Every morning when I open my front door, I am assaulted by a stack of newspapers and advertising schwag that I have to wade through to get into the hallway.
By 9 am, there are at least two – sometimes three – unsolicited dailies delivered to my doormat, a distribution tactic that has been a very successful formula for Iceland’s biggest media conglomerate, but which raises serious questions about how much paper one small nation can waste.
Anyway, since Christmas officially hit these shores in November, the situation has intensified. Each shopping center in town has sent me a thick, glossy magazine hawking its wares. Like most Western nations, the Christmas holiday season is a huge moneymaker for businesses here, and the nation is in a collective buying frenzy.
What’s amazing is that despite the fact that I don’t read Icelandic, I have completely fallen prey to it. I have found myself flipping through said glossies, circling items that I’d like to buy for people. I have gone to both Reykjavík’s indoor malls after working hours to take advantage of extended shopping hours. I have been listening to unprecedented amounts of Christmas music.
I can’t figure out whether the urge to spend unreasonable amounts of my December paycheck on gifts no one really needs is a testament to the powerful machine that Iceland has created, or whether it’s just tapping into the lifelong conditioning that I received growing up in the United States, where this commercial art was born.
In any case, I spent a good chunk of last weekend trawling Laugavegur for gifts. Partly, it’s just fun to be downtown right now; there are more people out on the street this time of year than probably any other excepting major festivals. But when you are considering buying your brother, who lives in San Diego and does not ski, or snowboard, or really spend much time anywhere very cold, a 66 NORTH polar fleece jacket, you’ve gotta ask yourself what’s up. (Luckily, I ran into a friend who intervened before I made the purchase.)
I stopped myself again later this week when I was at the supermarket and finally located the pre-made Christmas cookie dough that I’d seen advertised on television. It’s like Pillsbury rolls, if that means anything to you, but in special Icelandic Christmas cookie flavors. I had been watching a man bathed in the soft glow of a fire popping these guys into the oven for the past month on the TV at the gym, so I was pretty excited about the purchase.
Until I saw the price: ISK 1,700. Don’t bother to check you currency converter – I’ll do the math for you. That’s about a little less than USD 30 for two rolls of pre-made cookie dough.
And with that crowning absurdity, the spell was broken. I snapped out of the urge to buy USD 250 teapot sets and exorbitant arctic gear for my Californian friends and family, and went to www.greatgifts.org. And I haven’t looked back.