In Defence of Iceland's Slow Service - The Reykjavik Grapevine

In Defence of Iceland’s Slow Service

In Defence of Iceland’s Slow Service

Published April 15, 2015

York Underwood
Photos by
Lóa Hjálmtýsdóttir

I’ve heard this hundreds of times: “Iceland has really slow service.” Usually, this is coming from the mouth of a visiting friend, or a newly met drinking buddy on Laugavegur. They, who always work as hard and fast as possible, don’t understand why there isn’t more showmanship and pride in the waiters and bartenders of Reykjavík. Where are the smiles? The obligatory flirting? Why do I feel like the same person I was when I walked in here?

Well, first off, people don’t tip here. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that people get a good-enough wage–seeing as the service industry tacitly and directly funds the upcoming artists and musicians of this great country (they deserve more!)–but the service industry is a job, not a performance.

It may be hard for some people to fathom, but not everything is Disneyland. You’re going out for a drink and maybe something to eat: relax. The waitress might be hungover. The bartender might feel the need to take part in a Facebook argument on his iPad. You are seeing real people with lives that extend beyond your desire to be served. Do you really think the person pouring your drinks for you and bringing your food to you should also care if you feel included? I’ve looked in the mirror at various times of the day, in various establishments, and not once have I concluded, “I deserve more attention.”

That being said, I have come to be friends with people working at various places in Reykjavík and I can honestly say, occasionally, that they are happy to see me. They don’t serve me any quicker or go out of their way to call me “hunny,” “baby,” or “darling,” but they will tell me about their day or the latest tragedy in their digestive tract.

Coming from Canada, the land of breastaraunts and strip-clubs, I found the honest service culture here refreshing. I am too sensitive for the fake-ness of Hooters. I would be standing in the smoking section, my fingers covered in buffalo wing sauce, creepily waving at the waitress through the window–convinced we were really hitting it off. She thinks space is cool too! What luck! I wonder if she likes craft beer. There’s a new place that just opened downtown. Maybe she’ll bring her family! I bet her mom is one of those elegant older women and her dad is the quiet but witty type. Her dad and I probably won’t hit it off until she goes to the bathroom with her mom and then he tells me about when he was my age and when he finally knew he had found the one. Is her name really, “Candy?”

That’s why I would like to remove the adjective “slow” from the discussion and replace it with “honest.” The service industry, fuelled by tips, leads to dishonest behaviour from both the business and the employees. The business gets to pretend it’s paying for the work its employees do when it is really counting on them to dance for change. The employees have to put on a face and perform: “tits and teeth.” Why would anyone want someone to shape reality for them? In your heart of hearts, isn’t facing reality honestly and with strength the key to a moral life? Tips promote dishonesty. Some people are very charming naturally, but others are not. Why not respect the different experiences and people you encounter rather than promote factory-line personalities, copied and printed?

Remember, these people, and you, will die one day. Does feeling special and powerful require others to become sycophants while you gulp beer and munch on fries? On the topic, Karl Marx, not one of the Marx brothers, said, “Prostitution is only a specific expression of the general prostitution of the laborer.” Such issues wouldn’t take place in a workers’ paradise. What better example of trickle down economics, and its inherent vileness, is there than a fat old man dropping coins on the ground for a young waiter or waitress to pick them up from the dust with a smile?

If you aren’t served immediately, be happy. You are being shown the honesty and respect you deserve. Groucho Marx, one of the Marx Brothers, said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept people like me as a member.”

If you’re really worried about getting a drink, do what Icelanders do. Get drunk at home beforehand.


Show Me More!