From Big Island to Little Island (JB)

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julianabjornsdottir_dlIt may come as a surprise that Iceland’s most beloved soap opera comes from a little known continental size island-land far away from little Iceland. The soap opera is Neighbours and the country of origin is Australia.

I remember when the show first aired in Iceland. I was roughly eight years old when I discovered the show. It was an instant love affair. I grew up with the characters and became fascinated by the far-away country with never-ending summer.

In the eighties, I adored Lucy. She was my age and even got to live with her grandmother, Helen Daniels. I was close to my grandmother, so the idea was rather appealing.

As I got older, the lives of the other kids on Ramsay Street became relevant. Toadie Rebecchi, Libby Billy and Malcolm Kennedy, Todd Landers, Scott Robinson and Charlene Robinson became my household friends.

Throughout the nineties, or until July 28 in 1998, I rarely missed a show. The characters were my companions through the drama of my teens and evoked a dream of eventually living in the beautiful city of Melbourne, far far away from my little island.

Still today do I watch the show at every opportunity. I have missed more than a few seasons due to travels and living overseas. But every time I am back in Iceland, I go back into my old habits and watch the show as often as I can.

And I am not the only one. At one point or another, most Icelanders subscribing to Stöð 2, have secretly or publicly watched the exciting but personal plot unfold. Some eventually gave up; others have stayed loyal year after year.

Maybe it’s the island mentality. Maybe it’s the fact that every day is beautiful in comparison to a rainy windy day, a snowy windy day or even a sunny windy day. Maybe it’s the fact that some of the values are not so different.

Family has always been a focal point in Neighbours. In good times and bad, family always comes first. In Iceland, family is the beating heart of Icelandic society.

In Neigbhours, community also matters. I’ve never lived in a community where neighbors actually know each other personally, or even by name. Maybe it’s an Icelandic thing.

We say ‘hi’ to one another, but we don’t invite each other in for coffee and a chat. We don’t do street barbecues or even have an annual one to celebrate a holiday together.

In my hometown of Akranes, it is only during a festival called Irish Days (Írskir dagar) that locals organize street barbecues. And rarely do all inhabitants attend.

I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the fact that we live in a cold country and wrap ourselves in warm clothing for most of the year. Perhaps, inadvertently we wrapped ourselves in a hive as well—to shield us from excess human touch.

My in-laws live on the outskirts of the South African city of Durban in a beautiful residential community named Hillcrest. A huge number of people choose to live in complexes for safety reasons. It may seem strange to some but life in a complex can be quite delightful.

Within a complex is a community of people with the common goal of creating a friendly and safe place to live. Incidents can occur but in general people try their best to be on good behavior. People interact with one another and know each other’s name. It’s nice considering I don’t really know half the names of people in my street.

My husband and I were even invited to my in-law’s neighbors for a braai (South African barbecue) on New Year’s Eve in 2010. I had seen New Year’s Eve barbies (barbeque in Australian) in Neighbours but this was the first time I’d been to one. It was exotic to me to enjoy a steak by the beautiful private pool on the property.

In all future South African braais hosted by me, I plan to encourage adults and children and pets to swim in my privately owned swimming pool.

It’s funny this fascination of ours with the exotic.

Australians and South Africans come to Iceland to experience the very cold most Icelanders would be happy to escape on New Year’s Eve. Yet, to many Icelanders, a barbecue on the beach sounds a lot better than standing in unpredictable weather all wrapped up like a folded blanket while the skies are lit up high above with fireworks.

For the visitors, this is the exotic North.

For Icelanders, life in Ramsay Street is the strangely familiar-in-so-many-ways yet exotic South.

Our common sense tells us that television is not a reflection of reality. After all, nobody has perfect hair all the time and I am not so sure many streets have a society as closely knitted together as Ramsay Street.

But it’s a nice place to escape on cold winter’s day or when you wait for your young puppy to come back from the vet. It’s nice to watch Neighbours wrapped up under the duvet with cold and flu in your system.

For whatever reason, Neighbours is the one soap opera that has survived for close to thirty years now. Not once has it been cancelled. Icelanders see something they like in this simple Australian soap opera.

And who knows, maybe one day, a clever producer and writer in Iceland will come up with an idea for a soap opera about the lives of ordinary people in Iceland. And just maybe it’ll run for almost three decades inspiring young Australian minds to travel all the way to Iceland to experience the exotic but a little-bit-familiar North...

Júlíana Björnsdóttir – julianabjornsdottir@gmail.com

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