Friday, July 29, 2011

Iceland Inspired: The one thing I did not like

I decided you might think I was completely in love and that might make you think I was wearing rose colored glasses, if I only talked about how wonderful Iceland was, so I will get out of the way the one thing I did not like and actually, I feel this way about so many places I go.


I try to shop locally when in my hometown, this desire does not go on hiatus when I travel. I can get cheap Chinese manufactured crap here at home. When I travel and want a souvenir, I want it to not just say the name of a particular place, I actually prefer it to be made there. I do not want a magnet made by Chinese children in a sweat shop embossed with the gold shiny words "Iceland." I understand that some people collect this sort of refrigerator liter, I am not one of them.

L and E do not really enjoy this about me, as they are attracted to the glitter snow globes with the lopsided gold words Iceland and they are mad about stuffed animals, but I feel strongly it is my job to raise discerning consumers and one cannot start this too early. While they protested a bit, I do think they are much happier now with their locally manufactured choices than yet another stuffed animal with the tag - "made in China" attached.

Sadly the bulk of what we saw in the tourist shops and the quasi-touristy shops fell into this category. Even the famous Icelandic woolens, if one is not careful are actually made in Nepal. One has to be very discerning. Ask questions too. I found that the sales people and shop keepers were willing to be honest about the place origin for the goods they were selling and buyer beware, much of the merchandise did not have a "made in ..." label, so you have to ask, if you want to know. It further seems to me and I am not certain this is the case, the shops which seem to be full of the tourist trap made elsewhere goods are also the shops which offer an automatic tax rebate, which is significant given the VAT is rather staggering verses American sales tax. I think this is probably based on volume, but the reality is government tax practices and tariffs or incentives encourages or discourages the type of behavior government wants to see and if you want to support local crafts people, stop offering the rebate on imported items. It really is that easy. (Just my free advise -  oh Icelandic Parliament.)

I am pleased to report that at the weekend flee market, Kolaportið Flea Market, in downtown Reykjavík, does have some booths, which feature local Icelandic crafts people. L got a wonderful glass wall hanging which has actual soot and ash from the volcano inside. It is very cool.

I got a very nice pair of artisan made earrings, with polished lava stones.

The flea market had some vendors selling cheap plastic trinkets imported from everyone's favorite sweatshop and certainly some booths resembles someone yard sale. If you are willing to shop, you might be able to score a great Iceland woolen sweater or other hand knit item at a really reasonable price. As always, it is buyer beware.

Also check out one of the Red Cross shops or the Salvation Army resale shop. One can find a nice Iceland knit item there from time to time, we were told. There is also a children's charity woolen shop, which seemed to be closed more often than not and therefore we could not check it out, but our free tour guide suggested it.

As I took a walk one evening, I lucked out and found the nice little shop - Níu heimar / Nine Worlds. This shop features hand made items by local artists. Many of the items are tied to Norse mythology and Iceland's pagan past and present. I bought a few small items here. It is a joy to support local crafts people. Their hours are sporadic, so shop early and often, is my advice. I found them open on Saturday afternoon, which was our last day in Iceland. It was fortuitous indeed.

There were other little shops, off the main drag which we checked out and might have browsed a bit more, but this trip was not about shopping. I am mentioning this, so if you do fall in love Iceland as you read my series, and decide to pay  Iceland a visit, you too can shop locally. I really think it is worth the extra money, if you choose to shop, to buy local. Supporting the local crafts people and artisans is invaluable.

Next week - My thoughts on traveling with older children and finding a place to stay.

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