(Beached or butchered) Whales and (science or drinking) trips

Some of you might be wondering why I named this blog “hvalreki” und what this even means. Hvalreki is – how fitting – Icelandic and means “beached whale”. Nowadays this word is used as a metaphor for “having unexpected luck”. Back in the old days, when Iceland was in a constant miserable situation and especially the winters were long and cold and generally hard to survive, it meant another month of food for a family if they were lucky to find a beached whale. I got inspired for it by Andri Snær Magnason, a great Icelandic author and journalist, who wrote a beautiful book I’d recommend everyone to read calledDreamland. I’ll tell you more about it another time.

Speaking of whales! Why don’t I tell you more about what Icelanders care about? Whaling, for instance. This is a tough topic and I will not tell you the whole story now. The Icelanders are in fact whaling at the moment, ignoring a ban from the International Whaling Commission, whose authority is not recognized in Iceland. And they talk a lot about it at least the Grapevine had articles about it in every issue that I’ve read so far. The authors are usually arguing against it. Whalers argue in favor of their business that it’s their “god given right” to whale, it’s been a tradition in Iceland for hundreds of years and it is an economic factor for the island. People against it are saying that it is cruel, Iceland can make money out of the whales way better with the whole whale watching industry and that there is no demand for whale meat. In fact the Icelanders are barely eating any whale meat nowadays; you can only find it in special restaurants. They usually try to ship it to Japan, what is getting harder though.

Yesterday I went out for drinks with an Icelander, working in the fishing industry and I met a friend of his, being a butcher at a whaling company. Of course, they were both rather in favor of whaling (oh, maybe I should mention that I might have finally found the magic to make Icelanders talkative – alcohol!). I find it funny, how international society keeps arguing against whaling, mainly saying it is so cruel – while, in fact, it is a really humane way of hunting. Guðni told me that when the whale gets harpooned and the harpoon intrudes into the whale at least 50cm an explosion is being triggered that essentially smashes the whole inside of a whale – its organs and bones. It is dead instantly. And it has lived its whole life in the ocean, how much more freedom can you have? And then I’m wondering why people are so much against whaling, when in fact they do not care about eating animals from intensive mass animal-farming who had a miserable life and death. Again this is a discussion with little sense of rationality; both sides are being quite emotional. The whalers, saying they have always been doing this and don’t get the – actually quite convincing – arguments against it. And the ones against it, whose first and last argument still usually is that it is “cruel” – pointing towards saying that whales are cute. Well, they are. But chickens, cows and piglets are as well. I asked Guðni and his friend if they could get me on a whaling boat. It would be a great opportunity to learn about this industry at first hand. But they said this is rather impossible, as it’s extremely dangerous. Shame, but let’s see, maybe I’ll make it anyways. Here some impressions from my first night out in Reykjavík – don’t they look like damn real Vikings?


Science trips

Next week classes at University are starting. This week I had a bunch of introduction meetings – you know, the kind of “It’s a great honor that you chose the University of Iceland for your study abroad and we want to help you make the best out of your stay”-talking. Nothing too interesting, except for what they call “science trips”. The student association for Geophysics, Geography and Geology told us about this interesting detail from a student’s life in Iceland. What is this about? Well, almost every Friday a bunch of students are brought by bus to a company – which then tells the young academics something about themselves and their work. Sounds like a neat idea. The main aspect though, if I may cite the member of the association who told us about it, is “to get wasted”. The companies are expected to offer booze in large quantities in order to make that happen. The party starts around 5pm so after that the delegation can head into the next pub in order to continue “getting wasted”. I must say I found it a bit ridiculous.

Even more funny did it get when I told Guðrún, my landlady and roommate, about it. She’s in her fifties and running a center in Reykjavík offering anti-discrimination and anti-racism courses in whole Iceland. She told me she ones got approached by the university asking if she was interested in offering a “science trip” to her organization. Sure, she said, why not. What time does work for you? The person asked her. What about 9 a.m., Guðrún answered. Well… that’s a bit early. Ok – 11? Still… too early. Guðrún got a bit irritated, offered 3 p.m. – usually they close in the early afternoon on Fridays. Well, the person said, usually the science trips are later, about 6/7 p.m. – ‘cause, you know, people expect to be… drinking. Ooooh ok… in that case, let’s make it later. Guðrún and her colleagues got really worried about the girls who managed to get totally drunk with the punch they made and with the leftover “Rica” they had in the office – a gift from participants – which they started drinking after the punch was finished. The way Guðrún told me this story was hilarious, she was just as naively thinking what a “science trip” might be about as me. It seems like those science trips are a main attraction at the university and people actually find it cool getting paid by companies to get drunk – although they are awake of the fact that those companies (usually banks, pharmaceutical companies etc.) do usually not do this out of charity. And then every time you see a branch of – lets say – Landsbanki you get this warm feeling of your memory “Yeah…that’s exactly the place which enabled me the incredible experience of having a blast puking on the managers desk…”

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