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Wall Street on the Tundra
March 4, 2009 6:41 PM   Subscribe

"Iceland is no longer a country. It is a hedge fund." Also: exploding Range Rovers and the environmental impacts on elves. (Pre-vi-ous-ly.)
posted by shii (86 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Björkrupt.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:58 PM on March 4, 2009 [11 favorites]


Actually, Bjork is starting an investment fund.
posted by jaduncan at 6:59 PM on March 4, 2009


A great read. Was just about to post it, thanks.

Who are the Icelander Mefi'ers? What'd you think of the article?
posted by telstar at 7:09 PM on March 4, 2009


The extraordinary thing about Iceland's rise and fall is that it was preceded by this drama of greed and collapse, and yet no one seemed to learn any lessons at all.
posted by WPW at 7:09 PM on March 4, 2009


Here is a post from last year about how awesome Iceland is and here is a comment about how they will probably have economic problems at some point
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:11 PM on March 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


also here, cuz i was trying to prevent this :P but to no avail!
posted by kliuless at 7:17 PM on March 4, 2009


Ha, good post. I thought about doing an FPP on this article earlier today, when I saw it linked by O'Reilly Radar. This truly is an excellent article.
posted by limeonaire at 7:21 PM on March 4, 2009


telstar: Who are the Icelander Mefi'ers? What'd you think of the article?

We'd have something to say but we're too busy being inbred.
posted by Kattullus at 7:23 PM on March 4, 2009 [14 favorites]


Previously on the elves.
posted by homunculus at 7:30 PM on March 4, 2009


We'd have something to say but we're too busy being inbred.

Do you know Björk?
posted by ryoshu at 7:33 PM on March 4, 2009 [8 favorites]


Here's a question: do you think the author of this article would have been less eager to blatantly and systematically stereotype the entire population of the country if he had been talking about, say, Namibia? "Namibians love hunting gazelle, and they treat everything like it was a gazelle hunt. Every time I look at a Namibian I see a cannibal stalking the veld, out for my blood. While male Nabimians are all hypercompetitive, savagely aggressive alpha males, the women are calmer and more rational." Etc., etc. This is some nineteenth century shit right here.
posted by nasreddin at 7:44 PM on March 4, 2009 [16 favorites]


What a frustrating article. The financial stuff is fascinating, but the human-interest end amounts to "Those damn Icelanders are all the same." If you really think every last adult male in the country boils down to the same ignorant-asshole caricature, then why waste our time profiling so many of 'em?
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:47 PM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


(Heh. Hi nasreddin. Hi preview button.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:48 PM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Finding these articles are among my favorite things about Metafilter. Thanks, shii!
posted by JHarris at 7:51 PM on March 4, 2009


Michael Lewis strikes a balance between whatever the topic is and human interest stuff. Its his style. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.
posted by christhelongtimelurker at 7:57 PM on March 4, 2009


Must have lost the kaupaloki.
posted by tellurian at 8:01 PM on March 4, 2009


He if anything glossed over their horrible racism. My company represented an Icelandic company for 12 years, and their total belief in their own superiority and their raciist belief in the inferiority of anyone else whether end-user or us, their representatives, was inescapable.
posted by localroger at 8:04 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


The financial part of the article is interesting, and I don't really doubt the rubes-with-money aspect of the collapse. However, his characterization of Icelandic men and the Icelandic people in general is not at all in line with my personal experience (admittedly as a tourist and only for a few days, but that's all the author has either!).

My impression of Icelanders, speaking very broadly, was of an extraordinarily hardworking bunch of people, working to build a society they were justly very proud of, under less-than-favorable conditions. The number of people I chatted with who seemed to have multiple full-time or near-full-time jobs surprised me. (This was in 2004 or so.)

I was certainly never bumped into on the street, or felt any sort of hostility from other men. I question whether the author was perhaps being an asshole, in order to get that sort of treatment.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:05 PM on March 4, 2009


...he probably seemed like a banker.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:07 PM on March 4, 2009


Michael Lewis strikes a balance between whatever the topic is and human interest stuff. Its his style. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

Right, I'm not annoyed that he tried to work in human interest stuff. Lots of authors do that, and it's a perfectly respectable way to write. I'm just annoyed that he did such a lousy job of it.

I mean, I'd have loved to learn something about individual Icelanders' lives, or Icelandic culture as a whole, but basically all I got is that they somehow managed to piss Michael Lewis right off, and that's kind of tedious.

(Which, again, is frustrating, because the explanation of the financial stuff was fascinating and well-written. I'm glad the article was called to my attention too, despite its flaws.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:09 PM on March 4, 2009


Dude, Iceland is like one big extended family! And their society was like totally ruined! Because of some bad banking! I have a lot of random anecdotes that I would like to wildly generalize! Also, did you know that Iceland is small?
posted by ssg at 8:13 PM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


We'd have something to say but we're too busy being inbred.

I demand proof. Here's a banjo.
posted by jonmc at 8:21 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, the investment fund is named after Bjork. I appreciate the talent that goes into her music just as much as I appreciate investment professional (seriously), but I wouldn't put money down on her beating prime %.

And on further note with regards to Iceland and Bjork, everyone knows her. Seriously, there's like 200,000 people there. I met a teacher of hers in China once.
posted by sleslie at 8:21 PM on March 4, 2009


Haven't read the linked article yet, but here's another interesting one regarding Iceland's political culture (among other things) from Harper's last October. Just read it on the bus before I got home and checked mefi, if you're into the whole spooky coincidences thing.
posted by antonymous at 8:30 PM on March 4, 2009


The article was really long, and I admit I did not read it all, but what I read did not seem nearly so bad as some are making it out to sound. At least to me.

[Although I visited Iceland for the first time for four days about a week before this past Christmas, I do not claim to know much about it (I will leave that to mefi icelanders katullus and marissa stole the precious thing, and also languagehat), but I was pleasantly surprised at how busy with local holiday shoppers the stores seemed at the time. I was expecting there to be more visible signs of economic hardship.]

Speaking of island nations in Europe that recently boomed but are now going bust, the economic news from Ireland is especially grim these days.
posted by ornate insect at 8:34 PM on March 4, 2009


Okay... I'm going to attempt make a coherent answer to this article. Let me start with what's good in it.

Michael Lewis' description of just how fucked up the financial business in Iceland was is spot on. You had a situation where essentially 20-30 boys, people in their late 20s and early 30s, could play with billions of dollars as if they were toys. The close corporate ties and immature financial system allowed them to create value where none existed. Like every other nation Icelanders believe that we're special by dint of being Icelandic. The financial moguls tapped into this national myth and managed to wrap themselves up in this supposed specialness. This lead to all criticism of Icelandic financial operators (let's call them oligarchs) being assailed as unpatriotic. It didn't help that all media in Iceland except the state broadcaster was owned (and still is) either by oligarchs or people close to the Independence Party, which is the party of rich guys. So dissent was marginalized. Those oligarchs and the people around them had a horrible ideology of their own superiority. So all these young men got to live out their superhero fantasies with billions of dollars worth of fake wealth created in a classic bubble without ever having to hear anyone tell them that they were frauds. Catastrophes have been spun from less thread.

Everything Michael Lewis writes about the financial aspects is, as far as I can tell, very spot on.

Some of what he writes about Icelandic society is astute. Icelanders tend to be very thinskinned as a people when it comes to the judgment of foreigners. This is common to former colonies everywhere. I wish that Lewis had gone into this aspect because it's really hard to understand some aspects of what happened, especially with the Icelandic reaction to Danske Bank. Iceland was a colony for nearly seven centuries, for most of that time under Danish rule. Former colonies are rarely ready to trust their former colonizers. Therefore, even correct analysis (like DB offered) is going to be heavily distrusted. Especially when it's perceived as a direct strike at the self-image of the nation.

I also wish that he'd gone into how Iceland is only very recently urbanized. Before 1900 there were barely any villages in Iceland. Before 1950 Reykjavík was not a city. My generation was the first to have been born to parents who had grown up in a city environment. The DIY attitude that Lewis deplores is also very common in rural cultures. You fix something yourself because there's no one else around to fix it.

He hints towards both but doesn't really get into it, which is a shame, because I hadn't really thought of these angles before reading the article.

As to the bad... well... let me first excerpt what has to be the least self-aware passage I've read in a good while: "When Neil Armstrong took his small step from Apollo 11 and looked around, he probably thought, Wow, sort of like Iceland—even though the moon was nothing like Iceland. But then, he was a tourist, and a tourist can’t help but have a distorted opinion of a place: he meets unrepresentative people, has unrepresentative experiences, and runs around imposing upon the place the fantastic mental pictures he had in his head when he got there."

When I read that my head spun. I thought: "Oh my God! How brilliant! He's filled the article with all the worst possible stereotypes about Iceland and now he'll pull the rug right from under them and present something closer to reality." But then, two sentences later we get this "Icelanders are among the most inbred human beings on earth" business and my jaw hurt from the rapid contact it had with the floor.

I'm still somewhat stunned that no one at an editorial stage looked at this sentence and said: "Maybe we shouldn't include this bit, it's a bit offensive."
posted by Kattullus at 8:39 PM on March 4, 2009 [29 favorites]


He if anything glossed over their horrible racism. My company represented an Icelandic company for 12 years, and their total belief in their own superiority and their raciist belief in the inferiority of anyone else whether end-user or us, their representatives, was inescapable.

I wonder if that's something of an effect of living in a country undergoing a huge bubble. If you look at Japan in the 80s, there was a lot of similar attitudes.. Is that still the case, or have they come back down to earth? Maybe the Icelanders will come back to earth as well.

My impression of Icelanders, speaking very broadly, was of an extraordinarily hardworking bunch of people, working to build a society they were justly very proud of, under less-than-favorable conditions. The number of people I chatted with who seemed to have multiple full-time or near-full-time jobs surprised me. (This was in 2004 or so.)

I was certainly never bumped into on the street, or felt any sort of hostility from other men. I question whether the author was perhaps being an asshole, in order to get that sort of treatment.


Also, I'll take Michael Lewis' opinion over some random tourist, no offense. P

That said, I'd like to check out Iceland sometime. Seems like an interesting place to visit these days.
posted by delmoi at 8:41 PM on March 4, 2009


The next Iceland.
posted by stbalbach at 8:47 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


"My impression of Icelanders, speaking very broadly, was of an extraordinarily hardworking bunch of people, working to build a society they were justly very proud of, under less-than-favorable conditions."

I have to agree. Been a lot of places. Lived there a while. They probably have an air of superiority because they've read every damned thing and come from a place of heartbreaking beauty.
Money can fuck up a lot of things.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:49 PM on March 4, 2009


How come no one ever asks about that Talking Guy from the Sugarcubes?
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:11 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


localroger: He if anything glossed over their horrible racism. My company represented an Icelandic company for 12 years, and their total belief in their own superiority and their raciist belief in the inferiority of anyone else whether end-user or us, their representatives, was inescapable.

Are there racist Icelanders? Yeah, though I think xenophobia is a more accurate term. Until the British occupied Iceland in 1940 non-Scandinavian foreigners were incredibly rare in Iceland, let alone non-Europeans. The Icelandic government kicked out Jewish refugees in 1939 (eight people, if I remember correctly). The Icelandic government demanded that U. S. soldiers stationed in Iceland be white (the U.S. occupied Iceland from 1941-5 and had an army base and radar stations there from 1949-2004) though that policy ended in the 70s, I believe. My then-wife was denied permanent residency in Iceland in 2004 because of a law that was passed with the idea of prohibiting forced marriages (for more check out this report, item #99).

So, yeah... Iceland doesn't have an uncheckered past when it comes to racism. But... I don't think that Iceland is remarkably more racist than other nations. Anti-foreign hate crime in Iceland is incredibly rare, to give one example.

Now, Icelandic belief in the superiority of Icelanders to other nations was rather noxious during the bubble (that belief has taken quite a beating lately) but all nations have patriots and patriots generally believe that their nation is the bestest among nations. And that generally translates to disdain for other nations.

To sum up: Are there idiot Icelanders who buy the hype about their birth-nation? Yeah. Is every Icelander an idiot who thinks his nationality confers magical powers to him or her? No.
posted by Kattullus at 9:22 PM on March 4, 2009 [6 favorites]


Yeah, what's Einar up to these days?
posted by snofoam at 9:27 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I didn't fell that he really talked that much about Icelanders other than being run into by a number of them. He mentions that they are inbred, but that is really a fact and why the population is used by genetic researchers. I laughed at the exploding Range Rovers.

I found the article very enjoyable even if very shocking. Only 300,000 people--that's not a country--it isn't even a city. It's more of a town. Yet this town became home to huge international banker and they all became bankers. And now they are in debt to $330,000 per person.

Some of my favorite quotes:
At length, weary of prime-ministering, he got himself appointed governor of the Central Bank—even though he was a poet without banking experience.

They bought stakes in businesses they knew nothing about and told the people running them what to do—just like real American investment bankers!


You have a dog, and I have a cat. We agree that they are each worth a billion dollars. You sell me the dog for a billion, and I sell you the cat for a billion. Now we are no longer pet owners, but Icelandic banks, with a billion dollars in new assets.

“You spent seven years learning every little nuance of the fishing trade before you were granted the gift of learning from this great captain?” I ask.
“Yes.”
....
“Then why did you think you could become a banker and speculate in financial markets, without a day of training?”


the guy who ran the Baugur investment group had snowballs chucked at him as he dashed from the 101 Hotel

This is the part I don't understand. Why aren't we throwing snowballs at the US bankers? In some respects they are smarter than us.
posted by eye of newt at 9:30 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


fell/feel banker/banks, note to self: review before posting
posted by eye of newt at 9:31 PM on March 4, 2009


The whole country seems to have followed Bjartur of Summerhouses' path to ruin. In his case, it led to an unliveable drafty dripping concrete house built from a wool bubble windfall. Where is the Asta Sollilja that will take the country in?
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 9:44 PM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


eye of newt: He mentions that they are inbred, but that is really a fact and why the population is used by genetic researchers.

First of all, inbreeding is a very loaded term that implies mental deficiencies and other mutations. It's not an accusation to throw around lightly. Second of all, Icelanders are not all descendants of Norse settlers and their Gaelic slaves who moved there in the 9th and 10th centuries. Non-Icelanders have moved to Iceland for shorter or longer periods, adding their genes to the population. In my family-tree there are both Danish and Dutch-Jewish merchants (which is why I have a family surname as well as a patronym) and I'm sure that if I actually looked at my genealogy I'd find more. I'm not a special case. Yes, Iceland is an island nation but that doesn't mean it's completely isolated from the rest of the world. Finally, Iceland used to have incredibly strict incest laws. It was a punishable offense to marry your fifth cousin (there are examples of this being enforced, so this wasn’t just dead letter).

It is true that Icelandic genealogical records are very extensive and that Icelanders are more homogenous than a nation in a region that has had more population movement but to call it inbreeding is wrongheaded.

And, furthermore, the hype about Iceland being especially well suited for genetic research hasn't really borne fruit. The company that has done the most research, deCODE Genetics, hasn't actually made much progress.

Also, I really can't believe I'm arguing on the internet about whether Icelanders are "inbred" or not. I need to go to sleep.
posted by Kattullus at 9:49 PM on March 4, 2009 [10 favorites]


Thanks. Essentializing apart, I enjoyed this quite a bit.
posted by Wolof at 9:51 PM on March 4, 2009


I enjoyed the finance half, but what is it about Iceland that people feel the need to write such cutesy drivel about their national character?

I blame Einar.
posted by dydecker at 10:01 PM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Or maybe it's something about islands: if a country is small enough and surrounded by water all bets are off and its Margaret Mead vs Samoa all over again.
posted by dydecker at 10:06 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I guess my question would be: what now, for Iceland? Obviously, unless I'm mistaken about their per capita wealth, a family of four isn't going to cut a check for over $1.3M to pay off "their" share. And if I read the article correctly, that's just the foreign obligations.
posted by maxwelton at 10:30 PM on March 4, 2009


Cute countries evoke cute writing. Q.E.D.
posted by delmoi at 10:34 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I guess my question would be: what now, for Iceland?

My guess is a lot of those bankers will end up working for foreign companies in financial services outsourcing, similar to India. I doubt you'll ever see them become huge financial players again, but who knows.
posted by delmoi at 10:38 PM on March 4, 2009


The whole country seems to have followed Bjartur of Summerhouses' path to ruin.

I was just about to make some crack how this all sounds a lot like falling into a river in the middle of winter while searching for a lost lamb and leaving your wife at home in a (slightly) paranormal house/shack to go slowly insane, but, oh, shucks, next time.
posted by Jeff_Larson at 10:40 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I agree--inbred is a loaded, pejorative term that far exceeds what I meant. I apologize.
posted by eye of newt at 10:51 PM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


There was quite a bit I disagreed with in the article. Like I think Bjork can sing, and I feel a few days in a country is way too few to get a true sense of national character. What tickled me was the historical treatments. Like poor fish harvest->privatization of fisheries->concentration of wealth->surfeit of PhD's->disinterest in local industry->PhD's turning to financial acrobatics->disaster.

As for the "inbred" characterizaton, that might have rather unfortunate connotations, but from a pool of 300K, that is not really what the perjorative application of the word "inbred" means in the US. What we are talking about in that case is a few families that don't admit any strange genes for several generations. I sure didn't take it that way from the author and even had to go search the article again for the word "inbred" to find that line. I worked in bioinformatics for a while and it's true, much genetic research is based on the fact that Iceland features a somewhat isolated (but not particularly tiny) genome. I see it as a positive, if anything.

I still think it's a great read.
posted by telstar at 11:34 PM on March 4, 2009


The next Iceland

My guess: Hungary.
posted by Ljubljana at 12:00 AM on March 5, 2009


They went all 'Beverly Hillbilly' in Iceland!
posted by Flex1970 at 12:53 AM on March 5, 2009


I have a lot of random anecdotes that I would like to wildly generalize!

Thomas? Thomas Friedman? Don't you have a column to write for Sunday?

As for Iceland, fukem.
posted by fourcheesemac at 2:24 AM on March 5, 2009


I spent 2 weeks exploring Iceland with the family a couple of years back, and loved the country and people... What has happened to the economy saddens me greatly. However, I don't believe that the Icelandic bankers alone were alone in creating this catastrophy -- they were trusted by all the other people in this bubble, to the point that nobody actually saw that the emperor had no clothes, or if they did, they had more interest in making a profit in either short term gains, or from shorting before the crash.
Now, everyone in 'traditional' banking countries are looking who to blame for why everything everywhere went wrong, they have a nice scapegoat in the form of a small unthreatening country most people would have trouble finding on a map...

I cannot decide whether Iceland joining the EU would be a good thing or not -- on the one side, the country will be backed by a very stable currency and some strong financial regulation, but on the other, it will be undervalued, and the one industry that Iceland is built on (fishing) will come under the control of one of the EU common fisheries policy -- limiting the amount of fish that can be caught, and thus it's income.


Regarding the author, after 2 pages, I felt like punching him in the face, so it's not at all surprising that he gets knocked into in the street/aeroplane/nightclub (something which never happened to me while I was there). And what is his bloody Björk fascination!? Does he really have to mention her on every single page?! And 'The male exhibits the global male tendency not to talk to the females' Huh? Where does this guy go to his dinner parties, or do I live in some parallel world where women have careers and [gasp] valuable opinions? And there are far better words to describe a small genetic diversity than 'inbred'.


[deep breath] Anyway, thanks very much to Kattullus for the comments, and for a bit of balance, The Guardian had an article recenly on the rise of the Icelandic Women(apologies if it has already been posted), And here is an iceland joke:
Three men were sitting together bragging about how they had given their new wives duties.

The first man had married a Woman from England and had told her that she was going to do the dishes and house cleaning. It took a couple days, but on the third day he came home to a clean house and dishes washed and put away.

The second man had married a woman from Belgium He had given his wife orders that she was to do all the cleaning, dishes, and the cooking. The first day he didn't see any results, but the next day he saw it was better. By the third day, he saw his house was clean, the dishes were done, and there was a huge dinner on the table.

The third man had married a girl from Iceland. He told her that her duties were to keep the house cleaned, dishes washed, lawn mowed, laundry washed and hot meals on the table for every meal. He said the first day he didn't see anything, the second day he didn't see anything, but by the third day some of the swelling had gone down and he could see a little out of his left eye, enough to fix himself a bite to eat and load the dishwasher.
I am currently half-way though 'Independent people' - the story of Bjartur mentioned above for those who don't know - i will try to forget the spoilers above!
posted by nielm at 3:30 AM on March 5, 2009 [6 favorites]


From the article nielm linked to (Jóhanna Waagfjörd is an economist and investor):
Waagfjörd points a finger at young, inexperienced men who, she says, became too dominant in the boom. "I was in the US for six years, and when I came back 10 years ago, at the age of 40, things had really changed. Suddenly there were a lot of young men about 35 or 30. They used to call to try to sell me derivatives which were really complicated. They thought they were really clever, but they were still living at home with their parents."
This is not exaggerated at all. There's some similarity between the pre-crash Icelandic verðbréfagutti (Icelandic derogatory term that means something along the lines of "stock market brat") and the crack dealer living at his mom's place made famous in Freakonomics. A lot of it was about fronting and inflating your own self-worth and using all the money you've made on buying flashy clothes and accessories.
posted by Kattullus at 5:10 AM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hi, Icelander here.

It's an abstract "piece of English literature writing" type of article. Obviously. It's not a financial report. However, in all its blurriness and storytelling it jives nicely with my view of many things that were going on here.

It also has some fallacies. This is the most obvious fallacy:
- "Everything Iceland was doing was stupid, nobody was doing good business, and Iceland never had a chance because we never had Icelandic banks before, in prehistoric times."

Criticism B:
- The writer is too loud. He is so very obviously disgruntled. I can hardly hear the story for the writer.

The fallacy and the weak spot are tragic because A LOT of the CRAZY stuff in the article is perfectly true. If only the writer hadn't huffed and puffed so much and so loudly, and if there had been a smidgen of balance, the critique would have reached a bigger audience, and especially the audience that needed it the most. Because a lot of it is true.
posted by krilli at 5:51 AM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here's a question: do you think the author of this article would have been less eager to blatantly and systematically stereotype the entire population of the country if he had been talking about, say, Namibia?

They seemed perfectly willing to stereotype themselves. Besides that, implying that he would not stoop to 19th century racist stereotypes is in his favor. There has been a lot of hype printed about Iceland generally, some articles linked again here, and I think that pointing out that they are headstrong and loosely irresponsible is a relatively good balance to their reputation considering the denial the otherwise practical culture seemed to display, especially with the evidence the author boldly laid at their feet. As an explanation of things, the article is welcome. Any more hype about Iceland in this piece and we'd be blaming the elves.
posted by Brian B. at 7:14 AM on March 5, 2009


How come no one ever asks about that Talking Guy from the Sugarcubes?

Ever notice how Mr. Sugarcubes is so similar to Fred Schneider of the B-52's? Just compare the Sugarcubes "Delicious Demon" and the B-52's "the Deadbeat Club." The female lead singer prettily chirps the title in the chorus; then suddenly Mr. Creaky McNoTone has to come along and ruin everything.
posted by jonp72 at 7:14 AM on March 5, 2009


They seemed perfectly willing to stereotype themselves.

That in itself is again a stereotyping.
posted by krilli at 7:42 AM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


and the one industry that Iceland is built on (fishing) will come under the control of one of the EU common fisheries policy -- limiting the amount of fish that can be caught, and thus it's income.

You've got that backward. Iceland actually has a very good sustainable fisheries policy, while the EU has a patchwork framework and basically turns a blind eye, when Spanish fleets ignore quotas and other policies. If Iceland were to join the EU, they probably would only do it if they could opt out of the common fisheries policy and that would be the right thing for them to do.
posted by afu at 7:51 AM on March 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


then suddenly Mr. Creaky McNoTone has to come along and ruin everything

Come on "I don't really like lobster" was one of the musical highlights of the 20th century.
posted by dydecker at 7:56 AM on March 5, 2009


I couldn't get past page four without wanting to print out the article and wipe my butt on it.

I don't own a printer.

Others have covered the real issues better than I could, but I can attest to the fact that running people over in the street is the Icelandic national sport. Man, I had forgotten about how many times a day THAT would happen. I only hope that the author of this article never tried to go into a movie theatre and buy popcorn. The concept of "waiting in line" hasn't yet taken hold in Iceland.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:01 AM on March 5, 2009


Oh yeah, Icelanders do bump into people with alarming frequency. It's got nothing to do with masculinity as it's both men and women who do it. It's more to do with the rather disconcerting habit of Icelanders to walk briskly in a direction they're not looking at. It's got more to do with Iceland being until recently a rural community. Urban habits have only started forming recently.
posted by Kattullus at 8:13 AM on March 5, 2009


Ah yes, the bumping into.

I as an Icelander don't take part in it, but I notice it. I think it has a lot to do with THE FACT THAT NOT ALL ICELANDERS ARE VERY GOOD AT EMPATHY OR NOTICING HOW OTHER PEOPLE FEEL. Note that many of the same Icelanders are however quite worried about what people think of them.

Hence also a widespread lack of manners. Please notice the weird abruptness many Icelanders present to store clerks or Subway personnel:

Subway sandwich technician:
"Get ég astaah." -> "Hicanihelpyou." With absolute lack of inflection.
Customer:
"Mánarins." ->"Of the month". Even more deadpan. A zero-Kelvin level of inflection. Anyone not from Planet Barbarian would probably choose to say something like this: "Yes, can I have this month's special please?" Instead of "Hamburger."
posted by krilli at 8:45 AM on March 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yes, what krilli speaks of is true.

It struck fear into my heart to walk into a post office and hear "GERDU SVO VEL!" barked incessantly.

Upon coming home to the u-SOFA after a year in Iceland, I had a few re-entry issues. Not the least of which was that people would actually TALK to me. I mean, what's that about?!

The widespread lack of manners is confounded by the fact that there is, as far as I know and I've asked around A LOT, no word for "please." So, the subway customer who wants to go one up from "tuna sandwich" to "tuna sandwich, please" in fact, can't. I know you can still be more polite in Icelandic than barking, but there's really no halfway kind of politeness. It's either Queen of England polite or, well, nothing.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:55 AM on March 5, 2009


Actually, I quite liked that no nonsense stuff. And there's this air of introduction or perhaps regard that a lot of folks don't pick up on that makes it seem abrupt.
Got spoken aloud by an Icelandic diver I knew "Here comes two men. One hopping, one rolling." (this was when I was wounded and a buddy of mine had just come off a ship). And yeah, the women ...couple long long stories there I won't get into.
I will say though, it really made me appreciate the U.S. Many Icelandic women are beautiful. Sweden too. But it gets wearing. I mean, they all look German in Germany. Icelandic in Iceland. Etc. They all have the same kind of traits and features. I won't say they all look alike of course, but it's amazing how much you take diversity for granted. Especially in women (if you're straight, I s'pose).
posted by Smedleyman at 9:19 AM on March 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


As far as I can tell, the closest estimation of the world economy lately was that Beavis and Butthead episode where they were raising cash for a school fundraiser, selling chocolate bars. They sold one chocolate bar to the Hank Hill guy, then they spent his money, back and forth, buying all the candy from one another and eating it.

Only instead of only one dollar, it was trillions. And instead of eating chocolate, they became obscenely rich.
posted by paisley henosis at 9:19 AM on March 5, 2009 [8 favorites]


Ever notice how Mr. Sugarcubes is so similar to Fred Schneider of the B-52's? Just compare the Sugarcubes "Delicious Demon" and the B-52's "the Deadbeat Club." The female lead singer prettily chirps the title in the chorus; then suddenly Mr. Creaky McNoTone has to come along and ruin everything.

I dig his monotone schtick.
"After... boogeeing
we all... crave for a hot dog
splashed with.. noise?
Queue and spew
Back home
to our... love nest
Need I... say more?"

Especially on Deus, I think his counterpoint to Bjork sets up the whole song.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:52 AM on March 5, 2009


I just two questions in an e-mail from an American friend about this article: "Is there really that much of a pronounced gender split between the Independence Party and the Social Democrats? and, Do elf-believers equate to creationists?"

The gendersplit between the Independence Party and the Social Democrats is roughly similar to that of Democrats and Repblicans in the US. It's certainly not as lopsided as presented by Lewis. The deputy leader of the Social Democrats is a man and the deputy leader of the Independence Party is a woman.

Belief in elves in Iceland is much like belief in UFOs in America. It's simply a part of the modern mythological world in Iceland. There are no government elf-inspectors. Let me repeat, no government elf-inspectors (I can't believe I have to actually write that).

Neither have we kept up the diversity of our stock by interbreeding with elves.
posted by Kattullus at 12:11 PM on March 5, 2009


Neither have we kept up the diversity of our stock by interbreeding with elves.

LIES!
posted by dersins at 12:21 PM on March 5, 2009


lolbjork
posted by dersins at 12:29 PM on March 5, 2009


I always thought the Sugarcubes sounded like a bunch of people who decided to form a rock band but had only heard the B-52s and thought that's what all rock sounded like.
posted by vibrotronica at 4:12 PM on March 5, 2009


This thread has made me interested in being more aware and sensitive to what nations and groups might think of what is written of them. Thanks.
posted by telstar at 2:26 AM on March 6, 2009


I've never visited Iceland, but I thought the most foreign element of the article was the continual focus on gender. I assume it was exaggerated, but I found it really grating and hard to credit the supposed vast gulf in gender behaviour.
posted by bystander at 3:10 AM on March 6, 2009


telstar: This thread has made me interested in being more aware and sensitive to what nations and groups might think of what is written of them. Thanks.

Well, post-colonialism is essentially a study of what nations and groups think of what is written of them. I find post-colonialism fascinating (but then I'm a post-colonial myself, so I would).

bystander: I've never visited Iceland, but I thought the most foreign element of the article was the continual focus on gender. I assume it was exaggerated, but I found it really grating and hard to credit the supposed vast gulf in gender behaviour.

Yeah... that's weird. On the one hand, male culture in Iceland has problematic aspects, but no more or less so than in the US, for instance (men ignore women all over the world, unfortunately). I'm an Icelandic male and I've had male and female friends my entire adult life. Every male friend I have has friends of both genders.
posted by Kattullus at 4:20 AM on March 6, 2009


The gender focus in the article was probably just a disappointed writer. He came to Iceland hoping to meet the stereotypical easy icelandic woman. And he didn't. So he huffed and puffed about gender.
posted by krilli at 5:49 AM on March 6, 2009


Michael Lewis is a married family man! I have heard via other sources that humility may not be his strong point, so perhaps that shaped his encounters somewhat. Honestly, I found the article hilarious, however, and it does a great job of explaining the US meltdown, to a degree.
posted by mecran01 at 9:35 AM on March 12, 2009


Something is Rotten in the State of Iceland
posted by homunculus at 10:53 AM on March 15, 2009


ill trade my $1B metafilter account for your $1B metafilter account.
posted by Glibpaxman at 11:24 PM on March 16, 2009


New York magazine reports on misunderstandings and possible fabrications in this article.
posted by Ian A.T. at 11:57 AM on March 23, 2009


Thanks, Ian A.T. Jonas Moody is a very good journalist. I linked to a couple of his articles in my post about the riots in Reykjavík.

Let me quote what he says about elves:
8. The nation has to deal with “elves — in whom some large number of Icelanders, steeped long and thoroughly in their rich folkloric culture, sincerely believe.” Alcoa, an aluminum-smelting multinational with operations outside of Reykjavík, had to “defer to a government expert to scour the enclosed plant site and certify that no elves were on or under it.”

Right. I’ve heard the elf thing mentioned in tired travel articles (normally wedged between paragraphs on the beauty of waterfalls and tips for eating ram testicles), but I personally know no one on this island who believes in elves. Not one. As for Alcoa, their rep believes Lewis is likely referring to a law regarding environmental-impact assessments. The assessment includes an archaeological survey to ensure no important artifacts or ruins are destroyed, and the site’s history is also surveyed to see if it was ever named in any Icelandic folklore. And yes, some of that folklore involves elves. But if you’re going to introduce the notion that some kind of Ministry of Elf Inspection exists within the ranks of the Icelandic government, you might as well also note that we take the Hogwart’s Express to the office every day.
As to tips for eating rams testicles... just think of them as Rocky Mountain oysters.
posted by Kattullus at 4:35 PM on March 23, 2009


Thanks, Kattullus.
posted by Wolof at 12:23 AM on March 24, 2009


Here's one of Moody's corrections of Lewis's article:
3. Iceland’s geothermic water is so hot that when municipal work is being done on the cold-water pipes, sometimes people are “boiled alive” in the shower.

Reykjavík's water-utility company says that even if the cold-water pipes are turned off, it's impossible for the water coming out of a shower to ever exceed 70°C.
70°C would cause severe burns. I assume he means 70°F.
posted by eye of newt at 8:55 AM on March 24, 2009


Huh. 70F is cold for water. Swimming pools that aren't "heated" as such are kept at about 80F and any colder is really uncomfortably cold to sit in for any period of time.

HOT water is most definitely, even in the US, at least 90F. I think he does mean 70C as that's SIGNIFICANTLY "cooler" than the geothermally heated water is when it comes out of the earth.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:40 PM on March 24, 2009


70°C = 158°F

According to this chart it would take a little over a half a second of this temperature to cause second and third degree burns.

Sounds like Lewis had this one right. Ouch!
posted by eye of newt at 6:54 PM on March 24, 2009


Fun fact: I've gotten burned from hot water in the taps in Iceland. That shit is serious. You always turn on the COLD water first and then add small increments of hot in the shower. Always.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:06 PM on March 24, 2009


Elf belief in Iceland.

New York Times article on elf related issues in Iceland.

Apparently, the name Alfred means "elf counsel."
posted by Brian B. at 9:35 PM on March 24, 2009


but I personally know no one on this island who believes in elves.

I know one American who not only believes in elves, but has seen them up close and has stated to have conversed with them, in America. I also see a lot of elf art in various shops here and there. The notion is not limited to Iceland, but Iceland would benefit from elf tourism if they don't take the bait and downplay it.
posted by Brian B. at 9:45 PM on March 24, 2009


I was actually listening to an interview with an Icelandic folklorist earlier today who mentioned in passing that a belief in elves was common among people born before 1919 but after that it was nearly non-existent. For the generations after 1919 the rich mythological world of pre-industrial Iceland had been reduced almost completely to a belief in ghosts.
posted by Kattullus at 10:22 PM on March 24, 2009


Elves and fairies are usually considered to be part of our folkloric and literary heritage, not creatures we might actually meet. Moyra Doorly certainly thought so until, living on a Scottish Island, she had a series of unnerving encounters with the Little People.
posted by homunculus at 10:24 PM on March 24, 2009


Will sue to avoid goblins
posted by homunculus at 10:25 PM on March 24, 2009


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