Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Friends of Iceland

Yet again I am going to postpone writing about the eruption at Heimaey in 1973, which seems to have become my theme intro. Instead I am going to tell you about Iceland‘s friends, provide a few examples of such persons and tell you what it takes to be a member of this select clan.

I am prompted to tell you about this because of Gerard Butler, a Scottish actor who recently gave an interview to British news-paper „News of the World“ where he mentioned that his two favourite places in the world are Scotland and Iceland. He went on to say that there was something harsh and primal about Iceland that had an inexplicable effect on him. He mentioned the glaciers, the volcanoes, the black sandy beaches, the hot springs and last but not least the people who he said were very spiritual and great. This interview made the headlines here and was recited in every paper – prominently. Much emphasis was placed on his positive attitude towards the country – less on a statement regarding him liking to wear women‘s clothes and makeup contained in the same interview.

Gerard Butler has now earned the public title „friend of Iceland“ which will now be tagged to his name in every article he is mentioned, joining the ranks of numerous others who came before him. One that comes to mind is Kiefer Sutherland who at one point made the news here for buying an Icelandic sweater, the article even contained a picture of the actual sweater, see accompanying photo. Now Kiefer actually had to do more than sweater shopping to earn the title, he spent New Year‘s here some years ago and subsequently mentioned on David Letterman’s Late Show that he loved Iceland, saying that the country was amazing, he had never felt as welcome in a foreign country and that the firework pandemonium to celebrate the passing of time was something to behold. Kiefer had been very impressed by a six year old carrying a 15 kilo explosive, followed by a three year old in charge of the matches and was in really positive towards Iceland in his brief travel log recital. Obviously this became news in Iceland and Keifer Sutherland became known in the media and elsewhere as “a friend of Iceland”.

I’m sure by now you have figured it out. To become an official friend of Iceland you must: A) visit Iceland, B) appear in print or some form of media telling the world how great Iceland is (preferably while wearing Icelandic clothing) and C) be a celebrity. What might not be as clear is that it is also possible to lose this title, something that almost happened to Quentin Tarantino who held on to it at one point only by the skin of his teeth. Now this famous director has been a friend of Iceland for a very long time, visiting quite often and every now and again mentioning this to the foreign press along with comments about beautiful women, beautiful countryside and so on. Like Kiefer Sutherland he was also caught buying Icelandic clothing, albeit not woollen sweaters but a bit cooler 66°N outdoor stuff. The photo above is also taken from the Icelandic news, it appeared originally in the Telegraph (British) and if you go get a magnifying glass (or zoom in real close) you can see that his cap bears this company’s logo, which is precisely why the photo made the Icelandic news in the first place. The accompanying headline: “Quentin Tarantino wears 66°N cap in interview!”

Tarantino’s status as a friend of Iceland was thus almost sealed in gold until one night when he made an appearance on Conan O’Brian and did the ultimate no-no: made derogatory comments about the virtue of our young women. What Tarantino said was actually pretty funny if one is not acting overly sentimental. He began by stating that the whole population was nutty and then moved on to say that the women all looked like supermodels but unlike contemporary beauties these ran around downtown yelling “let’s get this party started!” He then made a comparison between American women that he had to work on getting drunk in order to get them to go home with him while in Iceland he had to try to curb their drinking so that they wouldn’t pass out in his bathroom once there. To cap it off he said that Iceland produced the foulest drink known to man – the Opal liqueur which he believed tasted like poison, although he did note that being alive he had never tasted poison. In his version of events Björk forced him to take three such shots in succession at a bar while our prime minister was standing upon a table in this same establishment, fist in the air singing: “The room, the room, the room is on fire.” Considering how thin skinned we are towards foreigners’ perception of our country, it is amazing that Tarantino managed to regain his “friend of Iceland” title (accomplished by wearing a lot of Icelandic clothing in interviews and never referring to drunken Icelandic women again, at least not while quoted) and this feat probably best proves that he really is: “a friend of Iceland”.

This is too long already but similar to the pecking order of aristocratic titles, there is also a pecking order in place for “friends of Iceland” as above the general title described above reigns “a true friend of Iceland”. Few receive this honour but lately those who have sided with us in the never ending Icesave fiasco have been moved up into this echelon.

The above may seem idiotic but it is not even exaggerated by an ounce. Celebrities, be they A-, B- or even C-listed grab the national headlines here if they so much as utter a sentence to a TV guide in Nebraska about visits to Iceland. I guess this extreme interest in how the world makes us out and how we overreact when it is totally negative (as has occurred in the cases of Jerry Seinfeld and Robbie Williams) says it all about our insecurity as a small, relatively recent nation. Even innocent tourists are bombarded by a question that has become a joke but is still asked at some point by every Icelander that they happen to come across, namely: “So how do you like Iceland?” The only acceptable answer is one on a positive note.

In anticipation of any possible trips up here, consider yourself warned.

Yrsa - Wednesday


  1. Quintin Tarantino always seems a bit unstable so he may have more trouble in the future that would put his "friend of Iceland" title at risk. Of course following his chain of thought in interviews isn't easy. He might be accused of a negative remark about Iceland when in fact he hasn't finished the sentence.

    A three year old in charge of the matches? I won't let my grandniece hear of such a thing. She thinks every cake needs candles so she can blow them out. If she was in charge of the matches, potatoes would have candles in them.

    You have posted so the Confirmation must have gone off without a problem. Congratulations to your daughter.


  2. Nice post Yrsa.

    I'm not a celebrity, and haven't yet been to Iceland, so personally have no chance whatsoever to achieve 'friend of Iceland' status. However, I thought I'd let you know that I did feature you and this blog on my owncrime/thriller fiction blog earlier this week:

    Hope you think the blog post is fair (and accurate).

    Kia Kaha from Aotearoa

  3. Kiwicraig - Your blog post on Yrsa's work is very likely to get her new fans. I'm already a fan of Yrsa's writing. If I wasn't familiar with her work, your post would encourage me to investigate her books.


  4. Hi Beth and Kia Kaha - neither of you need to come (although you are very welcome if you do) in order to be considered "friends of Iceland" in my book. Kia, thanks for the very nice portrayal in the blog post, it was great!

    The confirmation went without a snag (now I picture Iceland snagged on Greenland) and my daughter was mighty pleased and gracious on her big day.

    bye for now Yrsa

  5. I'm a fan of your writing as well as a big fan of Iceland. I've been there only once, but plan to return. Icelanders were inviting as well as interesting and funny. We discussed thing from spa massages, the best hotdogs in town, herbal teas, and music and books. The moon-like landscape, black lava beaches, and geothermal stalls distributed thoughout paint a unique backdrop filled with unique people.

  6. I've got the first two requirements covered! I also bought sweaters and scarves to help survive the Minnesota winters. Brrrr.