Looking at a couple more months of short days, of ice on the streets, and of unreliable weather, I thought it might be time to purchase a tv. As I have mentioned before, most Icelanders swear that watching tv is the best way to learn Icelandic, and I have a friend who has developed a remarkable Icelandic vocabulary this way. Also, it occurred to me that I could keep up on American culture, as the US is the source of just about all the throw-away entertainment here. (The OC is on its second season in Iceland… as, I suppose, it is in the rest of the world.)
People ask occasionally how expensive Iceland really is. Like the “How cold is it?” question, I was asked frequently if Iceland was really expensive. When I said it makes New York look like Warsaw, nobody believed me. Quick rundown, then: two tacos, $10; hamburger, $20; a dozen eggs, $4; one pint of beer, $10; movie ticket, $13; city bus ticket, $3.80, a fourteen-inch tv on sale, $250. Dvd player to go with said tv, $180.
Everything’s pricey. But when you get used to it, the tv and dvd seem like a good deal. Ah, but there’s a catch to that deal. TV tax! 2000 ISK a month, ($34).
And Icelanders have stories about tv tax. You pay it or else. The editor here is paying backtaxes, Willie Nelson-style, on her tv-viewing pleasure. I friend was visited at home by the tax inspectors, and busted with an old tv. I heard of a person who paid to have the tv sealed to block reception of all channels so that he wouldn’t have to pay the taxes. I’ve also been told of a man who moved the tv room to room, keeping it away from windows, until he eventually dropped the tv in transit.
The whole tv tax is a little bewildering. In England, people seemed to pay the tax with some degree of pride. After all, there was the BBC. Envy of the world, according to the British. Not so here.
I blame the hatred of the tax not on the quality of television, though, but on the effect tv has on the lifestyle. Most people here remember not having tv on Thursdays. More than a few point out that as soon as the country got a second tv station, the live music scene died out.
And this points to my realization, after watching a friend’s tv this weekend. A lot of the time there isn’t that much to entertain you in Iceland. You pretty much have to entertain yourself: create something, learn something, do something humiliating. If you aren’t creating, learning or scarring your own psyche, Iceland becomes less exciting. I think of TV now the way I think of drinking: the worst time to have a drink is when you really need one. BC [email protected]