The people who live on remote rocks in the North Atlantic
June 2, 2018 12:46 AM   Subscribe

The BBC provides a fascinating look at the lesser-known Faroe Islands, Tales from the far-flung Faroes, via the Faroese Post which is slowly closing on the islands where demand for letter carriers has dropped as population has dropped.
posted by gen (22 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Back when Reddit was mostly young people, there were a surprising number of Faroese on it. They made their life sound idyllic in some ways, lonely in others, and they were "internet natives" in a deep way. And they always were asking for visitors!

The whole situation is similar to another Danish constituent area, Greenland, that I'm more familiar with. It too is made of many (hundreds of) tiny villages inaccessible except by sea or air; not because they're on separate islands but because the rock is too tough, the terrain too craggy, the distances too huge to build roads. So the government maintains ferry routes & helicopters & internet to all the villages so the inhabitants have all the modern food, mail, and medical attention they need. There was an attempt in the 1950s to close unsustainably small villages and move the locals to the larger towns with jobs. The former residents -- indigenous people related to the Inuit of Canada -- became heartbroken, went crazy, even killed themselves. From then on, the policy has been to leave native people in place.

The Faroe Islands situation described here seems reminiscent of Greenland. Rather than moving the few remaining residents of small islands away, their lifestyle is encouraged and assisted. "Oil is flown in drums, hung like a trawler’s net full of fish below the helicopter." "Soon Sandoy will be connected to another larger island by a tunnel, and it’s hoped this will encourage more people to start a life there."

It all seems so artificial, I thought when I first learned about Greenland, and now when I read this article about the Faroes. All that tax money spent by the government to maintain a constructed, artificial situation -- remote island farm life with full access to modern urban amenities! To an American, even a Liberal, even a progressive, socialist American -- it sounds like a waste. Leftists tend to want that money spent on the "marginalized and oppressed," which describes nobody in this article... although they are obviously geographically disadvantaged compared to mainlanders.

But the more I think about this, the more I believe it's GREAT. What is (big, tax-spending) government for if not to promote a civilized life? And civilization is inherently artificial! We decide on the kind of life we want from our country and we pay to make it happen -- and the Faroese and the Greenlanders want traditional village life supported with all the mod cons, however "un-economically-rational" it is. This is a welfare state in its best sense, a state that serves the people and want they want their community to be. It's the closest thing we have to The Culture.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 1:52 AM on June 2, 2018 [34 favorites]

Humans are highly adaptable...
posted by jim in austin at 2:57 AM on June 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

By coincidence Phantom Power (who makes videos promoting Scottish independence) has just started a new series on Scotland's neighbours with one on the Faroe Islands. Presents an interesting and different view.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:39 AM on June 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

I suspect, from the turnip vodka mentioned in the article, that the secret advantage for society of making these lives viable through subsidy is that you're actually hugely increasing the average ingenuity of society by making the lives of resourceful people possible. We all benefit. Emotionally & psychologically, as well as financially.

And looking at less isolated countries, you see Norway, where the state can build a tunnel (the Rogfast link) to link up its coastal route between moderately small settlements. The geological challenges of that link across a fjord mouth are equivalent to a tunnel from Scotland to Ireland, which is inconceivable, as is any kind of coastal highway in western Scotland.

So, yay Faroese. I have thought a few times about going there. Enough that their national airline has picked up on it and advertises on my Facebook.
posted by ambrosen at 4:40 AM on June 2, 2018 [7 favorites]

Not so much for the Faroes (because cliffs), but for Greenland, and Siberia and Congo, I remain saddened by the fact that hovercraft are never thought of as suitable vehicles for countries with undeveloped infrastructure and huge travel needs.

But maybe they're no more efficient than planes, weight for weight, so I guess I answered my question.
posted by ambrosen at 4:43 AM on June 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

> ambrosen:
"you're actually hugely increasing the average ingenuity of society by making the lives of resourceful people possible"

The Faroese did come up with Sheep View 360, after all.
posted by waninggibbon at 7:33 AM on June 2, 2018

Fascinating read and photos. Hard to imagine living so remote.
posted by davidmsc at 7:49 AM on June 2, 2018

It sounds kind of appealing, actually. If I could have my family in nearby houses, and order things from the Internet, and download books, I'd be pretty damn happy there. Lots of rugged hiking, fresh air, and beautiful scenery. You're probably screwed in the event of a heart attack, bone-breaking tumble on the jagged rocks or appendicitis attack, though.
posted by Kangaroo at 7:58 AM on June 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

For several years, I’ve wanted to take the boat from Denmark to the Faroe Islands and then on to Iceland.

Maybe some day.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 8:19 AM on June 2, 2018

That was great. Thanks.
posted by rtha at 9:57 AM on June 2, 2018

I visited the Faroes a few years back and had a good time. It's remarkably beautiful, a mix of austere (no trees!) and lush (super green everywhere). And so remote. We didn't go anywhere near as remote as the places featured in the first half of the BBC story though, we only went places you could drive. Lots of one lane tunnels to smaller islands and beautiful landscapes as your reward. They felt impossibly remote already, I couldn't imagine living somewhere only accessible by helicopter or boat.

If it weren't for the relationship with Denmark I think the Faroes would be a much grimmer, poorer place. Agriculture is only barely possible. Fishing is the main part of the economy. But today it feels like a prosperous and healthy place with excellent roads, medical services, etc. I think the big play for the future is whether there's oil nearby. I can't imagine the country being wholly independent without that bonanza. OTOH I'm not sure Denmark would be so thrilled to cut them loose if they have it.

There's an active Faroes subreddit but it's about 75% curious foreigners and tourists. One of the sadder stories there recently is University of Copenhagen to stop teaching Faroese. It's an interesting language, even more idiosyncratic than Icelandic.
posted by Nelson at 10:00 AM on June 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

posted by the thought-fox at 2:33 PM on June 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Want to increase tourists? Get a police or crime procedural. The Shetlands has experienced a a boom tourism in tourism due to Shetland, the crime show based on Anne Cleeve's novels. Another example is Ballarat in Australia.

I agree with Harvey Kilobit, why not have goverment if not to promote the well being of its citizens?
posted by jadepearl at 2:40 PM on June 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

I want to live there. I'd spend my life planting trees or something.
posted by aramaic at 2:44 PM on June 2, 2018

This post has sent me down a multi-hour Faroe Islands wikihole.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:55 PM on June 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

It looks lovely but I think it may be important to go when the weather is good.
posted by dilettante at 6:09 PM on June 3, 2018

Google Maps have Streetview coverage of many remote places mentioned in the article, inclusive an island with 20 inhabitants.
posted by Harald74 at 6:07 AM on June 4, 2018

I've docked in Tórshavn en route to Iceland with the car ferry, on a beautiful summer day when the ocean was practically flat. We steamed out slowly between the islands after dropping off and picking up cars there. Seeing the small island with their tiny settlements was the highlight of the crossing*.

(*Which mostly consisted of eating, drinking and reading, in between planning our trip in the Icelandic outback.)
posted by Harald74 at 6:12 AM on June 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

The fun thing with Faroese for a Norwegian speaker is that it's descendent from Old West Norse (with Icelandic and Norwegian), but has changed a lot less than Norwegian has. So it's still got phonemes that disappeared from Norwegian 700 years ago, and reading it is like looking at ancient texts. And it being spoken today is a link to our own heritage, and I don't know what the nearest English equivalent would be, but maybe if you suddenly re-discovered an Island chain where the people spoke Old English and wrote like Beowulf?
posted by Harald74 at 6:21 AM on June 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

"I don't know what the nearest English equivalent would be, but maybe if you suddenly re-discovered an Island chain where the people spoke Old English and wrote like Beowulf?"

It's Frisian! You can go speak Old English to a Frisian-speaker and they will understand you!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:28 AM on June 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

I saw that video in my A Level English class back when I was 17, Eyebrows McGee. Which I guess is 3% of the way back to Beowulf, so there's that.
posted by ambrosen at 1:12 PM on June 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Faroes are indeed one of the more interesting places I've visited. Like Iceland, but without all the people and tourists. Rugged landscape. Great hiking. Puffins everywhere. And One of the finest views I've had anywhere.

And surprisingly awesome food, although not for the squeamish.

Great place, but definitely not everyone's cup of tea. And a good number of people we met under the age of 30 truly wanted to live someplace else for a while.
posted by kaszeta at 11:32 AM on June 12, 2018

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