A Handful of Random Observations

We’ve now been in Iceland for just over two weeks. Some brief, and mostly unrelated, observations:

-Coffee breaks are like a religious ritual here. Each class I have is about an hour and a half and each one has a ten minute coffee break in the middle. From the Icelandic Online lessons I took early on, I’m led to believe that coffee breaks are a big–and scheduled–part of the work day, too. Also, with alcohol being less readily available (since it’s only sold in the state-run liquor stores, which all close between 6 – 8 PM), it sort of becomes the default drink at home/in the cafeteria etc. I thought I used to drink a lot of coffee. This was less true then that it is now.

-Your cash makes you seem foreign. Seriously, people charge coffees here, and n’er do you hear the person at the counter say, “sorry, there’s a minimum for cards.”

-Bikes are primarily a sidewalk vehicle here. There are some paths on the roadways, and some divided paved paths meant for bikes and pedestrians, but even when there are bike paths, riders generally opt for the sidewalk. This drives Mark–a city cyclist and urban biker-kamikaze himself–crazy. I’ll admit that it is particularly unsettling when a bike sneaks up behind you without you realizing it, or someone weaves in and out of walkers while on their bike. Someone once told me that it just isn’t safe to ride on the streets, though, because “drivers aren’t used to it.”

-Icelandic women (or at least young Icelandic women) seem collectively enamored of the (black) tights under jean shorts look. I see about a dozen people wearing this every day.

-While there is a fair amount of Icelandic produce being sold (see below), there’s obviously a lot of food/domestic products being imported. (One of the more prevalent brands seems to be “European Shopper,” a sweetly generic/nationless brand which appears to really be distributed in all the far corners of Europe.) From these imports, I’m gathering that European food packaging is a lot more minimal than what you find in the U.S., which doesn’t really surprise me. But two examples: 1) Most milk comes in small, square-shaped recyclable cardboard cartons that you have to unfold the top of and cut open at the corner. (We’ve started keeping our milk in a small glass pitcher in the fridge because the boxes don’t re-close so well.) 2) Rolls of tin foil don’t necessarily have the piece of serrated metal which helps you cut a clean piece–you just have to pull against the cardboard edge and make it work.

-Icelandic produce (íslenskt grænmeti) is a big deal. The slogan you see on all the ads is “Þú veist hvaðan það kemur!”, which I’m pretty sure means “You know where it comes from.” And actually, it’s pretty varied and pretty good. We’ve had Icelandic lettuces and greens, Icelandic cucumbers, and Icelandic tomatoes, among other things, and quite enjoyed it. I’m not sure whether the greenhouse-grown selection is going to be maintained at this variety in the heart of the winter, but I have not been disappointed with out vegetable selection thus far.

-It is extremely difficult to find face wash in this country. Maybe they all just have perfect skin? Maybe it’s the great water. Whatever the reason, I went to three or four grocery stores and pharmacies until I finally found some Clean & Clear face scrub that smells like Old Spice in a pharmacy in a strip mall about 25 minutes outside of Reykjavik. (We stopped in while we were waiting for a bus to take us back from seeing an apartment in the ‘burbs.)

-Additionally, over the counter medication also doesn’t seem to exist here. Like Advil? Not really available, unless I’m missing something. (More on my recent trip to the pharmacy anon…)

-The weekly market, Kolaportið, has a great (as in extensive and interesting) selection of food. Not only is there a wide variety of seafood (as you may expect) there is also a whole Thai/south Asian corner (which you probably wouldn’t). I ran across this corner when visiting with my mom in April and was heartened to find a whole shelf of fresh bok choy, which at the time, was the only fresh green vegetable I had seen in Iceland. (I had missed all the íslenskt grænmeti somehow.) Thus far, Mark and I have made good use of the Thai food offerings, finding a delicious basil chili sauce that’s great for stir fry, and such delectables as (frozen) shitake mushrooms, lemongrass, and edamame, canned bamboo shoots, and, of course, bok choy. It looks like living in Iceland may help us develop our Asian cuisine.

(Should you want to buy frozen sheep hearts, those can also be found at the Kolaportið, but so far, we’ve given those a miss.)


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