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In praise of the kreppa and other musings

Today I sat down for a coffee with a journalist from the New Yorker [hi Ian!] who was in town for a few days. He’d read my post about going to the symphony and was a little puzzled that people here are still doing stuff like going to concerts and shopping and suchlike. He wondered whether we’re all in denial … he said we seemed kind of like cartoon characters who have run off a cliff and are hanging in mid-air, completely oblivious to the fact that we’re about to plummet down any second. [Which I thought was a really cute image and which probably proves that I’m totally and irrevocably in denial.]

But is it true? – I pondered to myself afterwards. Are we really making running motions in mid-air while a hollow abyss gapes beneath us, waiting to swallow us whole?


The only answer I came up with was another question: How exactly are you supposed to behave in a kreppa?

Is there a correct form of behaviour? Should we be walking around with long faces, all gloomy and defeated, preferably emaciated, with snot coming out of our noses? Moaning about the hateful kreppa and how it’s totally ruining our Christmas?

Or should we try to enjoy what we can?

I don’t think we’re in denial – I don’t think anyone in this country harbours any illusions about the circumstances we’re in. I think we all know that things will get worse after Christmas. But Icelanders have this peculiar facet of character, this ability to adapt and to shrug things off, that can be both an asset and a liability. In its worst manifestation it appears as complacency – a willingness to let things slide, even when faced with gross incompetence and corruption. In its best manifestation it appears as the “Þetta reddast” mentality – the blithe belief that everything will work out in one way or another. And it usually does.

I find it healthy that people are just getting on with things. There’s an Icelandic saying: Að láta hvern dag nægja sína þjáningu* which essentially means that each day has its own volume of suffering – no more, no less. And you shouldn’t try to add another day’s suffering onto this day’s, in order to get it over with sooner, or to try to dilute it. If there’s money today, you should enjoy it today. And if there’s happiness and joy today, you shouldn’t block it out just because there may be difficulties tomorrow.

Today I went to a concert at Hallgrímskirkja church – a choral recital of Christmas music. It was sold out and the [large] church was packed. The singing was sublime and had everyone enthralled. I’m willing to bet that every single person in that church was in some way affected by the kreppa – but they came to the concert anyway. And I’m also willing to bet that, this year, they enjoyed it even more than in years when they were not facing difficulties. I’ll venture to say that it gave them a sense of comfort.

Something else giving people comfort: Yoko Ono’s peace tower. Last year when it was lit for the first time, it kind of missed the mark. Many of us wrote the whole exercise off as another Yoko Ono eccentricity that moreover seemed slightly misguided. But to my amazement, this year I’ve drawn a surprising amount of comfort from that column of light that reaches into the sky – particularly in October when it was first lit, when all the sh*t was going down and we were being shell-shocked on a daily basis. I’ve heard many, many people say the same thing. There’s been such a radical shift in values in the last few weeks. We’re starting to see what really matters. And that’s good.

By which I mean, fabulous weather for December – snowy and blustery and cold. Everything is white out there right now and there are coloured lights in just about every window. Looks really festive and lovely. Right now it’s 0°C [32F]. The sun came up at 11.02 and went down at 3.36.

* At least I think it’s Icelandic – perhaps it comes from somewhere else originally.



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jessie December 8, 2008, 12:00 am

    Just wanted to say that this was really beautiful.

  • David December 8, 2008, 12:42 am

    I loved it too. Wonderful. I especially like this: “There’s an Icelandic saying: Að láta hvern dag nægja sína þjáningu* which essentially means that each day has its own volume of suffering – no more, no less. And you shouldn’t try to add another day’s suffering onto this day’s, in order to get it over with sooner, or to try to dilute it.”

    That’s so very Zen: just experience the moment. Too many people live in the past and it affects them today. Sadly, many people also live in the future and most of what they worry about never comes to past, turns out to be a total fiction. The best laid plans of mice and men (Hemingway)… Everything is so transitory. Only this moment is real. Just experience the moment, enjoy each other’s company and I second your statement that we should “enjoy what we can”.

  • Bluegrass Mama December 8, 2008, 2:02 am

    I am wondering what he thought you should do–cancel all the arts for the foreseeable future? I would assume people might cut back on the number of events they attend (at least those with a ticket price), but to stop doing anything enjoyable seems awfully extreme.

  • stef December 8, 2008, 2:57 am

    this is a beautiful post, thank you so much for sharing it. it really makes me want to visit iceland that much more.

  • Rachel December 8, 2008, 5:01 am

    Surely if everyone stopped going out and doing things your economy would grind to a halt. I think you are doing the best you can, and what good will it do if you forego a concert? Here in sunny Australia we are merely in an economic slowdown and in a effort to fend off a recession our Prime Minister is giving several million Australians deemed to be worthy of largesse a pre-Christmas handout of $A1050 – which is pretty generous. Despite the fact that many people are burdened by debt and it would be sensible to save some of this money for a rainy day, he is exhorting us all to go out and spend like there’s no tomorrow for the sake of the economy. We will have to wait and see if his ‘treatment’ works.

  • MAJA December 8, 2008, 6:46 am

    I love how there’s people out there who think that Icelanders should just behave the way that the outside observers (who are looking in and judging) think they should be behaving, just because of what they’ve heard in the media. Icelanders are not in denial just because they’re not behaving the way that all the negative nancies think they should be behaving.

    Go Iceland!

  • caroline December 8, 2008, 6:46 am

    there IS much beauty and peace in the simpler things. There are many of us here in the U.S. living in a homegrown kreppa (?), too, that is to say, much reduced circumstances with many financial and other worries. The beauty of the season, the music, and the loving faces of friends can lift the weariest heart. thanks for showing us how it is for you and yours.

  • Marc Scot December 8, 2008, 7:02 am

    Great posting, thanks! Like Australia, the UK is also telling everyone to run out and spend and has lowered our VAT to add an incentive.

  • Roy Roesel December 8, 2008, 8:52 am

    As usual, you’ve hit the nail on the head!

  • Ella December 8, 2008, 10:20 am

    So true Alda.

    I think most of us are not in denial. If I would hang around the house moaning and gloomy I would go nuts. So it’s better to go about your everyday life smiling and enjoying the little things. Plus it’ better to keep those wheels turning (the economy that is to say).

  • Natasa Babic December 8, 2008, 11:01 am

    “There’s an Icelandic saying: Að láta hvern dag nægja sína þjáningu* which essentially means that each day has its own volume of suffering – no more, no less. And you shouldn’t try to add another day’s suffering onto this day’s, in order to get it over with sooner, or to try to dilute it.”

    That’s so very Zen:

    🙂 Actually, it is from Bible – Gospel According to Matthew, I think…

    We lived through the economic collapse of the 80’s in the former socialist country, later we lived through the war – and there was always lots of fun, shopping (!), attempts of ‘normal’ life. Life is not about always having it good, it’s making it best out of the cards you’ve been given. That’s how I experienced it… Icelanders are going to emerge from kreppa as happier and stronger people, that’s my firm belief.

  • alda December 8, 2008, 11:11 am

    Thanks for setting the record straight, Natasa. 🙂

    I totally agree that life is not about always having it good – even when life is ‘bad’ it can be good. It’s all in how you approach it. So very often we can’t change our circumstances, but we can always adjust our attitudes.

  • William December 8, 2008, 12:45 pm

    “Best laid schemes o’ mice and men
    Gang aft agley”

    is a quotation from Robert Burns, not Hemingway.

    Unless you mean the novel “Of Mice and Men”

    which is Steinbeck. Particularly appropriate since he frequently depicted life during the Great Depression…

    one good thing – libraries are still free!

  • James December 8, 2008, 1:48 pm

    I enjoyed this article. And wondered whether living in the moment while mid-air running was zen, denial, or simply telekinesis…

  • Vikingisson December 8, 2008, 3:14 pm

    Beautiful. You can tell who has drunk the media kool aid by who is confused that anyone dare occupy any time with anything other than the kreppa of the moment. Be it a live car chase, a missing stranger, an economic forecast with endless speculation followed by commercial breaks promoting their own ‘in depth analysis’ and ads for easy finance and mood altering drugs. It takes but a moment to be informed and a short time to do something about it. And then life goes on so why trash culture every time the experts claim kreppa? I can’t go into total hibernation or totally focus on one situation or feel guilty for the small pleasures of life. Unless of course that is my job. Oh wait, it *is* someone’s job to do something about it. Society will adjust as required even if everything collapses but don’t dwell on it or abandon what still works.

    And my favourite expression that seems appropriate sometimes: “Jæja, en áfram med smjörid”, “Well, on with the butter!”.

  • andrea December 8, 2008, 4:34 pm

    Great reflections. And what good does taking on a siege mentality 24/7 do anyway?

  • Ljósmynd DE December 8, 2008, 5:14 pm

    There is a lot of nonsense and exaggeration in foreign media about how things are going on in Iceland. Your point of view should definitely get more attention there to work against the picture of Iceland as a dark, cold and somewhat more civilized version of Zimbabwe – everybody desperately trying to flee the country with the economy in a rapid downturn – without a Robert Mugabe of course.
    As I had been to Reykjavik last year and again this year for a pre-christmas visit, I have to admit, that – on a cursory view – there wasn’t much difference. The prices are higher, the Kringlan Shopping Mall less crowded and the construction sites very quiet. But otherwise life seems to go on as usual, the effects of the kreppa have not yet altered the face of the city very dramatically – on the surface.

  • hildigunnur December 9, 2008, 10:47 am

    Were we to stop all this sort of activity, it wouldn’t be long until ‘The Big Migration Of Icelanders Abroad’. Which would be pretty bad, since not everyone CAN leave and I wouldn’t want to leave the people behind that of some reason or other can’t get a job.

    I’m hoping that people are starting to realize that there are other things of more worth in life than money. Arts is one of them.

  • hildigunnur December 9, 2008, 10:54 am

    Just take a look at this and see if it doesn’t bring some Christmas spirit…