Imagining the Faroes, Part I

Now that I have been in the Faroe Islands for a few weeks, I have gotten started with my research interviews. I plan to talk to several Faroe Islanders of varying ages, genders, and places of residence about how the Faroe Islands are represented to foreigners through various media channels, and how they feel about those representations.

So far, I have conducted three formal interviews and more than a dozen informal conversations on this topic. One trend that has started to suggest itself is that the older interviewees have been more positive about representations of the Faroe Islands than the younger interviewees, even suggesting that the tourism imagery shows the islands in an unrealistically good light, while the younger interviewees seemed more bitter about anti-whaling sentiment and outdated representations.

A two-page spread from Visit Faroe Islands' new tourism booklets. This is one of the images I ask respondents to consider during the last part of the interview.

A two-page spread from Visit Faroe Islands’ new tourism booklets. This is one of the images I ask respondents to consider in the final part of the interview.

One amusing wrinkle in the interviews has been that many respondents have recognized people they know in the example media I’m presenting to them. In my very first interview, I showed part of a video, and my interviewee asked me if I would like him to introduce me to the people speaking in the video. In another interview, when I showed the above photo of the Faroese ring dance, the interviewee told me that she recognized “almost everyone” in the photograph, as they were all from Klaksvík!

When I was planning the interviews, the possible frames I felt that I had seen in representations of the Faroe Islands were exotification (through emphasis on the traditional ways of life or the remote, wild natural conditions), trivialization (due to the nation’s small size), and conflict (presenting the Faroe Islands as backwards, especially in regards to the controversial grindadráp).

So far, no one has mentioned the trivialization frame, except to say that many people are not aware of the Faroe Islands at all. One man told me an anecdote in which he was travelling and tried to explain where he was from to some people who had never heard of the Faroes. He said that it was in between Scotland and Iceland, and they insisted that no such country existed. He looked around for a map of Europe, and when he found one, the map itself was missing the Faroe Islands! He had to find a second map to prove that he was, indeed, from a real place.

Here are the main points I’ve heard so far about depictions of the Faroe Islands:

A screenshot and description of the Danish tv documentary, "Kvindeflugt fra Færoerne," which is about the gender disparity in the Faroe Islands.

A screenshot and description of the Danish tv documentary, “Kvindeflugt fra Færoerne,” which is about the gender disparity in the Faroe Islands. This is one of the images I ask respondents to consider in the final part of the interview.

– They focus more on old traditions, such as the ring dance, and less on growing, current trends like modern music and cuisine.
– They are antiquated, and haven’t caught up with the changes of the last 10-30 years.
– They imply that everyone in the Faroes is a sheep farmer or a fisherman.
– They play down or ignore the existence of modern institutions like hospitals, shops, and the University.

– Information about the Grindadráp is filled with inaccurate claims, such as that the pilot whales are endangered or killed for fun.

– They have beautiful photos and descriptions of the unique Faroese nature.
– However, they could be painting an unrealistic picture of good weather and endlessly clear skies, conditions which are rare in the Faroes though they do occur.
– They ignore the winter almost completely in favor of coverage of the brief tourism season (June-August).

– They are concerned that tourists might not understand that the Faroese weather is uncertain and changeable, and that everything in the Faroes is expensive.

A sheep walking on the road leading to the village of Múli.

A sheep walking on the road leading to the village of Múli. This is one of the images I ask respondents to consider in the final part of the interview.

So far, one of the most intriguing things to come up in an interview was one woman’s suggestion that many of the problems she saw in representations of the Faroe Islands had the same problematic root — that foreigners almost never travel to the islands in the winter. Not only does that ignore more than half of the year in the Faroes, she thinks the long, dark, stormy winter has a huge effect on the Faroese culture, and that, without understanding that, it’s impossible to explain the Faroese mentality or perspective on a wide range of issues.

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