Iceland

Although my only visit to Iceland lasted but a few hours and concentrated on the airport, I still got a glimpse of the island, it's climate (winter), nature, and people.

However, the reason to include Iceland in my journals is not a wish to convey my own few observations, but the fact that a book has just come out which tells a very interesting story of Iceland and its inhabitants.

In the literary supplement to the Danish paper weekendavisen of 20 July 2001, Islandic writer Hallgrimur Helgason presents a very elegant and funny satire on Icelanders, so well put that it deserves wider recognition.

It's probably fair to assume a slight bias and exaggeration to bring the flogging of Helgason's countrymen home, but even so there's plenty left to bring about some interesting information.

First of all, Icelanders find nature boring and ugly and above all: cold.  In fact, so cold that they try to avoid working outside - the necessary work outside and in industries that require cold conditions (such as the on shore fishing industry) is done by immigrants from Poland and the former Yugoslavia (non-European immigrants are not welcome, but tolerated, especially soccer players).

In the capital Reykjavik the sun is out three days a year: once in June and twice in July. Up north the number of sunny days is greater: eight days a year.  A direct result of this is that nobody has a tan, but sometimes, in the dark period of the year,  Icelanders strip to bring some light into the room.

This is probably also why Iceland attracts the most boring kind of tourists: masochists and minimalist puritans who bring their own health food are the only ones you will meet outside, especially if the weather is bad which it most often is.

The media fare well in Iceland.  There are two state run radio channels of which one broadcasts only weather reports.  Elderly people like to bet on the weather - it's a favorite pastime.  Beside the two state channels there are five "free" channels, all owned by the same man who happens to reside outside Iceland.
   The biggest daily is not a daily at all, so when the volcano Hekla erupted last year it took four days for the news to reach publication.  By then the eruption had ended which made the news the day after the first news.

Due to natural circumstances the only kind of TV available is cable which means that Icelanders watch the soaps we watch.  Together with the long tradition of chewing bubble gum, this trait is mainly due to the presence of the American Air base near Reykjavik since the 1940s.  Nowhere in the world is the average consumption of coca-cola higher than in Iceland.

Two years ago discos and night clubs in Reykjavik were granted permission to stay open all night which has had an unexpected effect: the child birth rate has fallen drastically to 50 percent of what it was before.  Now the city council has decided to reinstate the old opening hours in an attempt to preserve the birth rate.

The article doesn't say what Icelanders do for a living - perhaps because there isn't any - living, that is.

July 2001
Erik Moldrup