Today marks sixteen years since AAH and I moved to Iceland.
It was 1994. The Internet didn’t even exist yet – at least not as a normal part of life. A few months after arriving I started working at Iceland Review as a journalist and translator, and about a year after that the IR website was launched. Every morning myself and the other journos wrote little news blurbs mostly taken from Morgunblðið [before it became Morgunblather], and me and another journalist named Gary Wake were usually entrusted with writing the weather reports [as Don outlines here]. Those were the dog jobs, nobody liked to write the weather reports because they were boring [partly cloudy, winds from the s/e, highs of 3°C etc. etc.] — until we figured out a way to make them more interesting by adding little tid-bits from our daily lives. And as some of you may already know, the title of this blog is a throwback to those days.
Back then, nobody in Iceland seemed to have a lot of money. I mean, some had more than others, but there wasn’t a sh*t-load of dosh floating around with everyone driving big SUVs or buying huge properties or having their kitchens/bathrooms remodelled or travelling abroad five times a year. That came later. In fact, it is still a complete mystery to me how I as a single parent managed to live off the salary I was earning then. It was barely enough to feed two hamsters. I drove an old Fiat Panda that leaked oil incessantly and kept breaking down. And yet – somehow we managed, and it seemed that people were not any less content in those years than in the times when this society was awash in money and cheap credit.
I left Iceland Review a couple of years later and started freelancing. Then right around the turn of the millennium I was recruited to a dot-com company when that whole boom was happening. All of a sudden I was earning really good money and being sent on business trips to New York. I bought a new [used] car and life was peachy. Looking back, though, I’ve rarely been involved in anything quite so bizarre. The business model was dodgy, and never in my life have I seen money squandered with such reckless abandon. Unsurprisingly the bubble burst a few months later.
Shortly afterwards I started working for the British Embassy here in Reykjavík. I spent a couple of good years there before deciding it was time to move on and went back to freelancing. That was when the boom was starting, and work was plentiful. I worked for companies owned by all the three main oligarchs at some point during those years – probably like most people here in Iceland. They owned just about everything.
At the time, it didn’t feel particularly strange or out of whack. Like most people here, I didn’t think about the economy too much. It was just kind of there, like the weather. Nor can I say that I particularly benefited from the boom — apart from the fact that work was plentiful. But then again, work is usually plentiful for people in my line of work here in Iceland. The oligarchs, the owners of the banks and those who were on a buying spree abroad, the people who flew in on their private jets and published pictures of themselves in their own magazines — those people inhabited a completely different universe from the rest of us. Personally, I found them profoundly uninteresting. However, not for a moment did I doubt that they had an exceptional talent for business. After all, they were so wildly successful.
Economically not much changed for me during the boom. I still drive the same old car I bought ten years ago and live in a flat that is marginally too small but still OK. I think the greatest change for me since the meltdown has been to come to terms with a new world view. For one thing, I am infinitely wiser now about the intricacies of finance and global economics. But also, the picture I had of the society in which I lived has undergone a total transformation. It was like going to sleep in one world, and waking up in another.
And I am still happy that I moved to Iceland sixteen years ago. That has not changed.