Saturday, July 11, 2009

[greed] and piggy-eyed shortsightedness

A number of correspondents for Iceland Review have been short-term American students who somehow got a column in the publication. Not a bad thing but when I visit that site, I prefer to get the Icelandic perspective.

There is one, Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir, who is the genuine article and so it was with great interest that I read her piece entitled Shameful Shortsightedness, concerning the greedy little people who saw big Euro signs in their eyes, come the summer tourist season.

In her own words:

Before the crisis hit, one euro could buy you approximately 90 krónas. Now, one euro trades for 180 krónas, which should mean that those traveling with euros are getting a “half-price discount” off everything.

However, following the crisis, prices have risen, mainly because with the depreciation of the króna it is becoming more expensive for Icelanders to import goods and Iceland relies heavily on imported goods.

Still, Iceland should prove considerably less expensive to foreign tourists than it was before the króna began spiraling downwards and, in an effort to turn this sad development into something positive, Iceland is now being advertised as a “budget destination.”

[However], many travel agencies, car rentals and hotels are now pricing their services in euros and at the same rate as before the crisis or even higher. [My Austrian friends] had rented a car for the outrageous price of EUR 3,000 (USD 4,000) for three weeks.

I couldn’t believe it. Is this how we treat the people who are kind enough to pay us a visit during these difficult times, helping our economy recover… by robbing them blind, making sure they’ll never come again and having them tell everyone that Iceland has become more expensive than ever?

I felt like sinking to the bottom of the pool with shame. I felt like I had betrayed all the people I had told come visit Iceland now because it had finally become affordable.

Shortsightedness. If the Icelandic mentality can be summoned up with one word, that would be it.

Shortsightedness is what made people think they could buy the world on loans. Shortsightedness is what spurs people involved in tourism to jerk up the prices as high as possible to make the most of this summer—a move that is sure to restrain the industry’s growth in the long run.

Shortsightedness is what caused the crisis and shortsightedness is certainly not going to lead us out of it but rather deepen the recession and ruin our reputation for good. And I really thought this time around people would learn from their mistakes…

More than shortsightedness, Eyglo, it is greed and this is not just an Icelandic phenomenon.

Examples abound, including London taxi drivers who know they could go down that lane to get to the hotel but instead let themselves get into traffic jams and go the long way, thinking you won’t know; local taxi drivers here who know there are two different hotels named the Victoria and drive you in the direction of the one in a nearby town, thinking you won’t know; and then we can look at Russia.

In Moscow, going from our hotel to a shopping centre, less than a kilometre down a straight road which we could have taken the tram along but understanding that a taxi should not be too expensive, he refused to understand my Russian when I asked up front how much and even when my Russian girlfriend spoke to him in perfect Russian, still refused to understand but had already done the short hop, then asked, in English, for $20 and kicked up a fuss when we gave him what the journey was worth.

Or the car driver in the centre of town whom I hailed to drive me home one evening who, the instant he heard my accent asked an amount three times the going rate and when I admonished him in Russian and told him I’d done this journey every day for eight years, didn’t want to lose even that amount but at the other end, pretended to misunderstand the name of the road for a much nearer to town bus stop by the same name and so on.

Or at Peterhof in St Petersburg, where Russians were allowed in for 10 roubles but foreigners paid 128 roubles and when I paid the ten roubles, she pointed to the sign and said, in pidgin English; ‘128 roubles’, to which I replied in Russian: ‘Nyet – ten roubles. What, am I not speaking Russian?’ to which my girlfriend tore strips off her in Russian too and she gave in and let me have the ticket [though the 128 roubles was neither here nor there actually].

Piggy-eyed greed and ripping off. Swindles, using the currency which will realize the most profit for them. That’s what it’s all about and as Eyglo wrote – short termism. It’s a very nordic and slavic mentality – the notion that there might not be any summer next year and no tourists so we’d best rip them off now. It’s the same mentality as the person who buys something in a Russian shop, not wanting it, for fear it’s not going to be there next week.

It’s the mentality, the slow-wittedness which can’t see beyond the immediate profit to the idea that you might like to contribute to making the destination pleasant for visitors so that they might want to return next year. The mentality can’t see as far as next week.

Eyglo mentioned one place which hadn’t done that - Hótel Djúpavík in Strandir - so people, if you're planning a sojourn in Iceland, a very beautiful country which I've visited and have been following for years, then you could do worse than add that hotel to your itinerary.


  1. The cultural glimpses as to how people act never cease to amaze me.
    Still, there's the underlying current of universal human responses with regard to a person being in the 'survivor' mode, then there's just plain selfishness.
    You wonder if acts of kindness for others (to put it briefly) is outwardly fashioned upon a person and must be fostered in their growing up, or is there something inherent. From the religious perspective, the Pelagian and Augustine debate comes to mind.

  2. For a start, I'm more inclined to Pelagius than Augustine. He allowed of free will and that we are not tainted with original sin when we are born. That comes later through our actions.

    Therefore a new-born child has no sin.

    That our uneducated actions often tend to evil is an argument that there are forces on earth which are malignant and that they may also be inside us.

    That bit I don't insist on because how can I know?

    That the act required to create life confers sin at the point of coition I think is rubbish because it implies that the whole business of marriage, consummation and birth is somehow dirty, which I don't accept for one second.

    To lust for your wife is good stuff, it seems to me.

    I also don't like the Augustinian strawman that Pelagius denied the necessity for redemption. I don't think he was saying that at all.

    Similarly, the Augustinian contention that if G-d has free will, then Man can't is not correct. While it is true that we are all in bondage to our own desires and often to the dark side [either within ourselves or an external entity], we do have the capacity, with help, to overcome this tendency within ourselves.

    This help can be termed Grace.

    There is an equal tendency within Man to do good and to want strive for purity and for higher things.

    Lastly, the fact that the doctrine of original sin stemmed from Paul is worrying, as I'm not sure about much of his theology.

    I tend to look at Genesis as not admitting addition or deletion and yet it needs to be taken as an'overview' or allegorical summary of the course of events.

    After that, it's only really safe to stick to the gospels and in particular, what JC was quoted as saying.

    That's more than enough to get the theology right.

    While it was necessary to counter the dualism of Gnosticism [which tried to bring in satanic concepts and denied the efficacy of redemption], the other controversies were red herrings and mischievous.

    Back to your point, HGF, about whether greed is innate or not, I think that if parents and others, e.g. teachers, don't advise children, then there are those on the other side who will. Forewarned is forearmed, after all.

    Just a point of view, that's all.

  3. I'm more for Pelagius as well; and, have been reading on the differences in some of the teachings. I find St John's church (more of what the early Celtic church followed) much more appealing than St Peter's; and, unfortunately Rome usurped much of the traditions. (according to the writings that I have, surely there's much to debate here). I'm afraid I have more questions than there are answers, but like you said, sticking to what JC said seems to make better sense. After all, I think it's not so much about the rules as about the heart.


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