Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Being goofy

photo Eyþór Árnason - DV
This past Friday Bauhaus, one of the largest hardware store chains in Europe, opened up a store in Reykjavík. Actually, I am not sure if it is Reykjavík at all because the location is so much on the outskirts of the city it might as well have an address in the neighboring town. This chain had tried for years to get a lot of land to build the store on and almost had a harder time than the Muslims trying to get a location for a mosque in our capital. I can say “almost” with some certainty since the department store was never offered a spot underground as was suggested to the mosque hopefuls at one point.

I love my country. It is big yet small and funny things happen here. Some quite embarrassing like the fact that no big store can open in Iceland without a big chuck of the population going there on the opening day. As was the case with the hardware store. Traffic jams ensued once opening hours drew closer and everyone ended up with a new barbeque or a piece of lumber they had no idea what they intended for. The store was however not quite as lucky as Lindex, a Swedish clothing store that opened up late last year and was emptied of every single item on sale on the first day. Even the mannequins were naked when they closed and the store was unable to open again for a week as they needed more stuff shipped from abroad to sell. One hopes for their sake that Lindex did not estimate the quantities ordered at that point by the original turnover, as the original excitement usually wears off quite quickly here.

And why do these shopping frenzies happen here repeatedly? In a country, in particular an island with no neighbors, where you only have 310.000 consumers there will not be a large selection of shops. Especially when of these 310.000, a quarter is too young to have more to spend than a weekly candy allowance, a quarter is old enough to already have everything they need, and the remaining half is broke. To have a lot of stores you need a lot of buying. So we have a pretty small selection of stores compared to other larger countries with a huge number of consumers. Hence the elation when a new store opens up. In particular if it is a big store from abroad.

When the Smáralind shopping center opened up some years ago the country almost toppled over to one side when everyone rushed there, wanting to go see it a.s.a.p. Then we only had a single mall – not like now when we have two – and this addition was welcomed. So much so that the mall was on the cover of every newspaper on opening day, one paper even splurging on an aerial photo of the building. This aerial photo raised some eyebrows as the mall turned out to be shaped quite uniquely, resembling a body part not often inspiring architects. At least not here. And being a fishing nation, it is a bit creepy to see seamen leaving the building.

When abroad we Icelanders tend to go a bit crazy in our shopping, as for us this is more exciting than a Bauhaus/Lindex/Smáralind opening all rolled into one. New stores abound and the prices are usually lower than what we see here with our 25,5% value added/sales tax. I am no exception. Does not even matter where I go, I shop. On a trip my family and I made to India about 5-6 years ago we bought everything we happened across. We came home with crazy luggage and 3 years later we realized that one of the suitcases had been put in storage unopened by accident. We had not missed a single thing in it and when we saw the contents it was as if we had been drunken and drugged during our travels. Loads of string puppets, five hundred and three bracelets, two saris, loads of elephants and other things we do not, or ever will, need. Puppets? What were we going to do with puppets? So the contents were given away to some collection for the needy and I would not be surprised if they ended back up in a poor district of India.

Laugardalshöll stadium
In the 80s there used to be shopping shows held in Reykjavík’s main sports stadium where stuff would be showcased: travel shows, wares for the home, car shows etc. Sometimes countries would hold such shows where you could pay the entrance fee and walk around booths or displays containing various products from the country involved. Once China held such a show and everyone was really excited to see what they had on offer. I went with my husband and a friend who really loves everything Asian. But the show was such a flop that it made no sense. There was hardly anything in the booths, one had a single coat that looked used hanging on a rack, another one cracked vase and so on. Hardly anyone was there to discuss or sell the few products on display and no one looked even vaguely Chinese. Turned out that the show was a big scam and all of the Chinese that had arrived to organize it and work there had fled to the States two days before the opening. They ahd never had any intention to do a shopping show - just wanted to move to the USA. Their Icelandic counterparts tried to make do with whatever they could find, with rather crummy results.

So, from shopping shows to overcrowded openings it appears we have not come all that of a long way. But give us time. And internet shopping.

And in case you were wondering: I did not go to the Lindex opening. But yes, I did go to Bauhaus.

Yrsa - Wednesday


  1. Let me see if I get this straight, Yrsa: Icelanders turn a hardware store opening into a mega-social event, erect a penis shaped mall, and strip mannequins bare where they stand. Screw Mykonos, I want to party in Reykjavik!

  2. Jeff you are always welcome! Eurovision is at the end of May if you want to see us in our true party element.


  3. Heart be still. Thanks, I'm warming up with a trip to Munich in mid-May.

  4. Awesome! I join Jeffrey in the "want to party in Reykjavik!" sentiment!

  5. Shopping is fun until you look around your house, and notice there' not much room. I enjoyed your post, and partying anywhere sounds like fun right now.