EXCLUSIVE! An interview with the Icelandic McDonald’s burger man

You may have seen an article recently about the last cheeseburger sold by McDonald’s in Iceland doing the rounds – initially published on the website of Icelandic newspaper Morgunblaðið and the Reykjavík Grapevine, it soon spread to the Huffington Post and eventually made it onto the websites of the Daily Mail, the Mirror, and others.

Apart from Morgunblaðið and the Grapevine, however, none of the publications in question bothered to contact Hjörtur Smárason, the person who purchased said burger; instead reprinting a quotation from the time he handed the burger over to the Museum of Iceland, in 2012. I managed to perform a task seemingly beyond the world’s media, and tracked Hjörtur down, admittedly not difficult given that (a) he is a good friend of mine and (b) as he points out on his Facebook profile, he is the only person in the history of the world to have that name. Here’s what he had to say about the whole fuss.

Icelander Hjörtur Smárason, an easy man to find. Photograph © Anders Bergh
Icelander Hjörtur Smárason, an easy man to find. Photograph: Anders Bergh

So, who HAS contacted you about this story since it went viral? What did they want to know?

“The story has been published by a number of media outlets in over 25 countries as we speak. Still, only one has contacted me to verify the story. Things like my age were obviously a pure guess from one of the first journalists and the rest of them just repeat and increase the errors in the story as they publish it.”

What prompted you to put the burger in a museum?

“Well, many people found it symbolic for how Iceland threw out the capitalists after the crisis that not even McDonald’s survived there. This being the last McDonald’s in Iceland is therefore very symbolic for the end of the golden age of capitalism in Iceland.”

Did you ever eat at McDonald’s while they were still trading in Iceland?

“Very rarely. But I am a father of five so a couple of times I gave in to the pressure ;)”

When they closed their last Icelandic restaurant in 2009, McDonald’s cited the global financial crisis as the reason. How much of that is true, and how much of it do you think is down to Icelandic tastes?

“Well, it was definitely not the global recession, but of course the economic collapse in Iceland had a big impact. However, some Icelandic burger places are thriving like Tommi’s Burger Joint so I guess Icelanders simply have a better taste.”

Since the burger was handed over to the museum in 2012, you have moved to Denmark. Are McDonald’s still popular in Copenhagen?

“Yes, they are. They are all over the place here. And of course, at high traffic places and where you have a lot of tourists the convenience of a McDonald’s does have an appeal.”

What do you think we can learn from this whole affair (the burger itself, and the recent attention it has received)?

“First of all, we should be aware of what we eat. McDonald’s claims this is just normal and it is just dry. I’m not convinced that is the only reason. Secondly, we should be aware of what we read. A big part of both is just rubbish made for quick cash or a quick click.”

For those of you interested, the burger in question is now sitting in the Bus Hostel in Reykjavík, whose website has a live feed of the burger so you can see for yourself just how tasty it still looks.

When not donating fast food artefacts to museums, Hjörtur works for Innovation Embassy in Denmark, and has a personal website where he writes about his native country and more at Raving Ravens.