good sense of humor. Legend has it that in Nigeria, there is a black market aimed at footballers, where they can buy false documents to make their transition to professional football in Europe easier. These are mainly false birth certificates, for instance one saying that a thirty-year-old is seventeen, and therefore, seemingly, a prodigal talent in comparison to actual teenagers. I don’t know how old my teammate actually was, but once in a scrimmage, teams were divided into “young vs. old.” The trainer asked, “Paul, how old are you?” The answer he gave was memorable, to say the least: “How old do you want me to be?”

At the moment the UEFA Women’s Championship is taking place in Holland, where the Icelandic team is of course present. Alongside them are legions of fans, all dressed in their blue-and-white Iceland shirts, some even wearing those horned “Viking” helmets. And during the games, you guessed it, they are doing the “Viking clap”… HUH!

 “Icelandic culture has nothing to do with Vikings. We are American first, and a cemented Domino’s Pizza, second.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am a fan of the Icelandic team representing our country at the Euros. Of course, it’s literally difficult not getting inspired. But at the same time, I laughed uncontrollably when a playwright friend of mine tweeted something along the lines of “Icelandic culture has nothing to do with Vikings. We are American first, and a cemented Domino’s Pizza, second.” I laughed, because it’s true.

If asked, I’m guessing most people would know the correct answer to the question of how many horned Viking helmets have ever actually been excavated in Iceland. Yep, none. Which is not less than anywhere else—there were never any horns on the Viking’s helmets. And very few helmets of any kind have been found in Iceland to begin with. There were, arguably, no Vikings here. Ever. Nothing but tax-avoiding peasant refugees.

So why do we construct this cultural heritage of “Vikings” and male toughness and disgusting food? Well, the past is reconstructed to fit the needs of the present, as Bourdieu would probably say. We create a marketable sense of ourselves that can be sold in tourist shops. This is very interesting, because amongst themselves, Icelanders will make fun of these retrofitted myths which are marketed abroad. But when it comes to interaction with visitors, some of us thrive in taking part. There is no Icelander in a right frame of mind eating shark, really. Not unless, of course, it comes to proving your “Icelandicness” or “Viking spirit” for other nationalities. Even Björk has gone so far as to say she believes in elves.

I guess I’m only asking: “How Icelandic do you want me to be?”

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