≡ Menu

Where are all the money trees?

Back in the days, Iceland was a classless society. Everyone was equal [generally speaking] and everyone also earned approximately the same amount. In other words, the economic division between people was minimal.

Lately, Icelandic society has been awash with reports of such excesses in spending that the mind positively boggles. Let’s take the banks: last year, my bank decided to re-brand, changing its name from the pleasant, homespun ‘Íslandsbanki’ to Glitnir, which was supposed to make it seem more ‘international’. [The best retort came from Greavsie, who felt ‘Glitnir’ sounded like an ointment you apply to your nether regions.] Of course this might have been crucial for the bank – who am I to judge – but personally I would have vastly preferred it if my bank had lowered my bank fees rather than spending tens, if not hundreds, of millions of krónur to re-brand.

Also jumping on the re-branding bandwagon last year was KB Bank, which decided to change its name to Kaupthing, which incidentally has been its ‘international’ name all along. To that end they recruited the services of John Cleese to star in the most mishappen advertising campaign ever conceived, quite nauseating in its sheer stupidity. Seriously, the first TV spot had been hyped to the nines [before it aired] and when I saw it I literally sat on the couch with my mouth hanging open – it was that bad. Demeaning to this nation, and a cringe-worthy example of Icelandic national insecurity. [See one of three spots on YouTube here.]

Next came all the parties. One of the Kaupthing managers [whose name nobody can remember] threw a big expensive bash at Hampton Court Palace in the UK around Christmas for the bank’s big-name clients, that featured Duran Duran and also a bunch of Icelandic entertainers that he flew over for the party. Next came Glitnir, which threw a huge bash a couple of weeks ago for its key employees and its clients – 600 people – replete with top-notch entertainment, food and drink, including bacon and eggs being served at midnight so partygoers’ empty stomachs would not keep them from continuing their party antics, not to mention imbibing the free-flowing booze so generously bestowed by their hosts.

But the mutha of all parties came this past weekend, when someone named Ólafur Somebodyorother, Chairman of the Board of Samskip [shipping company], celebrated his 50th birthday. He began the day by holding a press conference in which he announced that he and his wife had decided to establish a fund to help underprivileged Africans, with an initial donation of ISK 1 billion [14.5 million USD]. They then headed off to the birthday bash, which kicked off with some of Iceland’s best entertainers, followed by a ‘special guest’ who turned out to be Elton John. Old Elton sat down at his grand piano that – naturally – had been shipped over expressly for the party, and entertained guests for an hour, before turning the stage over to Icelandic chanteuse Kristjana Stefánsdóttir with a Big Band orchestra. [How many wells could have been drilled in Africa for the price of Elton John’s hour-long serenade? – just a thought.] As a further example of lavishness, Fréttabladid today reports that the ladies were provided with a selection of perfumes in the loo [who wants ill-smelling ladies at their party?] plus a range of nylon stockings, should anyone be so unlucky as to tear their existing pair.

Now, while I’m all for people making – and enjoying – money, this sort of gluttony sort of seems completely out of proportion. I think local satirists Spaugstofan had the right idea in their Saturday evening send-up: A bunch of bankers are sitting around in a hot tub, bragging about how big their party was. Finally one of them gets up and says, “Here, check this out!” and pulls down his trunks. As in: ‘Mine’s bigger than yours’. Heh. Yeh. It’s sort of like that.

And today for the first time in days I didn’t have to spend 10 minutes scraping that thin film of ice from the inside of my windshield. Plus of course another 10 scraping all the outside windows. In other words, it has been frrrriigid for many many days now – unusual in this era of global warming, but it’s due to get warmer. Right now it’s a relatively pleasant –2°C and sunrise is at 10.38, sunset due for 16.42.