Published August 24, 2012
Unlike most of Europe, Iceland escaped the ravages of World War II. With the exception of Hitler’s girlfriend, Eva Braun, who visited Ísafjörður and shot some ‘home videos’ that you can find on YouTube, the Nazis never showed up. Instead it was the British and then the Americans who occupied Iceland, bringing jobs and economic prosperity to a nation that had until then been living in turf houses and bathing once in a blue moon.
Modernity ushered in by the war was thus heavily influenced by American culture and values, which might explain why Iceland arguably became more capitalist than its Nordic brethren. And this influence remains despite the economic crash: Professor Hannes Hólmsteinn, among others, argues that Iceland now needs more Ayn Rand in their lives (Read more on page 24).
But Icelanders didn’t pick up on everything from the Americans. As Alda Sigmundsdóttir points out in her book, ‘The Little Book Of The Icelanders,’ Icelanders are not very good at manners and Icelandic men don’t have a romantic bone in their bodies. For instance, she says,
“You don’t get that sort of dating culture that exists in, say, America (or at least in American movies), where a guy asks a girl on a date and there’s a dinner and a movie, getting to know each other, maybe a second date a few days later” (Read more about Alda’s book on page 22).
This might explain why so many Icelandic women fell for those dashing American soldiers stationed in Iceland—a situation, which has literally gone down in history as ‘ástandið’ or “the situation.” At the time, Icelandic authorities were so worried about it that they set up committees to investigate and women found to be cavorting with soldiers were named and shamed.
While feelings about it have changed over time, “the situation” has certainly left its mark on society, permeating books, music and film for the last seven decades. In this issue’s feature, “Love In The Time Of War,” Valur Gunnarsson explores some of this lasting impact through Icelandic novels, which have yet to be translated into English. Turn to page 26 to read it (but don’t skip all of the other great stuff!).