From Iceland — Letters


Published July 22, 2005


FYI – San Francisco Chronicle has a piece (or two) on Iceland in yesterday’s edition, including a para singing the praises of the Grapevine.
Excerpt from John Flinn’s San Francisco Chronicle piece “But Do the Hidden People Eat Rotted Shark Heads?”:
In the middle of the flap, the Grapevine, an excellent, irreverent, English-language Reykjavik tabloid (and my main source on this topic) published the results of a 2004 global survey by Durex, the world’s largest manufacturer of condoms. On all the major benchmarks of sexual behavior, the paper reported, Iceland was at or near the top of the list. Perhaps understandably, this didn’t calm anyone down.
The Oprah episode came as Iceland was just getting over an ill-considered 2003 Icelandair advertising campaign urging British tourists to come and “have a one-night stand,” “have a dirty weekend” and “pester a beauty queen.” One ad showed three obviously naked women cuddling together in an oversized Icelandic sweater. Women’s groups filed a complaint and the airline eventually ditched the ads.
Coincidentally or not, the Grapevine reported, Icelandic tourism rose sharply after the ads, especially among the British.
I wouldn’t get too excited. The San Francisco Chronicle is probably just trying to steal our readership. Still, this is a nice break from the New York Times, who come to Iceland and get information from us, including phone numbers and contacts, then misreport damned near everything including the spelling of names. God do the New York Times articles about Iceland SUCK.
Dear Grapevine,
I was pleased to discover there was an article regarding Iceland’s drug “problem” just today in the latest issue. First I should introduce myself, I am a 17-year-old Dane living in Egilsstaðir with my boyfriend currently. We have been together a year, and in this time-span, I have met what seems to be thousands of Icelanders. When the topic of drugs comes up, it seems to be absolutely taboo here. I would admit I have puffed the dragon quite a few times, and if it weren’t me dating an Icelander (who adamantly bans me from using weed), I would probably continue to smoke marijuana on a regular basis. Not one Icelandic person I have met thinks hash or pot is in any way “OK” or “not a big deal” unlike one would encounter in other Nordic countries (in particular Denmark). I am always looked down upon with disgust or discomfort when I tell people I think weed is not a big deal (if done in moderation) and I enjoy smoking it. I feel as if I am some sort of criminal! Yet here in Iceland getting smashed out of one’s mind at the local bar every weekend is not of concern at all! I do not drink, I do not smoke cigarettes nor do I use any other drugs. All I have ever done is smoked weed occasionally, and everyone here in Iceland makes me feel as if I have done something irrevocably unforgivable. To me, this is very bizarre, seeing as I was raised in Southern California most of my life where pot and drugs are part of every day life and I’d say a little under 50% of kids smoke pot.
Here in Iceland I feel as though the drug culture is non-existent. What I have found surprising is the fact that I am not living in Reykjavík, but in Egilsstaðir where one would think drugs are extremely prevalent – yet they aren’t! In the US for instance, country towns are typically full of hard drugs and teenagers tweaked out of their minds…but this isn’t the case in outback Iceland I have come to see. Surprisingly there is an extremely anti-drug view in Iceland (which I guess isn’t a bad thing) yet when I mention Iceland’s alcohol problem Icelanders shrug it off as if it is no big deal and say “it’s our culture”… I must disagree that Iceland has a drug “problem”, however. The anonymous people you encountered for your piece obviously have biased views. The girl who is a junkie, well, she is most likely hanging out with THE junkies of Iceland. I am sure Iceland – Reykjavík has a small junkie scene but it’s certainly not an epidemic, and I don’t see it becoming a huge problem in the future…Iceland maintains a very small population and if it ever were to become an epidemic it would be controlled very easily. It is a family tight knit society. Singapore seems to take care of the problem very easily with their virtually non-existent drug culture – death penalty for criminals who smuggled drugs…maybe Icelanders should consider this?
– Peter Kristiansen
PS – how is Grapevine funded if they are tax free copies and free period? Also, I am planning to move to Reykjavík next year…any job openings from the Grapevine? I am a writer myself. Take care.
You’re hired! No, not really. But you’re 17, and your views are probably still being shaped, and the fact that you asked for a job suggests that the offensive undertones in this letter were accidental.
To answer a few questions raised in your letter: 1) We are funded by advertisers. The tax free line that we ran in issue 8 was a joke relating to our cover. 2) Small populations can have difficulties with substance abuse. In fact, as you point out, Iceland has an almost epidemic difficulty with alcohol at the moment. As drugs are cheaper than liquor, and as they are now produced on a large scale locally… warning about the change in behaviour seemed wise. 3) Because the local culture and the local legal system does not distinguish between hard and soft drugs, as our journalist pointed out, it makes sense that dealers try to sell drugs like cocaine, which hold higher profit margins and higher addiction levels. For me as an observer, the amount of casual cocaine use in downtown Reykajvík has been shocking. The local chief of police agrees with me, and has gone on television to warn of the increase of cocaine-use in Reykajvík. 4) What’s wrong with you on that Singapore thing? 5) Are drugs really a part of every day life for children in Southern California? Now I finally understand Pokéman.
Finally, do not mess with drugs in Iceland. Perhaps we did not make things clear, but if you are a foreigner, and you get busted with pot in Iceland, you’ll probably go to jail or get deported.
They really don’t have a sense of humour about these things… when foreigners do it.
Bart – I read something by your friend Ed in a not so long ago Daily Life column on Iceland Review online that mentioned Kaffibarinn. And I read your story about four days on the Ring Road while my friend & I were at Skaftafell in the midst of a 3-week hitchhiking trip around Iceland. I’m now sitting at Kaffibarinn with said friend and would love to talk with you about a story before we go back home to Colorado. What do you think? Can you meet us for a drink or coffee? Dawn & Farland
I’m not home. And my girlfriend lifts weights and drinks skyr. Also, Kaffibarinn is so played out.
Hi Bart,
I’m Atli and I sing in the band Hölt hóra. I just wan’t to correct two misprints (or typos) in your review.Our album costs 1000 ISK (or less). Two beers according to your system. The lyric you quoted says “I wanna burn like the others/burn like they do.” The song is about when the devil had doubts about his existence.
thank you for listening to our album,
– Atli
Atli. You make an excellent point, especially as I wrote “Bum like the others do.” To be fair, we’re talking about screamed lyrics. BUT, I know when I’ve messed up. Regarding the price, bands should submit their prices with the CD, and Holt Hora’s disc really looks expensive. I apologize here and now, and I am running a new review of Holt Hora. If only I had made some errors on the Kippi Kaninus and Bubbi Morthens reviews in which I expressed my immense disappointment with their recent albums.

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