Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cash and Ash force Icelanders to turn to humor

 One beautiful article from AFP - Original article here

Economic implosion, then volcanic explosion: not since the Viking raiders has Iceland been associated with so much tumult in Europe.

There are only 317,000 people on this barren north-Atlantic island and until recently, with the exception of eccentric pop singer Bjork, they'd barely caught the outside world's attention.

But now Iceland is famous -- infamous, even.

The Eyjafjoell volcano on the south coast may have caused relatively little damage here since erupting last week. Only 700 people, mostly farmers, are affected and no one has been killed.

Yet in Europe, ash from the hard-to-pronounce volcano has inflicted spectacular disruption, shutting down the continent's air travel network and stranding passengers around the globe.

The ash cloud is the second storm from this once quiet corner in the near past.

During the 2008 world economic crisis the country's high-flying main banks collapsed, taking with them the savings of 340,000 people in Britain and the Netherlands and forcing Iceland, until then among the world's wealthiest nations, to seek an IMF bailout.

When the British and Dutch governments demanded 3.9 billion dollars compensation, furious voters in Iceland used a referendum to tell their powerful neighbors to get lost unless they came back with a fairer deal.

A joke gleefully repeated since the volcano erupted relates that Britain "wanted cash, but because the Icelandic alphabet contains no letter C, they got only ash."

Another quip goes like this: "When Iceland's economy died, its final wish was that its ashes would be spread across Europe."

That humor is one way Icelanders are dealing with the shock of turmoil in their formerly stable country -- and with finding themselves in the unfamiliar position of being cast as villains abroad.

One joke perfectly catches the absurdity of tiny Iceland, which doesn't even have a standing army, going out to bully the world.

"You mess with Iceland?" goes the gag, in full Mafioso mode: "We shut down all your airports."

The laughter masks soul-searching about how Iceland got into such a mess and about who should be held responsible.

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