It’s No City Life (IRB)

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ingibjorg2I suppose it’s inevitable that such a small nation—who for so long struggled with poverty, harsh living conditions and isolation but was swiftly brought forward in time with the Second World War and the booming post war years—would show all the symptoms of a neo-rich society for quite a while afterwards.

One of the signs of a neo-rich nation (and we’re still neo-rich, despite the recent credit crush) is the waste. People who are neo-rich waste things: money, food, water, natural resources, nature and space.

It’s understandable. Someone who’s been starving for a long time and suddenly finds herself at a feast, wants to make the most use of the opportunity, not knowing when there will be a chance to eat again.

So Icelanders are really diving into the excess, making sure we get everything we lacked before, and more.

We also suffer from the shame of having been so dependent on others (i.e. Denmark), being so poor and so behind as a sophisticated society compared to the rest of Europe, that we’re constantly trying to prove ourselves to the rest of the world.

We all know by now that in the financial sector at least, it didn’t go so well.

But we’re still stuck with the mentality of the neo-rich. We want and want and want. We want great public service, nay, we demand great public service, the best healthcare system in the world, the biggest and best hospitals (surely we shouldn’t have to go abroad to undergo, expensive, complicated surgeries?), every single subject to be taught at university level (seven universities for a nation of 320,000, seriously) and we want everybody to like us, love our culture and admire our nature.

And we waste space.

Or, to be more precise, we still think like farmers even though we’re trying to shift from an agricultural society to a metropolitan society—or at least half the nation is trying to be metropolitan.

We still want a lot of space, big gardens, big houses, big garages. Because we want to be independent and claim our very own realm. And we have to own it, renting is such a sign of weakness.

Still, we want to have the city life, we want Reykjavík to be seen as a cosmopolitan city (ignoring the fact that it will not be the case for centuries to come because the population can only grow so fast… God knows when we’ll reach one million) and we want all the city facilities we’ve noticed exist in other countries.

We want great public transport, waste disposal service, schools in every district, culture and commerce within a walking distance. And vibrant street life on good days.

However, we keep extending the borders of the city, building huge houses. Even apartment buildings are too big.

We have regulations saying that each apartment has to be of a certain size, have a bathroom that cannot be smaller than a specific minimum and every unit has to include a special utility room for a washing machine.

Because every citizen has to have the opportunity to do the laundry in his or her own washing machine; it’s so lame having to rely on someone else for that. Which is why launderettes are almost unknown to Icelanders.

The closest thing to a communal launderette I have used was when I lived in student housing. The building had a few industrial washing machines and dryers in the basement and we paid to use them.

Back then I lived in a building of studio apartments for students. My apartment was only 36 square meters so I had to arrange my furniture very neatly.

My bed was in one corner, a two-seated couch and coffee table in another, and a TV was placed opposite the sofa, right in front of the built-in closet. I also had a little kitchenette, a tiny dining table and two chairs.

The bathroom was spacious though, with a shower.

It was enough for me and I loved my little, cozy flat. But everybody who visited commented on how terribly small it was, even though they agreed I’d made the most of the space.

I suppose that in the eyes of the ordinary, neo-rich Icelander, it was a little cramped.

During that time, I visited a friend in Stockholm one weekend. She said I was more than welcome to stay but she had to warn me beforehand, her place was tiny as it was a studio apartment.

I laughed it off, explaining I was used to living in small quarters and headed over there. As I entered her apartment, my jaw dropped: it was 18 square meters.

The kitchen consisted of a sink, a small fridge, a stove with two burners and two lower cupboards. Most of her crockery was neatly laid out on a long shelf above the sink. To create more worktop space, she had put a wooden lid on the sink.

The bathroom must have been about two square meters and to shower you stood in front of the toilet, drew a curtain around you and held the shower head in one hand while you washed with the other.

There was no washing machine in the apartment so she used a nearby launderette.

But she loved her place. It was bright and cozy and located in a great, trendy district, close to all amenities, cafés and restaurants and she could enjoy the colorful street life only a few steps away.

Now that’s metropolitan thinking. I wonder if we’ll adopt that way of thinking before we’ve used up all the habitable space here on our beautiful island.

Ingibjörg Rósa Björnsdóttir – ingibjorgrosa@gmail.com

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.