Èric Lluent / Reykjavík
If you have been following Icelandic media and its Facebook pages lately, I am sure you realized that the new summer trend is to blame tourists. For some is like the new main problem of this nation. Tourists pooping on the side of the road, tourists sleeping in Harpa, tourists driving fast on Ring Road, tourists taking crystals from a protected mine. Some of the stories do not offer any evidence that the ones acting like this are actually tourists. But, who cares? The point is blaming them.
Sometimes it looks like Iceland wants as many tourist as posible to suck all their money out without investing in basic infrastructures that are obviously needed to get all this people in a proper way. Not all in life is easy money like in 2005, my dear friends. You need a strategic plan, not just to look at the profits. The favorite story to blame tourists in Icelandic medias is about some of them pooping on the side of the roads. Obviously, from the Icelandic media’s perspective, the problem is that tourists are just nasty, because, of course, some foreigners do not mind to take a shit outdoors. In addition, for some of the locals, the problem is lowcost flights. Poor people does nasty thing. Pretty classist.
Does anybody in the government realize the fact that there is a lack of toilets or information about the nearest toilet in many of the areas around the country? We are talking about a basic human need. Do you really think that if this people would have the option to use a proper toilet they would prefer to stop the car and… do the job? Well, that’s what many Icelanders and foreign residents think about the issue.
Let’s offer some context. Tourists pay a lot of money to come here. It is, in terms of how much they spend, a luxury destination. When visiting Iceland, they can easily find themselves in the middle of nowhere with no information about any toilet. When they find a toilet, sometimes it is so disgusting that they are not even available to use it (it looks like nobody takes care of some of the cabins with toilets during the high season). Not to mention the 20 minutes line to get into some toilets. In many other places, they charge you 200 or 300 Icelandic króna to use a toilet. In a country where the water is really cheap and taking into account that this is already a really expensive country for the visitor, who thinks it is a good idea to charge them this fee? Well, anyway, this is another issue. So, in this context -not enough toilets, long lines, dirty or pricy facilities-, to see some of them stopping the car and pooping or peeing next to the road does surprise anyone? Which alternative we offer to tourists with an ‘emergency’? To wait one or two hours to find the next toilet somewhere in the middle of nowhere with no information about it? Of course, 99% of people can wait. But sometimes, people can feel sick, and they just can’t walk or drive. This never happened to any Icelander?
In The Reykjavík Grapevine I have been reading lately plenty of articles complaining about tourists. One of the stories is about “tourists stealing rare crystals”. If you read the article, the journalist does not offer any evidence of tourists being involved in this. Some locals say that they’ve seen tourists taking backpacks full of this protected crystal. Are you telling me that people is going through the security control in Keflavík airport with ten or twenty kilos of protected crystal and nobody realizing it? Since there is no a clear evidence of who is doing it and locals said this is something happening again and again… Why we are blaming “tourists” for this? The other option would be to investigate, but… nah! It is better to speculate. Tourists will not defend themselves, they are just stupid consumers.
The other story I am amazed about is the one explaining that a tourist was driving 146 km/h on a road where the limit is 90 km/h. Again, of course, in the headline you can read the Word, the one that guarantees you a lot of visits and success in social medias: “Tourist”. Just imagine the same headline with the word “Muslim” or “Refugee”. We would, of course, never accept that. But tourists are the ones to blame. How many times in the last year Icelanders have been driving over the speed limit? Do we see headlines like “Icelander caught driving at 130 km/h”? The answer: no. We read about “driver caught”, not by nationality or social status. And this is, of course, the professional way to provide the information. Not judging the group at which the person belongs, but presenting, in this case, a criminal behavior of an individual.
I could do the same using the term “Icelanders” in headlines of this media, for instance. Imagine that I focus on looking for Icelanders committing crimes or behaving wrong. Twice at week, I could publish an article blaming them, with “Icelanders” in the headline. Of course, this strategy would offer me really good results in terms of web traffic. But this is not what journalism is about.
Dear Icelanders that like to blame tourists and foreigners -too often, the first it is related to the later. I used to live in Borgarfjordur eystri. During the music festival in the town there was plenty of guys and girls, many of them from Iceland, peeing in my garden. In the morning, we found a guy peeing not just on the grass but over our window. What if I was taking a video of him and sending it to Icelandic medias? Would you publish something like: “Icelander peeing in the door of a Catalan guy” and making it viral? Is that really newsworthy? I was few weeks ago in Secret Solstice Festival. Should I explain how many people I saw peeing all over? What about Friday and Saturday night? The other day an Icelandic lady explained to me how usual was -before the touristic boom- to find human shit Saturday and Sunday morning in some gardens and parks because of drunken people not reaching a toilet.
Look, I am not saying taking a shit outdoors is good. The only thing I am saying is that we should not blame “bad and dirty tourists”, as an opposite of “good and clean Icelanders”. Tourism is an opportunity and a risk at the same time. You can plan it and make it balanced and nice for everybody (locals, workers and tourists) or you can just think in the short term without caring about anything else more than the profit (does somebody remembers the collapse of 2008?). One option is offering Iceland a long term and precious income. The other option it is just providing instability to our economy and great profits for a few. Should we stop blaming tourists and focus on building a reasonable and sustainable tourism sector for the future of this country? I believe it is time to start.