Hospitality, Faroese style. The Faroe Islands, part 4/4

5 July 2012

What is striking about this tiny society is its hospitality, borne presumably of its isolation. Practically every Faroese has been abroad for a greater or lesser stay for whatever reason – to study, to spend time with the relatives in Copenhagen or Hirtshals, or just to see the rest of the world. There’s no getting away from the fact that this is a remote island society with all the advantages of its compactness, but also with the attendant hang-ups. It’s easy to get caught up in the goldfish bowl syndrome and forget that there is more of the world, other ideas and different attitudes beyond the horizon – and it’s important to remind yourself sometimes that there are parts of the world that are considerably less fortunate and honest.

 

 It’s something that the Faroese do maybe better than some less remote island communities and these people know how remote their islands are, and how there’s more to getting there than jumping on a bus. As a result, they are genuinely welcoming and appreciative when someone from elsewhere takes the trouble to pay them a visit. Hospitality starts with the coffee and buns that come out at the drop of a hat, extended to frequent offers of meals, directions, advice, help with practically anything, or even offers of a bed for the night.
What can be perturbing is that so many people know who you are before you even turn up. The jungle drums have their own network and before you extend a hand and say ‘hello, I’m…’ you’re waved to a seat with a casual ‘I saw a strange car coming into the village so I thought it must be you,’ or ‘yes, my cousin said you’d just left his place so we were expecting you,’ as if it’s the most natural thing imaginable. It takes a while to figure out that there’s nothing sinister going on here; it’s just the way the Faroes work.

Much has changed since I ventured to the Faroes as a youthful backpacker and later as a fairly low-end business traveller. These days the inter-island ferries are gradually disappearing as tunnels replace them. I don’t mourn the rush to get to the ferry at Vestmanna on the way to the airport, but I do miss the warmth of the ferry from Leirvík to Klaksvík on a cold afternoon. These days there’s more than one radio station, more than one channel on the TV. Foreign cellphones slot straight into the networks and wifi is everywhere. The Faroes are as connected to the rest of the world as they can be, but its people still seem to keep their feet firmly anchored on the ground with little of the stress and unnecessary bustle that other small communities generate as part of their jump into the wider world. There’s always time for another cup of coffee while you wait for the rain to stop – for a while.

This article was originally written for a business magazine, the Faroese Business Report

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