From Iceland — LETTERS


Published June 10, 2005


Dear Sir/Madam,
I live in India — thousands of miles away from Iceland’s shores. Tonight there was a special Oprah Winfrey show in which she interviewed an actress from my country named Aishwarya Rai. She was followed by a beautiful lady from your country named Svanhildur Valsdottir – who presented some delicacies from your country to Oprah, which she refused to even taste.
I am not from Iceland and have never even been to your wonderful country, but I was happy to learn about your country from this show. But in my mind, Oprah tried to make fun of Iceland. I felt that her approach was condescending. I want the people of Iceland to know that if any of you felt bad about the show — you have a friend thousands of miles away that shares your feelings.
My country is a land where from ancient times a guest has been treated like a divine being and was the most honoured. I felt that Oprah invited someone to her show and then tried to mock everyone from every country and did not like it when a lady from Belgium used the word ‘overrated’ in reference to America.
Well, one good thing is that I came to know about your wonderful country and a small aspect of the life of your people.
Prashant Solomon
New Delhi, India
Well said. There are a few things we can learn from this: 1) Oprah Winfrey is not a journalist. She essentially sells the status quo. People should stop watching her programme. 2) Despite extremely circumspect editing and a host who was out to objectify her, Svanhildur was able to connect with viewers from around the world. Which means Svanhildur may have super-powers.
Hugleikur is not funny.
When my three friends and I came to Reykjavik at the end of May for our first visit, I was happy to find an English-language local (Grapevine Issue 6), until I turned to page 20 and saw Hugleikur’s panel on AIDS. That kind of humour went out in the mid-80s, kids.
For your records: my friends who have died of AIDS were named Robert, Benn, David, Patrick, Manuel and Julie. While I was reading your paper, one of my friends asked to see it, wanted to page through it. I hoped he would not turn to page 20, but he did. He is warm, kind, frank and has made me laugh more than Hugleikur ever will. He has had the virus that causes AIDS for some years now. When he saw that panel I felt a rush of shame and embarrassment; it had been my idea to come to Iceland. It seems there is nowhere one can get away from it, even in ‘liberal’, ‘cosmopolitan’ Reykjavik.
Like I said, Hugleikur is not funny.
Joseph Konrad
You make a point. I judged the piece on how many people were laughing, which was not the right thing to do in this case. I apologize.
I think the joke was tasteless. It talked about a fear on a lot of people’s minds,(according to the CIA World Factbook, there are 220 Icelanders living with H.I.V./ AIDS,) but it wasn’t meant to be hurtful. Perhaps I had rationalized my choice by telling myself the ideal impact of such a joke would be public discussion. I was wrong to rationalize, and I was wrong to run the panel.
Hello Grapevine,
I find your newspaper to be extremely anti-Icelandic in that really your newspaper just seems to point out the negatives of Iceland, so why do you stay there? Honestly? Obviously you will have a biased view on immigration, but how bout looking at it from an Icelandic point of view. We are a small country, with a fragile country, a fragile population, if we accepted some
huge influx of immigrants with a totally different culture, background and language what would happen to us and our culture? We are small and thus we must preserve our Nordic culture. Why must we have to be the American melting pot? Do you think thousands of ultra fundamentalist Muslims would
fit well in society here? No, in my opinion. I think it would clash quite a bit with our culture and country. We believe in gay rights, an egalitarian society, immigrants from third world countries just do not belong here. It’s not as if we are racist, that we are a hateful people, but we are the last homogenous white society in the world, and we are proud of that, just as I am sure other homogenous societies are in Africa and the Middle East. We
have already enough outside influences, why can’t we keep our own? Please, for a change write something POSITIVE about Iceland and our people, instead of pointing out our constant negative sides. We don’t mind criticism and I certainly don’t tolerate censorship and think we must hide our problems, but for god sakes, give us a break! We’re not bombing countries in the far east are we!? We’re building a freakin’ dam for chris’sakes! It would just be nice to see something positive about this great country for a change. What do you say? A deal?
Pétur Kristján Jansson, Reykjavík
Of the many positives I would mention about Iceland: an impressive literary tradition from the sagas of the 13th century through Laxness and writers like Sjón today; an outstanding music scene, breathtaking nature, a tolerant society, and the world’s oldest parliament, I hadn’t thought of plugging “the last homogenous white society in the world.” Maybe you should do the promotions for Iceland. You could put blue-eyed blondes on posters and paste them around the… oh wait, that’s already been done. Which is odd, because there aren’t too many blue-eyed blondes here. Why? Because as historians and your own treasured sagas will point out, Iceland was an extremely diverse society at the time of settlement. And guess what: living on an island in the middle of the richest fishing reserves in the world brings a lot of visitors. Hence a former Prime Minister, Davíð Oddsson, proud of his African ancestor.
But presenting that argument somehow vindicates your belief that homogenous societies need protection, and it ignores the realities of the last thirty years of Icelandic culture. Iceland wants to be modern. People here want a full economy. This requires a work force. This requires immigration. We only argue that immigrants, once here, should be treated like human beings.
And here’s a note to all you bigots and racists who want to grow up and be just like Mr. Jansson: if you’re a citizen of a country that very publicly supports the invasion of Iraq, don’t send a letter that excuses all your country’s actions by claiming that at least you’re not bombing anyone. Then again, arguing that you have a tolerant society and therefore want to be extremely intolerant also is a bad idea.

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