Socialism, Entrepreneurs, Nipples and Birthdays

 

The Perks of Socialism

It’s been about a week since I arrived in Reykjavik, and already it’s been quite the experience.

From the very first day, I’ve had a bit of a tour guide in my housemate Stig, a Swedish/Polish designer who came to Iceland less than half a year ago with 2000 Icelandic Kroner (about $17) in his pocket and a few words of Icelandic in his vocabulary. Now, he speaks the local tongue so well that Icelanders are nearly always taken aback when they hear him, and his design business is flourishing.

Despite my initial jetlag (I arrived from Seattle, 10 days before that I was in Bangkok, and a week before that I was in Cambodia), I was able to stay conscious all day and enjoy the overview of the city, which started with a free lunch at a business that Stig is a contractor for.

This company is responsible for swapping out the internals of cars so they can run on methane instead of petroleum. There seems to be quite a movement for this conversion here, and I’ve heard the year 2050 tossed around as when they’ll be completely off fossil fuels in all aspects of life. Not too shabby.

But back to the free breakfast.

Apparently, the people at this company are able to come in every morning and enjoy a solid meal with their coworkers (“Including the President of the company,” explains Stig. He points at an adjoining table “That’s him right over there.”). I shuffled together a few stacks of bread, cheese and cucumber and felt recharged for the day. “They also have free lunch, and in the afternoon they have time to eat some cookies and have some coffee.”

My thought: “That’s a lot of time at work, but not working.”

And really, that has been the story of my time here so far.

Jaunting around town, I’ve found that the local aesthetics are right up my alley, and everything from the architecture to the fashions people wear to the way food is presented has a very different look and feel that I truly appreciate.

The way of life is also very different, with health and public well-being taking top priority (whereas healthy competition and meritocracy seem to be the overarching ideals in most American cities). It was a bit disorienting at first, because in all the traveling I’ve done so far, I can’t remember seeing a Socialist system working so well.

The Need for Entrepreneurs

But it’s not all butterflies and rainbows. The system does have some flaws.

A local entrepreneur, Haukur Guðjónsson of Bungalo.is, explained to me that there are a lot of talented people in Reykjavik, but they don’t really understand what it is to work hard the way an entrepreneur must to succeed.

Kids in Iceland generally start work earlier than in the States (most have jobs at age 15 or so), but they are mostly service-industry positions, and they do it so that they have spending money, not really to work toward a career.

The fact is, Iceland’s economy has simply kicked a lot of ass since they were liberated from Denmark in 1944, so a lot of the current generation of teens and 20-somethings have grown accustomed to a system that takes care of them, provides them with plenty of what they want a need, and generally protects them from having to work too terribly hard.

This wouldn’t be a bad thing (actually sounds pretty damn good to me), except that following the economic crisis in 2008, the Icelandic economy is still a little wobbly, and though the Kroner has reclaimed some of its former value, investors are still tending to look elsewhere and tensions are still a bit high when it comes to the future of the Icelandic infrastructure.

The solution – Haukur believes – rests with growing the entrepreneurial base in Iceland so that they can really tap into the huge stockpiles of talent that resides within the people.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a very good support system for people wishing to spend their time building businesses yet, and it remains to be seem if something really innovative will rise up out of the economic ashes.

Nipples and Aiming Higher

I went out on Saturday night to meet with up an American girl named Bullet and some friends that she had made last time she was in the country.

The Icelandic nightlife is fairly crazy, and over the course of the evening (and into the early morning) I saw an Icelander in a clean white suit light his drink on fire and suction the cup to his nipple, saw two jackets get stolen and had an older gentleman tell me that I need to ‘aim my cock higher.’

Ah, Reykjavik.

After arriving home at 5:30am and crashing for a few hours, I awoke to find Stig reminding me that we had a 1-year-old child’s birthday to attend.

Only slightly hungover, we popped a few Ibuprofen, stopped at the toy store and drove to a home not far away (nothing is TOO far away in Reykjavik) to deliver the plastic (and light-flashy) mobile phone we had procured for the birthday boy.

Familial Festivities

The party was lovely, and through bouts of conversation with a man named Roar (who is the father of the birthday boy, and in the process of building out his personal brand so that he can work on more of his own projects outside of work) I stuffed my face with his wife’s delicious soup and cake and discussed life and Iceland with the other partygoers while watching the kids scramble around, chasing each other and their toys.

At the end of the birthday party, I felt very contented. The people were wonderful, the food was fantastic and Roar had even given me his guitar to borrow for the duration of my stay: happy, he said, for it to get some use.

And now here I am, preparing to start my second week in Iceland, comforted by the knowledge that already I’ve been able to fall in with enthusiastic entrepreneurs, pleasant party people and friendly family folk.

I’m looking forward to meeting the rest of you, Iceland.

19 comments

  1. The Icelandic nightlife is fairly crazy, and over the course of the evening (and into the early morning) I saw an Icelander in a clean white suit light his drink on fire and suction the cup to his nipple, saw two jackets get stolen and had an older gentleman tell me that I need to ‘aim my cock higher.’

    Not quiet sure what to make of this! :)

  2. Sounds incredibly interesting. I think you’ll learn a lot from this trip. A good friend of mine did some mission work there for a few months after graduating from Harvard. It seemed to be a life changing experience for him, as I hope it is for you.

  3. What kind of support system for entrepreneurs are you talking about? You’re a big proponent of no-overhead, so what else does there need to be? Or are you talking about different types of entrepreneurs?

    • Good question!

      I’m thinking more of informational support. In the States we enjoy a community that is very supportive of startups – and in a lot of ways actually romanticizes the process – and there is plenty of information and resources (like advice, how-to’s, incubator-style situations) available to those who look for it.

      Not so much in Iceland (as far as I’ve seen so far, and from what I’ve been told).

      • So the information you’re talking about is in printed form at the local coworking space or sba office?

        There’s clearly a wealth of information online (including you) that Icelanders could be tapping into. Maybe the blog community isn’t popular in Iceland. I do have a friend there, so I suppose I could be asking her these things, but I’m curious to hear about what they’re lacking.

        Certainly, if it’s not part of the culture there’s a barrier to entry. I know Australia (where I’m from) is not comparable to the US in that sort of culture.

        • I’m actually talking more about a cultural barrier than a lack of printouts or anything like that. I’ve found most places in the US to be very conducive to startups and entrepreneurship, whereas the general vibe in Iceland is that it’s a somewhat niche thing where mentors and support (of all sorts) are hard to come by.

  4. Awesome, Colin! Us States-bound folks can live vicariously through your posts. But, sounds like a mission while you’re there to somehow contribute to helping launch entrepreneur underground? Make some connections, videos, whatever. Maybe?

    • Yeah, I try to do what I can when I travel to lend what assistance I can, but at the same time it’s a thin line to walk sometimes, because I don’t want it to seem like I’m coming in and telling people how to live their lives and run their businesses.

      Mostly I make myself available if people ask, and try to get interesting people together and see what happens.

  5. Awesome, Colin! Us States-bound folks can live vicariously through your posts. But, sounds like a mission while you’re there to somehow contribute to helping launch entrepreneur underground? Make some connections, videos, whatever. Maybe?

  6. Some of my favorite posts of yours Colin are when you write about your experiences in different countries. Sounds like Iceland is going to be awesome.

    Stig’s image manipulation skills are fantastic. As is his story. 17$? You gotta be kidding me…

  7. You had me when you added “nipples” into the title and “perks” in the first sentence. Sigh, Colin.

    But seriously, Iceland sounds so awesome.

  8. Glad you touched on the socialism aspect, Colin. It’s got a lot to do with the homogeneity and egalitarian-focused culture of countries like Iceland, Denmark, Norway, etc can establish such solid (and pretty well-liked) welfare states. The US, on the other, was essentially built on more individualistic immigration-fueled entrepreneurship so we’ve got a natural recipe for business-building. Though I’ve never been, I think Iceland might have a bit of the “tall poppy syndrome” which you observed in New Zealand. It’d be interesting to hear your thoughts on that during your time in Iceland!

    Cheers,
    Vivek

  9. I think they should concentrate on making the country self sufficient and be less reliant on buying the latest flat screen TV or i-pod.They should work on reviving traditional crafts and protecting nature.The only thing the Bill Gates’ of this world have brought is a lot of plastic computers and e-waist and now third world countries are looked down on or given old computers as cast offs as educational tools so they can keep up with the rar race.Icelandic people should forget about looking to the west and do their own thing.What is talent?Making more crap for the system of being able to feed yourself and Knit your own jumper.I think the latter.Anyone can get a credit card and an i-phone.How many people can feed themselves without going to the supermarket or being reliant on airplanes?Very few.And thats what the system wants.Weak and dependant consumers that purchase the latest piece of tech junk.

  10. So glad you’re getting to see part of what makes Iceland such a great place. The “enthusiastic entrepreneurs, pleasant party people and friendly family folk” description fits nearly every Icelandic person I met (well if you add artistic/musical to it too). Looking forward to hearing more about your experiences.

  11. The reason the economy failed is because of market liberalization. Basically mortgages became unregulated allowing the (small) Icelandic banks to use the capital as leverage to borrow 11 times (!) the national GDP of the entire country. When the loans inevitably failed the entire economy went into an accute crisis with the heads of the banks long have moved on. It is NOT socialism that created the crash or prevent the economy from growing!!!

Comments are closed.