Christmas Eve in Reykjavik: The Hunger Games

I think Daniel had told me that Christmas Eve is a holiday time in Iceland, where families join for dinner.  We had thought we were being planned enough, flicking through the list of many, many restaurants in Reykjavik and leaving the hotel at about 18:00 to brave getting blown across ice in gale-force freezing wind to find food.  I had even called ahead at the first restaurant on our list, Austur-Indiafjelagid, but they said they were closed.  Never mind!  Restaurant Reykjavik’s website said they were open and had an excellent buffet on.  I didn’t call ahead.  I should have.

We walked to short distance, in the dark, slipping on icy roads, and only had 2 small arguments along the way.  We were still on talking terms, but more of a cold war stand-off by the time we got to the restaurant.  It’s a beautiful building: bright yellow cladding.  The buffet looked amazing: meat, fish, everything you could think of.  My heart warmed and so did my face, as we stood by the door watching the guppies swim about in the fish tank.  We waited.  Several staff walked by, didn’t acknowledge anybody.  I don’t know why I apologise for them to myself in my head; in every workplace I’ve worked in it is super easy to notice when a customer/client/patient is looking at you, expectantly.  Ignoring them isn’t useful.  You don’t have a booking? Sorry we’re full.

So we walked.  And walked.  There was a pizza place across the park but we thought we’d go back to a really nice looking restaurant that had duck.  They were full.  We walked back to the pizza place but it looked like a kebab shop, and it was pretty busy. So we chose to walk up the main street, Laugaveger, to see what was open.  Nothing! You would see lights by a shop and think, “Oh! They’re open!” but they were just lights.  Curiously all the other tourists were walking in the opposite direction. We got to the end of the main drag and walked back down Hverfigata, all the way back to the pizza shop.

There were six staff in the pizza shop, each working to a slightly different system.  This made for repeated monumental stuff ups.  For instance, when the guy trying to coordinate at the till asked the tall guy with big hair what pizzas had “gone out” the tall guy got things mixed up and said, “Yes!” when it should have been, “Hmm, actually, no.”.  So all the Japanese tourists waiting for their pizzas on our left waited for orders that no longer existed.  We waited for about half an hour in a queue that moved forward but no more orders were being taken.  They were struggling to keep up with the seated orders at the full tables behind us, as well as the take-out orders of people either side of us.  The same guy was processing orders, trying to supervise everybody, and take payments from the tables.  It wasn’t going well.

Eventually we got to the front of the line and I was about to place an order when the tall guy, that had stuffed up before and I wanted nothing to do with him as his track record had been demonstrated approached Daniel and said that a table was ready (Daniel had been leaving the queue to ask about table availability as others had come in behind us, and snuck straight into seats).  “But I can order now!” I said, the big guy grabbed menus, and directed us to a table.  “Can I order now?” I asked him.  We just wanted pizza.  We hadn’t eaten anything since yesterday other than a bag of mini Rollos and some wine gums.  Somehow we’d missed the opportunity for breakfast this morning and we’d slept through lunch.  “I’ll come back,” the big guy promised.  He didn’t.

The woman who was waiting on the tables refused to take our order, “Sorry but you have to go line up,” she explained.  We’d done that.  For half an hour.  We were told to sit down.  Daniel went and ordered.  I started being talked to by the English couple next to us.  They’d been waiting a while.  Due to each staff member working conflicting schedules for customer flow a couple that had come in after us, sat down and got food very quickly.  The American women next to them were irate; they’d been waiting an hour and a half.  If we had had a choice we would have left.  We had no choice.  It was almost like The Hunger Games.

We got our pizza before Paul and Lucy, which made me feel terrible.  I offered to share but they declined.  The American women had got their fish and chips and were waiting on hot chocolates and were melting the walls with their laser glares.  Two guys with Aussie accents were behind the women in the corner and still hadn’t got anything.




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