Published July 25, 2013
SIGGI: Generic twenty-something Icelandic male. SIGGI has never lived outside Iceland.
ASSISTANT: Nondescript shop assistant. ASSISTANT has never worked in a store in a real country.
AMERICAN TOURIST: Generic American citizen, visiting Iceland.
City-centre music store, walls lined with CDs and DVDs
SIGGI enters stage right.
SIGGI: “Hey you! Give me a CD!”
ASSISTANT reaches behind the counter, scans a CD, presents it to SIGGI.
ASSISTANT: “Two thousand krónur”
SIGGI hands over his credit card, whilst looking over his shoulder at a tall blonde that has just walked in. He makes no eye contact with ASSISTANT.
SIGGI pockets the CD and walks off, wordlessly, in the rough direction of the blonde.
AMERICAN TOURIST approaches the counter.
AMERICAN TOURIST: “Hi, I’m looking for the latest B-york album, do you have it?”
Fade to grey…
Sounds strange? Of course it does. It’s the sort of behaviour you wouldn’t expect from anyone in a music store, except maybe the eyeing-up-the-blonde part. You’d expect people to know what they want, at least within broad genres, and to ask for it, or at least ask for some guidance.
So why is it that this is the norm for bar life in Iceland? Why does Siggi seem to assume that all beer is equal and that he has no choice? Because, to be frank, the beer-drinking habits of Icelanders have yet to catch up with the reality of what’s on offer. People simply haven’t learnt that they have a choice and that not all beer looks like a carbonated urine sample and tastes just as bad. They have yet to experience the joys of beer that is opaque or beer that actually has more character than elevator muzak.
Dear Siggi, do the following:
– Pretend you’re in a record shop when you’re in a bar. Pretend you need to impress a bunch of cute blondes with your sophisticated taste and worldly experience (that means outside of Kópavogur). Check what’s on offer, look behind the bar, ask the bar staff: What beers do you have?
Develop your taste. Now I’m afraid there’s only one way to do this. Go to all the decent bars in downtown RVK and try at least one small glass of all their beers. Get a taste for dark versus light, sweet versus bitter, wheat beers, etc. Life’s a bitch when you need to have a pub-crawl in the name of cultural education.
Engage the bar staff in eye contact. Ask to try some of the beers, if the music isn’t so loud that you’re in post-midnight sign language mode. Most decent pubs in the UK will happily offer a wee taste of their beers if you ask. Imagine the novelty of drinking a beer of which you like the taste, rather than gambling on whether you’ll be able to stomach enough glasses of tepid chlamydia-test sample to be drunk enough to make a credible pass on the blonde you just eyed.
Whether or not we like it as expats, and whether or not the Icelanders care to admit it, there is massive Danish influence here. It pervades everything from the language we use, to the pylsa we eat to the thermostats on our domestic radiators. So why not take it one step further? The Danes may well come from a two-dimensional country reeking of pig fat and speak like they are about to vomit, but they certainly respect their beers. They know a good brew and they’re not afraid to ask for it, so copy your Danish cousins (yet) again and learn their beer habits.