Iceland’s dirty little secret

Let’s get it out.

The self-image is of go-getters, upbeat, happy and healthy people for whom nothing is impossible. This is the image we the people of Iceland have been trying to portray to the world. That we have roots in fishing and farming that has made us strong, resilient and adventurous.

On one side of the coin it is true, you meet an Icelander abroad and he is often the live of the party. You see our musicians and sportspeople and in the last few years the entrepreneurial raiders and they are always close to something going on, with lots of people around. But on the other side of the coin, they are usually also the ones nursing the worst hangovers.

Because our dirty little secret is that we are raging alcoholics.

Compensating – we are always compensating for the fact that we are such a small country. In a small country you experience the competitiveness of life very strongly. Your neighbor or classmate can easily ascend high on the ladder of life making you feel insecure and inept if you don’t climb as high. That’s why we must have big jobs, big cars, big vacations, expensive clothes, big grills, pretty wifes and 48 hours in the day to get everything done. A character in the most popular TV show here the Day-shift epitomizes this best when he is always reminding people of his five college degrees and cannot find peace unless his job has a managerial title, as in Sanitary Manager if his job is to mop the floor.

Co-dependent – a flock of sheep is a good description. You cling onto things and ideas and don’t let go, even if they let you down. No matter how abusive our leaders are then you invariably hear that they are doing a good job under pressure, which they incidentally brought upon themselves. If you lose everything and throw an egg at a building then people are quick to defend the building as it is somehow sacred because members of parliament hold their meetings there. In this environment, the abusive stepfather who is David Oddson can get away with putting his best friends on the board of governors of the Icelandic Central Bank, into the Supreme Court and his son onto  the district court and you will still find ordinary people defending them as being so capable, completely ignoring the fact that this is an attempt at democracy’s life.

Self-delusional – the biggest and the best in the world, when adjusted for population is the mantra. Because of the need to compensate we are easily sold clichees that we have some sort of superiority. But this is something every country tries to install in its consciousness. There are a lot of brilliant things about being an Icelander and many brilliant people hail from here, but exaggergation is not helful in any way. There are few things more cringeworthy than sitting with Icelanders explaining to foreign guests how we have the cleanest air, cleanest water, best lamb-meat, best milk, best night-life etc. When they start talking about the best tomatoes it is usually time to leave.

Unsympathetic – we look inwards instead of outwards. We keep away from international agreements and co-operation unless it is absolutely in our benefit. We hunt whales because we want to, with no regard to the fact that noone wants to buy the meat. We just do because a couple of rich guys want to and they will get subsidies. We don’t want the Euro or the EU, but when we screwed everything up that could be screwed up we run with our tails between our legs and then sulk when others are not keen on helping because we don’t help. We supported the War in Iraq. Actually it was just two guys, David Oddson, again and Halldor Asgrimsson who at the time were government majority leaders and did not feel the need to discuss this support with their nation, which was overwhelmingly against. As one of the wealthiest countries in the world, on paper at least, in the last few years we have spent shamefully little on foreign aid, instead building embassy palaces all over the world that now are being shut down because people realized that they were of no use.

What you have to know is that a great number of those businessmen who have contributed to our demise are either former alcoholics or children of alcoholics. It explains a lot about our national psyche. It explains why the dad (David Oddson) and the stepdad (Geir Haarde) are still hitting the bottle and the mom (Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir) is still quiet.


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