A number of years ago a large hardware store franchise from Europe, Bauhaus, wanted to get in on the action in Iceland and sought to open up a huge store in the vicinity of Reykjavík. Iceland usually has a booming construction industry, the population having grown steadily all of the past century and everyone wanting to eventually live in a house, not an apartment. The store would have had decent business since they were expected to offer lower prices on construction materials, fixtures, appliances and the like, than the two large, local retailers who basically cornered the market for such goods. There was a snag however. No one would provide the foreign company with a plot of land to build on. This was a bit strange seeing everywhere you looked land was being shelled out by the town councils of the municipalities surrounding Reykjavík. At one point Bauhaus did reach some sort of agreement with one of the towns, only to have it taken away at the last minute for reasons not disclosed. Shortly afterward the mayor of this town was made managing director of one of the two Icelandic firms that did not welcome the competition. Coincidence?
At this time a worldwide survey found Iceland to be the least corrupt country in the world. I do not know who they polled but am assuming not many people were, possibly only the mayor about to turn director. The sad ending to this story is that in 2006 Reykjavík finally provided this hapless company with a huge piece of land and construction of a 200,000 sq.ft store commenced. The building now stands empty, having been ready for stocking up in October 2008 when everything crashed here. Construction is at an all time low and very few people are buying much of anything. There has been talk of converting it into a jail for the criminals that bankrupted us but that will be the day.
Today we have a similar sort of issue in the news, albeit less to do with cutthroat competition and more to do with the clashing of cultures. The 370 or so Muslims in Iceland need a plot of land to build a mosque. Their application has been stalled by the city for ten years. For some reason this is now much debated despite being long ongoing, I missed the beginning of the public discussions and can only venture a guess if the tenth anniversary of their fruitless attempts awoke the media. The pro-mosque people say it is racism to deny the group this mosque and the anti-mosque people say it has no place in Iceland any more than an Icelandic church in Mecca. The anti-mosque propaganda is much more colorful I’ll give them that, they go on and on about how no one will be able to sleep in Reykjavík for constant prayer calls and that our buses will be jam-packed with suicide bombers and so on. I don’t think that is exactly how it would pan out but you will not see me in any picket line trying to push the matter forward, nor would I ever object to it when and if it comes to pass. For this I am too unreligious and thus not very enthusiastic one way or the other. I do want to see the Muslims who live here (very peacefully) treated fairly but as I think religion in general is slowly on its way out I do not think we should encourage anyone in this respect. Additionally we just passed a law making it mandatory for our churches to marry gay couples that choose this venue and I do not see a mosque abiding to such much needed reform in a similar way. But I may be wrong.
Islam is actually quite the topic of discussion now. One of the larger slaughterhouses has decided to market its lamb in the Middle East. To do so they need to slaughter the lambs using a different method, which although it sounds rather bad is said to be just as humane as the regular method. I will spare you the details of both. Also there needs to be some sort of religious figure present, mumbo-jumboing while the animals are killed. This has not gone down well, particularly when it was leaked that this meat would also be sold locally but not marked as such. Some people are not inclined to eat what one caller on the radio described as “infidel meat” although I must note that most Icelanders are not too upset about the issue, more amazed than anything as our menus are not restricted by religion, only by bureaucracy. As an example Trix is banned, M&Ms were but are now thankfully allowed.
Finally I met with the 2 men that will be part of the team I will be competing with on the TV quiz zhow. During the meeting I was trying to figure out what they were good at since I don’t want to waste time trying to get good at something they have already mastered. I asked one of them bluntly and he replied that he was really good at flags, which was good since I am no expert. My pleasure was not long lasting since he then added that there was a small drawback, he was colorblind and could not tell the difference between green and red. Go figure.
Yrsa - Wednesday