November 19, 2009

McDonald's gives Iceland the cold shoulder

The collapse of Iceland's economy from the arguably worse-than-Wall-Street shenanigans of Icelandic fishermen who woke up one day and became "bankers" and who are now likely fishermen again has deprived Iceland of more than just the integrity of its currency and the life savings of its citizenry: the monetary magic tricks and fiscal legerdemain have left the volcanic nation without access to Big Macs.

Citing soaring costs for imported beef patties and the plummeting value of the krona still kicking around in people's pockets, McDonalds closed its three Iceland franchises last month.

That's Adam and Dana, circa 1997, posing in front of the McDonald's in icy downtown Reykyavik. We'd just eaten a meal of burgers and fries because that was the cheapest food I could find in all of Iceland. Food prices -- along with the prices of everything except heat (geothermal energy Iceland's got aplenty -- notice the open McDonald's window, in February) were chokingly expensive.

Breakfast at our hotel was $28.00 per head. (I paid for me and spirited stuff out in my backpack for the kids...) Granted, that breakfast included herring and other luscious seafood, but when the first meal of the day costs $28.00 -- and this was 12 years ago -- you can guess what lunch and dinner ran. And going into a grocery store for provisions helped not a whit, the store being stocked as it was with mundane items that had, despite their boring ordinariness, been imported by plane and ship at great expense, duly reflected in the astronomical retail price.

I am no fan of McDonalds, but I pity the poor Icelanders the loss of a place to get cheap food. I imagine rows of Reykyavikers lining the city piers holding baited poles, pulling up personal halibuts and slogging home through the gray slush to make fishwiches.

Fries with that? A sack of imported potatoes will set you back a day's pay. Ketchup? Forget it. Those good old days are gone.