Take our word for it, you don’t want to learn this lesson the hard way…
Iceland is not known for having an especially strict code of social etiquette. There are, however, a few rules that you just don’t break. Three Grapevine interns and I learned one of these rules the hard way, embarrassing ourselves at our first Icelandic house party.
It all started when Johnny, who didn’t care for the sugary-sweet bowl of spiked punch that had been brewed for guests at this particular birthday party, fought his way through the crowd in search of some beer. He returned moments later with a cold bottle of Einstök Pale Ale in his hand and a fat self-satisfied grin on his face. The rest of us, eager to feed our livers with liquid gold, followed his genius trail to the kitchen fridge.
Well after getting a little tipsy on the fantastic free beer, an obviously upset female approached us and asked if we had seen her Einstök. Whoops. Was it hers? Probably. Did we tell her instantly? No. Did I realise it instantly? Yes. I looked at the ground in shame. The others didn’t seem to get it, though. “Goddamn it, why’s she making such a scene?” Johnny leaned over to me and mumbled in his forced drawl. “It’s just beer. In Germany this stuff goes for 50 cents a bottle. People usually give away cases at house parties. Same in the States. If you put a bunch of beer in the fridge, you’re basically asking people to help themselves. Isn’t that the principle behind inviting your friends over?”
The truth is, though, we were not really invited. Frankly, we crashed the party. Earlier that evening we had gone to KEX Hostel for the Just Another Snake Cult album release concert. It was there that we ran into our editor and she hesitantly invited us to the fateful house party. “You should definitely come,” she muttered at KEX, without actually telling us the address of the place at first. Two text messages later, we were on our rather disoriented way through the pouring rain in search for the house.
Although we were not really invited, we were still warmly welcomed party guests who then proceeded to unknowingly abuse our hosts’ hospitality by drinking beer that, we later learned, belonged to someone called Andrea. The magnitude of our crime is perhaps best understood through her version of the events:
“Usually, when I go to house parties I stash my beer somewhere safe. But this was my house, my party, my fridge. My boyfriend also drinks, so when I noticed two beers were missing I just thought, `I don’t remember him being such a fast drinker … well, I guess I better keep up.’
Next time I checked the fridge, however, all my beer was gone. So there was clearly a traitor in our midst. Everyone in Iceland knows the code: beer is expensive, so you don’t steal it unless you’re comfortable in the knowledge that you’re a worthless piece of shit. I went into stealth mode, trying to weed out the beersnatcher. Who was it? Who would even do such a thing?
Dismayed, I took a lap around the living room ogling everyone’s beverages. I bumped into my friend Anna [Reykjavík Grapevine’s Editor], who asked me if I was enjoying the party. I told her truthfully that I was trying to, but what with my beer having been stolen it was proving difficult. I asked her to keep an eye out for Mikkeller or Einstök bottles.
Suddenly, we both noticed the people standing around us who were staring at me. I looked down. They were holding my beers. Ah. Foreigners. They didn’t know better. Like so often in life, this case called for Hanlon’s razor: never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by cultural tactlessness. To be honest, the look of shame and confusion on their faces was almost worth it.”
Andrea was actually more outraged in that moment than she now recalls. She didn’t scream at us, but she did sternly point out that we had broken a code. I felt a little like a child who had released her creative energy on the living room wall and gotten caught by her parents. Andrea’s take was enlightening though. It put things into perspective, which was important because perspective was exactly what Johnny, in particular, was lacking the day after the party.
Due to the fact that alcohol is so heavily taxed, beer is indeed outrageously expensive in Iceland compared to in most other European countries. Furthermore, the Icelandic State has a monopoly on selling liquor and only dispenses it in special stores called Vínbúð, which are unfortunately neither abundant nor open 24/7. It’s impossible to simply go to the gas station in the middle of the night to buy more alcohol when you run out at a party.
So we decided to make it up to her by replacing the stolen beer with a new six-pack the following Monday, which just so happened to be St. Paddy’s Day. We were unusually remorseful leprechauns, awash with guilt and trying to make everything better by placing a different kind of gold at the end of the rainbow. As Andrea put it, we were not the first to steal her beer, but we were the first ones to refill her stock after thievishly emptying it.
The takeaway: When you’re at a party, don’t you dare drink the booze unless it’s given to you or you brought it with you!
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