Under the Influence (VH)


Vala Hafstað's picture

I was invited with my coworkers to a Christmas buffet last Friday night in Perlan (‘the Pearl’), a dome-shaped restaurant in Reykjavík, built on top of six hot water storage tanks.

This was my first time in the building. It took me a while to find my group, since they were seated at a small bar on the top level. I ordered a beer at the bar, an Icelandic variety I’d never tasted before, for the price of ISK 1,300 (USD 10.00, EUR 9.20).

Then I chatted with my coworkers until we were ready to be seated at our dinner table. Once we sat down, an elderly man came to our table and instructed us when to get our food and which direction to take in order for things to move smoothly. As we stood up, the man followed us and gently touched our shoulders to ease us in the right direction. To me, it was obvious the man was an expert, and given my insatiable curiosity, I couldn’t help asking him if he had experience as a shepherd. Sure enough, my suspicion was right. He said he grew up on a farm where herding sheep and cattle was his role.

The entrée buffet was admirable, full of countless delicacies, which reminded me of Christmases past: marinated herring, red beet salad, smoked salmon and gravlax. The buffet was located on an elevated, round platform in the center of the room. So impressed was I by all the choices that I quickly lost sight of my coworkers. Once my plate was loaded, I intended to go back to my seat. But for some reason, I seemed to have lost my sense of direction. The table was not where I had expected it to be. For a long time I wandered about, looking for my fellow workers, and finally found them at an entirely different place than I had expected.

I sat down and eagerly took part in a lively conversation. After enjoying the entrées, I stood up to reload my plate with the main course. This time, I made an effort of memorizing the location of my table to avoid getting lost a second time. Again, I was thrilled to find numerous delectable dishes: smoked lamb with a white sauce and potatoes, roast beef, fillet of lamb, smoked ham, and so much more. Without hesitation, I started off for my seat. To my astonishment, the people sitting at the table I thought was mine, showed no sign of knowing me. My vision being quite limited from afar, I had mistaken them for my coworkers and was about to make myself comfortable at their table when I realized I was in the wrong place.

My only explanation of my miscalculation was that the beer had seriously affected my senses. Alcoholic beverages in Iceland are priced according to their alcohol content, and all of a sudden it dawned on me why the beer had been so expensive. I was clearly under the influence. Suddenly, I became very conscious of my gait and began walking extremely carefully, so as not to fall with my plate. I walked for what seemed like eternity, until at last I thought I could make out the silhouettes of my friends.

So aware was I of my condition that, unlike during the first course, I decided to watch my tongue and use my words sparingly. Could I have said something scandalous before without realizing? I remembered being very talkative. After finishing the main course, I reluctantly got to my feet to get my dessert. This time, I didn’t even try to remember the location of the table. I found some apple cake that appeared delicious and ventured back to my seat, to which I eventually got with considerable difficulty.

By that time, I was feeling embarrassed. This was the first time in my life that one beer had had such a strong effect on me. I decided to go home early and said goodbye to my coworkers. Granted, I had come by car, but decided my condition had improved enough by now to make driving acceptable.

On the way home I wondered what I should do if the police stopped me and had me take a breath test. I had no idea how strong that beer had been. This reminded me of a story I once heard of a man in Akureyri, North Iceland, who had been drinking Cognac at home in large quantities when his two-year-old got hold of the bottle and emptied it. This worried the young father so much that he decided he’d better take the child to the hospital.

On his way there, he was stopped by police who, suspecting him of drunk driving, asked him to take a breath test. The gauge showed blood alcohol content way above the limit. The man looked at the policemen in astonishment and exclaimed, “I haven’t tasted a drop all night. Your equipment has got to be faulty…go ahead and test the kid.” And so they did to prove him wrong, but were so taken aback by the child’s elevated blood alcohol level that they let the two of them go.

I thought of this man until I made it home safely. For the rest of the weekend, I made sure to stay away from alcohol completely.

On Monday morning, I arrived back to work to be cheerfully greeted by my superior. “Did you have a good time on Friday night?” he asked. “Sure,” I answered, “this was my first time in Perlan.” “Weren’t you impressed by how the floor turned?” he continued. “What?” I shouted in surprise. “Didn’t you know?” he laughed. “You’ve clearly been abroad for too long. Everything but the center keeps turning.”

Suddenly, I understood.

Vala Hafstad - vala(at)

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.