Service - a foreign word in Iceland?

Iceland is a country not really known for being service-oriented. I don't just mean that many cashiers don't smile at you or won't make small-talk. It's things like the bus driver opening the trunk, but expecting you to get your suitcases out yourself, they are yours and he is only paid to drive the bus.

The shops are filled in the afternoons with sullen teenagers behind the cash registers who would rather be home watching movies on the radiation-disk in the sight-caster. They may or may not take their MP3-player-earphones out in order to sell you something. They may be on the phone discussing the party last Friday, which is more important than taking your cash for whatever it is that you want to buy.

We were invited out to dinner with a friend at a local fish restaurant. It is only open during the summertime, and the tables are long, Viking-like rows of wooden, hewn tables and benches. There is no menu. A young girl came up to ask what we wanted after she bangs down some glasses and a pitcher of water. We ordered 2 fish soups and 3 fried fish - this was confusing, didn't everyone need soup? No, one does not like fish soup. Okay, what kind of fish do you have today. She at least gets the fish-name-translation-card out and points to the fish they have today. Fine, we choose, and white wine with the fish.

We get some bowls plonked down, no problem, we can distribute them ourselves. Some bread comes, plonk. The wine comes - bang, bang, bang. We serve ourselves, no problem, and the soup is delicious. We sit around for a while with our dirty bowls, eventually the girl comes to pick them up. I say "that was very nice", she is rather shocked - she didn't ask me how I liked it!

We wait some more. We wait. Everyone else in the restaurant gets served. Our friend wonders if this was because he had a little spat with the owner last time over a bill that was never settled because the owner didn't write a bill at all, so it was never paid. "Send me a bill, and I will pay it," he had said. Finally he asked - turns out the girl forgot to tell the kitchen about the fish, only the soup. So we wait some more, and finally a wonderful pan of the most delicious fish I have ever eaten is bonged down in front of us, without a word. You want fish, you get fish, why bother with fancy words like "Enjoy your meal!"?

We go up to the cash register to pay and I try some more Icelandic - "that was really excellent fish!" The woman looks up in shocked surprise, I suppose I interrupted her while she was doing the sums.

Am I being silly? I was hungry, I wanted fish, I got fish to eat and it tasted excellent. What more do I want?

I do think, however, that if Iceland wants to increase their tourist return rate, they might want to start some courses in service-giving. I mean, if Berlin bus drivers can learn to speak English, surely Icelandic shop clerks can learn to smile and say some nice things.

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