From Iceland — Sour Grape

Sour Grape

Published August 11, 2006

Sour Grape

Hello editor (Bart?)
I would like to start off by telling you that you and your staff are doing a “orl korrect” job with your newspaper. Although I find every month’s paper exactly what I expect, mostly sufficient. But my acquaintances, all foreigners, many of whom get Grapevine at Nings were I work, tell me that it’s somewhat too political and the rest ads.
If I understand your targeting correctly, you are trying to reach tourists and new immigrants. But, the big but, there are people here in Reykjavík who live and work here for a short amount of time (weeks or months) and needless to say, they are not learning Icelandic to read our other newspapers such as Morgunblaðið or Fréttablaðið. And therefore I (we) challenge you to publish more submitted articles. I bet you get tons of them! I have often thought of writing a bit or a piece, which would be more easy reading about common life here in Reykjavík.
I guess this group could stroll down to the nearest bookstore and get a foreign magazine if they want easy comfortable reading, instead of a newspaper full of statistics and politics. Will information about Reykjavík be in it? No, and probably nothing about life here in Reykjavík. So that’s what your paper lacks.
Whenever a foreigner steps into my place of work to grab a bite to eat, I try with my best, modest behaviour to place a copy of Grapevine on their table. That is my contribution to Reykjavík residents, to make immigrants more aware of Reykjavík and its community. How about community profiles?
I hope you take this under some consideration,
Best wishes,
María Worms
Thank you for your letter. First and foremost, we welcome submissions from anyone. We don’t publish most of our submissions because the writing isn’t clear enough, and it is usually too subjective – while I enjoy light reading, I don’t believe in printing diary entries.
The submissions we get go like this: 1) poetry with photos of the author, usually young women in stages of undress (serious), 2) political submissions and accusations, 3) rants about how to pick up women or men. We would love to read community descriptions.
We’ll continue to improve; you just continue pushing our paper on unsuspecting tourists. Finally, not to nit-pick, but we haven’t done much on politics in the last month or so. Our political discussions may be our most famous articles, but they only come around every few months. Stay in contact, and submit, please. The worst thing that will happen is we’ll say no.

Dear publisher/editor,
I must respond to your offensive review of the cookbook Delicious Iceland.
To begin with, it seems strange that you would review a book of recipes and dwell mostly on the Icelandic authors’ imperfect English. This is at best a cheap shot, since neither is a native English speaker. But it is also childish, and highlights what seems to be a trend at the paper: criticism which focuses less on evaluating a book’s merits and more on showcasing the critic’s own wit and erudition. For Delicious Iceland we made a conscious choice to keep the writing in the author’s voice, imperfections and all. We think it adds to the charm and intimate feel of the book. We’d naturally assumed that the reader’s main interest would be in the exquisite recipes, gorgeous photography, and getting to know the author. We certainly never imagined that the Grapevine critic would single out former president Vigdís Finnbogadóttir (a woman respected all over the world) for her “second grade English,” as he calls it. This is not only extremely insulting, but quite irrelevant as well. Ms. Finnbogadóttir is not an author of the book, she was simply expressing her support for Chef Völli’s talent and hard work. But the fact that you zero in on her dedication page (!) points out the deliberate nastiness in the review. Perhaps we Icelanders don’t learn much English in second grade, but it’s clear that some Americans don’t learn any manners at all.
We sent you a cookbook, not a novel. You admit, almost grudgingly it seems, that the recipes are wonderful, yet devote only a single paragraph to discussing some of them. Obviously you had other intentions in mind when reviewing the book, as is revealed most clearly in the following sentence: “Yeah, it’s a good time to laugh at people who have learned a few crafts, but decide to embarrass themselves publicly by failing in others.” A tragic sentiment. It’s your critic’s naked shallowness that embarrasses me, not the book’s grammatical errors. He should be embarrassed as well.
Though I’ll be surprised to see this letter printed in your paper (I expect a “witty,” cutting aside would accompany it), I would hope that you’ll take it to heart and seriously reconsider the tone your otherwise fine newspaper takes in its criticisms.
Hildur Hermóðsdóttir
Bókaútgáfan Salka
Ármúla 20
108 Reykjavík
Phone: +354 552 1122
First, let me compliment your groundbreaking choice to make a conscious decision to avoid spell-check, or even a casual glance at the authors’ work before you published it. I apologise for reading your book before reviewing it.
Had you read the book you published, you would realise that when you printed a dedication from the former president of Iceland, you not only failed to edit for tone, but you left little doozies like this: “Food is a part of every nation’s culture and no less so in Iceland than in other counties.” Neat. Way to be authentic to the author’s voice.
Sorry to be witty. Let me strip this response of any wit. You, as a publisher, failed your writers absolutely and completely. Writers place some trust in their publishers to monitor quality and do things like proofread – not publish whatever comes in the door and then attack reviewers who take the time to read your product.
As for why we didn’t call this a book of recipes: your sub-header is “Tales of unique northern delicacies.” It doesn’t say “Down home, illiterate recipes.”
Ultimately, we use wit and humour in the Grapevine reviews to mask the all-consuming pain of having to deal with incompetent people like yourself, and others who ask for reviews, then say that we were supposed to just look at the crap produced as though it were made by cute Icelanders. Our harshest reviews are usually written by Icelanders – and they spell many words correctly, and write sentences that go somewhere, and they don’t assault people who point out mistakes – but they are just fed up with a culture of “tourists will take anything you give them.”
On a lighter note, as one Icelander who laughed his way through your letter noted, there does seem to be a fundamental cultural gap going on: you think that someone pointing out mistakes is being rude for doing so; I think a critic doing his or her job is being professional. The Grapevine printed a legitimate review of your book. You have decided to use the ad hominem response and just attack the reviewer and hold up the reputation of the people whose work you Xeroxed, without bothering to check if there was anything correct in the review. Our review is accurate.
In any case, I’m glad you’ve learned what shame is. If you feel shame when other people point out your errors, well, that’s a step towards something.

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