Archie Bland: Reykjavik is glad the 'ghosts' have gone

Reykjavik Notebook: Bars and restaurants once frequented by a wealthy elite are now much quieter

One of the standard images of financial crisis is of a deserted city centre, and so it's not surprising that a good number of articles about the meltdown that hit Iceland when its banks collapsed in October 2008 should focus on the idea of Reykjavik, once a cosmopolitan hub of conspicuous consumption, turning into an urban wasteland. It's natural enough to expect a city that came to embody economic adventurism as much as Wall Street or the Square Mile to feel a bit like New York or London, and when visiting reporters found it didn't, they often surmised that the place was a shadow of its former self.

The thing is, the people who live in Reykjavik, pictured, don't necessarily agree. Perhaps, they suggest, outsiders forget a straightforward fact that informs the city's identity just as much as its capital status: slightly fewer than 120,000 people live here. This is an undoubtedly lovely place. But it's also the size of Rotherham – and a Rotherham transplanted to an icy patch of tundra 650 miles further north. For a lot of Reykjavik residents, there's something more than a bit insulting about the idea that a city that doesn't precisely resemble our own capital must be in relentless decay.

"The truth is, Reykjavik has always felt small," says Olafur Jonsson, a doctor who has lived there all his life. "It's true that the place changed in the last decade. But it was never like being on Oxford Street."

As Jonsson suggests, there's no question that things have changed here. Bars and restaurants once frequented by a wealthy elite are now much quieter. But for a city that rather resented that parallel population, even this is not necessarily a bad thing. "No one misses them, however much they spent," says Jonsson. "Those people were like ghosts."

I feel I must know you...

Another adjustment for the Londoner to make on arrival in Iceland: a naming convention that makes it seem like you must know people you've never seen before in your life. Rather than surnames, a given name is appended with that of a parent and the suffix –son or –dottir, depending on gender. The result is that every introduction feels like a reminder of an old friend. "This is Lilja, Gunnar's daughter," someone will say, and the displaced Brit half expects to be told the street they grew up on and their favourite hobbies, too.

From Iceland to an icy land

My proudest achievement in four days in Reykjavik was probably not falling over once, in spite of totally inadequate footwear. But I hadn't counted on the treacherous conditions back here. As I climbed the icy steps to my front door at the end of the journey home, I lost my footing and ended up flat on my face. It comes to something when our streets are more snowbound than a country named for its wintry weather.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'
tvCilla review: A poignant ending to mini-series
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education are curre...

Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: You must:- Speak English as a first lang...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: If you are a committed Te...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style