Coffee Nation

On our various travels, my wife and I have noticed that every country is either a coffee country, or a tea country, never both. I am here to tell you that Iceland is a coffee country. It’s the type of coffee country, however, that prefers strong coffee in teeny tiny cups, which suits neither of us.

It is also—though this may be just the type of hotel we booked (three star) or the fact that the economy is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy—the type of country that is rather economical with its coffee packets. The coffee and tea making facilities in our room consist of an electric kettle, two coffee packets, two tea bags and two sachets of powdered creamer. This precluded us from having a cup of tea at bedtime, so we resolved to stock-pile what we could by locking the leftovers in the hotel room’s safe and hopefully scoring some UHT milk and extra tea bags at breakfast.

Breakfast, it turned out, was a buffet affair with—I kid you not—a guard stationed at the tea caddy and a communal jug of milk that discouraged us from nicking any for personal use. So we left breakfast defeated, but upon leaving our room to meet up for the city tour later that morning, we ran across an unguarded maid trolley and helped ourselves to what supplies we needed. (Hey, Iceland owes the Brits billions of pounds in bad debts; they can take it off the bill.)

After the tour we were cut loose so my wife and I wandered up to Kringlan, Reykjavik’s answer to Bluewater or the Icelandic Mall of America. I have to say, for a nation that can boast only 300,000 inhabitants (that’s the whole country—Reykjavik has only about 120,000) it was fairly impressive. Before engaging in retail therapy, however, we needed a caffeine boost so we headed to the food court.

Now I am always chagrinned at my inability to speak a foreign language, especially when I hear the fetching young lady at the counter speaking Icelandic to the young men in front of me, and then smiling and saying, “Yes,” to me when I am forced to ask, “Do you speak English?”

I ordered two strong coffees in teeny tiny cups, then drew on my vast knowledge of the Icelandic language I learned during the five-minutes of instruction the tour guide gave us that morning, and said, “Tak,” meaning, “Thank you.”

The young lady smiled again and said, “I’m Polish.”

Now I could have made a witty observation accentuating the irony of me, an American, attempting to speak Icelandic to a Polish immigrant I mistakenly took for a local. Or, even better, I could have kept my mouth shut. Instead, I replied, “Then what are you doing here? I thought you were all in England.”

This is when I learned it is not always wise to joke with people for whom English is a auxiliary language. Her smile remained, but it faltered. If she spoke British, I’m sure she would be thinking, “wanker!”

Since I don’t know how to say, “I’m sorry,” in either Polish or Icelandic, I simply took my coffees (only 385 Icelandic Kronas) and retreated.

So much for a career in the diplomatic corps.

What I Learned at the Mall

For some reason, a lot of manikins in Iceland are left naked:

But the ones they dress, they dress with style:

11 thoughts on “Coffee Nation

  1. About Iceland owing Britian lots of money– When I toured Iceland in 2005, the tour guide said that the British came to Iceland during WWII and built an airport \”without even asking\”. Then during the Cold War, the Americans came and built an even bigger airport \”without even asking\”. Maybe they are still smarting over having their toes stepped on by us bullies? I was quite amused at the offerings at the breakfast buffets–pickled herring, cold cuts and cheese–but I loved the excellent water!

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  2. She may have mentioned her nationality when you said \”tak,\” as \”tak,\” in Polish, means \”yes,\” and that may have been something she wanted to share with you if she had a chance to converse. I doubt she was offended as Poles have a good sense of humor as well as a good sense of whether a slight was intended (as do most people), and you have indicated it was not in this instant.

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  3. Ms Sparrow: Our guides mentioned those airports, but they were very complimentary about them and appeared very grateful. Their take on owing Britain money was, \”you stupidly invested in our banks; they went bankrupt, we don't owe you anything\” – it was said with tongue in cheek, BTW.And I do agree about the water–it was the best!Anonymous: I'm not up on my Polish, so I missed the \”Tak\” connection. I believe it means \”Thanks\” in other cultures, as well.

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  4. I could be all wet here but that sure looks like a native american indian bonnet. Odd place to find that on a manequin, don't you think?

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  5. Chantel: Yes, they are ;)Gill: Iceland is a great tourist destination. I really do recommend it. And, yes, at times it seems 80% of the population of Poland is here in Britain. I have no problem with that, myself.Sandy: Yes, it is a war bonnet. Iceland is a land of contrasts 😉

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  6. That 385 krona coffee seems quite reasonable for a country I was always led to believe was expensive. You've tempted me to add it to the list of places to visit! Great travelblog.

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