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The major purpose for my Gothenburg visit – Steve Mason concert – was canceled, along with his entire European tour. Hmm. Oh well. I really want to go to more live shows but looking at the upcoming music schedule (particularly for the nearer Oslo), it’s pretty pathetic. Bryan Adams, anyone? Ugh.

I found some notes I wrote ages ago, a few years after I had moved to Iceland. I look at it now and ask myself, “But at what point did I cease to be a tourist?” And that has different answers – there was probably a time that I no longer felt like a tourist, a point when I was legally no longer a tourist and a point when Icelanders begrudgingly no longer considered me a tourist (even if, despite having Icelandic citizenship slapped onto my forehead, I would never be a native, a local or anything more than a “paper Icelander”).

I can only imagine what Iceland is like now, overrun by hordes of tourists as it has been the last two or three years. Summers were always rich with them, but recent years have become seemingly unbearable if I am to believe media accounts. If I had issues dealing with the few I encountered in 2001 or 2002 (see my judgmental nature on display below), what would I think now?

“At last writing I mentioned that most people don’t come to Iceland, so they don’t understand why I like it nor indeed why anyone would choose to live here. However, having been a tourist here myself once, I am well aware, as any resident of Iceland is, that there is in fact a large contingent of tourists who do find their way here each year. Naturally I cannot characterize ALL tourists who come to Iceland because some of them blend in with the scenery, both innocuous and semi-chameleonic. The majority, though, observe a sort of tourist credo: let’s make ourselves as obvious as we possibly can. Of course this is not just the case in Iceland. Tourists are like this everywhere you go, but there are some unique aspects to the tourists who come to Iceland. Where else do you see couples adorned in bright, matching winter gear in the middle of summer, perhaps even carrying something like a walking stick, or worse yet, an ice ax, on their initial stroll down Laugavegur, the main shopping street in the city? One afternoon I saw a couple wearing matching, elaborately embroidered jackets with “New Zealand” stitched on them. Who could forget the lovely groups of tourists wearing lederhosen and thick, woolen socks pulled up to the knees?

Although these tourists stand out like a sore thumb to the naked eye, there are always the tourists who manage to be even more obnoxious. (They usually tend to be American, I should add).

At one of Iceland’s two Indian restaurants*, Shalimar, two older American tourists came in and the woman announced loudly, “We’re back!” The husband, quiet and subservient, cowered as his wife asked the proprietor what was being served that day. She ordered for both of them, getting wine for herself and insisting on water for her husband. “Yes, dear,” he humbly mumbled, as if he had an alternative. Talking to no one in particular, as she wandered away from the counter to choose a table, she exclaimed, “This is beautiful!” Through her Coke-bottle glasses and mop of mousy grey hair, she trudged toward her chosen table in squeaky bright turquoise rain boots. As she and her husband sat down (far too close to me for comfort), she practically yelled, “This is such a sweet place!” What followed was hideous, “Mmm. Mmm. Mmm. This is delicious. Mmm. Mmm.” With every bite there came an emphatic “mmm” accompanied by some unabashed lip smacking. “Mmm. Mmm. Mmm. Good. Mmm. Mmm. Mmm. Ah.” When one of the servers brought her some naan bread, she used her one word of Icelandic, not once but twice, “Taaaaaaaak. Taaaaaak.” Soon she was slurping, excitedly, as she resumed, “Mmm. Mmm.” And with that I finally had to leave.

Speaking of the use of “takk”, since tourists are quite proud of having mastered this useful word, I have sometimes found myself sitting in Café Paris, which is almost always filled with tourists. One can invariably observe the diligent tourist with a Lonely Planet Guide to Iceland and Greenland as well as several maps littering his/her table. On occasion, two such tourists will be drinking or dining and suddenly their eyes will meet, they will smile at each other, and often conversation (loud, of course) ensues. One day I heard an American woman and an Australian man discussing their own experiences in Iceland at length. Until finally, the woman decided it was time to be on her way and paid her bill, exclaiming, “TAAAAAAAAAAAAAK” (always far too much emphasis on the “a”) before leaving and wishing the Australian “un bon voyage”.

Another time when I had the misfortune of agreeing to meet with someone at the Dubliner (not my sort of venue), I waited there while an American woman sat at the bar spouting her expertise on “all things tourist”. She informed everyone at the bar (and indeed anyone within hearing range) that, “Americans have ruined Mexico. Damn tourists completely ruined it.” I very much wanted to approach her and say, “Yes, tourists like you…” However, that would have been both rude and would have drawn attention to myself. And unlike tourists as a whole, I don’t care to draw attention to myself. This is, I guess, the point and the best part of observing tourism in action. You can learn so much about people and their personal lives, not only because they are so loud but also because, quite often, tourists bond with other tourists and share personal details across crowded cafés. Indeed you also learn why people wanted to come to Iceland in the first place, and their reasons are as diverse as the tourists are loud.”

*I believe there are more now, but back then there was only the veteran Austur India Fjelagid and the upstart Shalimar, technically Pakistani, not Indian.

Photo (c) 2013 Terry Feuerborn.

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