New Year’s Eve faux pas, or How I enraged an entire nation
When I was coming up in journalism – and bear in mind that I really got started in college in 1989 – the internet was nothing more than a gleam in Al Gore’s eye.
Oh, I suppose there was some sort of incarnation of the world wide web back then, accessible by the Defense Department and certain well-connected universities, but at Loyola University down in New Orleans we relied on small networks of boxy Macintosh computers to put out the Maroon every week. And if you wanted information, you went to the library.
It was a huge pain in the ass to thumb through the periodical indices and dig out fiche, to physically read a year’s worth of newspapers looking for a piece of information without the benefit of a search toolbar, to read entire subsets of a Dewey decimal genus (or, at least, skim through the ones with promising titles), to work the vertical file, to beg – beg – a library assistant to walk you through the stacks to find a book whose title you wrote on a cocktail napkin but couldn’t read the next day.
The internet is sweet like that… I can usually find what I’m after inside a half hour or so using clever search terms or a few key resources; I use the government’s census pages just about every week, for example, and if I’m looking for soft facts I often cast my fate to the mercy of Google.
It’s no substitute for beating feet on the street, which is where all real information is found, but if you’re working on, say, a lighthearted list of places to spend New Year’s Eve, you might rely on internet pages as primary sources, particularly if you’re on short time and just about to get out of town for the Christmas holidays.
But if you do this, you run the risk of getting something wrong. And if you get something wrong you might anger someone. And that someone might have a lot of friends who all of a sudden will be pissed off at you, too.
This is how I enraged the entire nation of Iceland.
It started out as kind of a lark… you know, If I could go anywhere on New Year’s Eve… that kind of thing. I made a list of some places, wrote a little copy for each one and then filed the sucker with plenty of time to spare before the YES! Weekly Christmas party.
Along with Las Vegas, New Orleans and Rio de Janiero, I recommended Reykjavik, Iceland, which, I learned through admittedly lazy internet research, “the locals celebrate by welcoming tourists into their homes, serving them steaming drink, lighting bonfires and prancing around in elf and faerie costumes.”
I also made a crack about the Northern Lights, which are visible from Iceland.
And let me tell you something: I’ve angered people with words before; I’ve gotten e-mails, letters and phone calls from people who want to flay me like a fish; I’ve been accused of terrible things and called many, many names.
But the people of Iceland responded to this sentence fragment in a way that, proportionately, makes them the world’s biggest haters of my work.
I’m kind of proud of it. I’ve never pissed off an entire nation before.
I got 19 e-mails and article comments on yesweekly.com, a mention on an Icelandic blog and even made the print and broadcast news in that frigid, frigid country. I’d like to share some of it with you.
One reader who identifies herself as Rhea, submitted: “What are we from 1400 century or something? God, next time you want to write something write it… scrupulously and with… right information thank you very much. It’s kind of funny reading something [so] stupid. And there is no Northen Lights in the capital, you can’t actually see it unless you go to highland.”
Okay, Rhea, thanks for that. Another reader, Alda, was similarly instructive: “We were just wondering if you could tell us where the natives are providing free steaming drinks for tourists, because, you know, this is the first we’ve heard of this tradition. Oh, and prancing around in elf costumes? Your sources must have been smoking some pretty strong stuff.”
Others were less charitable. Hlynur Gíslason wrote, yes, in all caps, “IT’S TRUE THAT SPENDING NEW YEAR’S EVE HERE IN ICELAND IS AMAZING. BUT WE DO NOT GO AROUND IN ELF AND FAERIE COSTUMES. I WONDER WHERE YOU GOT THOSE SOURCES. YOU SHOULD DO YOUR HOMEWORK AND NOT WRIGHT SOMETHING WHAT YOU CALL AN ARTICLE THAT IS NOTHING BUT SHIT… PS: I HOPE I DON’T HAVE TO TALK TO THE OWNERS OF THE NEWSPAPER BECAUSE I WILL, IF THIS IS NOT GOING TO BE FIXED.”
Jóhanna Bragadóttir wanted to know, “Are you really the editor?” And Munda Jonsdóttir asked, “How did you get your job.”
And I’m afraid I’ve besmirched the good name of the Old North State, as well. An Elisabet, who gave me a “Good going, genius,” signed off as, “A Icelandic Person quite relieved not to reside in NC anymore!!”
Sorry about that, folks. If you ever get your ass kicked in Reykjavik, it will likely be because of me.
One more thing: The bit about the fairy and elf costumes turns out to be true, though not exactly a widespread phenomenon. And I don’t expect to be invited into an Icelander’s home for a drink any time soon.
Oh, and next year Iceland is off the list.
For questions or comments e-mail Brian Clarey at firstname.lastname@example.org