People and Places

A charming little story

Posted on December 8, 2013

This account is from an Icelandic friend who recently attended a conference in San Diego:

Couple of nights ago, I traveled from Coronado Island to San Diego (about 30 minute bus ride) to enjoy some of the things the city has to offer. My first stop was Old Town, proudly presented as the birthplace of California. I arrived the around 6 pm and the sun was about the set. I must have spent the best part of an hour strolling around this great place, seeing many interesting things, before I decided to go downtown to find a restaurant (and preferably a bookstore). It was completely dark by now. The distance from Old Town to downtown is about 4 miles and being an Icelander I decided to go on foot.

Soon, however, I ran in to trouble as San Diego could not be described as very pedestrian friendly city and the amount of street lights is limited (to Icelandic standards). By now I must mention that I was wearing a black suit (from the conference earlier) and after some close calls crossing streets I opted for finding a taxi. Soon I was picked up by this Somali driver in his late twenties, smiling as he asked me what I was doing on foot dressed like that, it being dark and all. On the way we started talking and he asked me from where I came. My pronunciation and his understanding let him to believe I came from Ireland but as soon I was able to correct that misunderstanding he asked: “What’s the population of Iceland?” “300 thousand”, I told him.

Until now he had been smiling, but his face now turned to something suggesting compassion or empathy. “You will never be influential on the world stage with this population. The population of Somalia is 10 million and we find that too small”, he added. Icelanders should think about some strategy to increase the population drastically. The government could, for instance, implement a program where the amount of benefits coming from the state would increase in correlation with the number of kids you have. By now we were approaching downtown and I realized that I didn’t have any cash (as I had planned on walking). We found an ATM but as I was withdrawing money this African American woman arrived, asking whether I was done with the cab.

As we were only 3 or 4 block away from downtown I said sure (I must make it on foot from here, I thought). But the driver would not hear of it. “I’ll drive you both. No charge from here to downtown. You go of there and I’ll drive on with the lady.” So we drove of together and almost immediately the driver started to tell this new passenger about the problems Iceland was having with its small population. I can’t say she looked interested but I can say for sure that I did not like the look on her face as the driver started to lay out his plan for how to raise the population (she must have thought the driver was somehow suggesting that she should play some part in the plan, perhaps assisting the Icelandic nation and producing babies with this stranger sitting beside her in a cap in downtown San Diego, wearing a black suit.

Now, it was time to leave. As I exited the cap this extremely friendly Somali gave me a big smile and encouraged me to “have more babies, otherwise Iceland is in trouble.” I left smiling and thinking that if this guy who had fled Mogadishu eight years ago, leaving behind horrific scenes of war and destruction, had not lost his sense of humor and happiness why should Icelanders be complaining about financial issues (money, derivatives, stocks and bankers). Life’s too short!


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