þriðjudagur, maí 30, 2006

uncertain trip

One of the things that I just didn't get when I first started work here was the starfsmannafélag, or the employee association. No matter how much coworkers tried to explain what it was, I just couldn't figure out the angles in those early weeks. (Of course, at the time I was also trying to import a car and a couch, find an apartment, and keep my head above water at work in a then-foreign land.) The gist of the starfsmannafélag is that employees can choose (and most do) to chip in 1500 krónur a month - about $20 - into a communal kitty, out of their paychecks. The employees elect a "fun committee" that plans employee events. Management stays out of it (there are separate "company" events) and the employees have a say in planning events with coworkers. This starfsmannafélag idea seems to be a pretty common structure here in the Land.

[I can just imagine my old Beantown coworkers at this point, eyeballs lolling cartoonishly around: "You pay money, voluntarily, out of your paycheck, so that you and your coworkers can have fun?!?" ... the same people who chose against taking a two-trips-to-Starbucks 2% pay cut to increase their annual vacation time from 3 to 4 weeks, saying they'd "rather have the money".]

We used some of this communal money last fall toward our all-company weekend trip to Warsaw, Poland. But most events are less exotic. I helped plan a barbecue out in the Heiðmörk nature preserve last summer. We had a BBQ-truck-on-wheels pull up and dish out a couple legs of lamb. We all ate in the mossy grass and played some frisbee and drank some beer. But at the time I didn't really realize all that was possible with the starfsmannafélag structure.

Last Saturday I got a real taste. We had an "óvissuferð", literally an "uncertain trip", but maybe better translated as a mystery trip. We all met up at work in the early afternoon. We had already been divided into teams and told to come up with a team song and to wear our team paraphernalia. But we didn't know anything else.

So we all climbed into a bus and the first stop was a strip mall (think Towne Plaza, former home of Stuart's, Billerickians) on the outskirts of Reykjavík where we had to do a team scavenger hunt to the bemusement of the employees of the local Hagkaup (think JC Penney, with a little more Scandinavian style). Then it was out of town, and within minutes we were far out in the wilds (I love that about this city) of Hvalfjörður (Whale Fjord, guys, hval = whale, eh? eh? how 'bout it?). About this time the first beers were passed around, as was the first guitar. In Hvalfjörður we took a beer-drinking and duck-duck-goose-ish game-playing stop (a game that can turn potentially deadly when it involves high-speed running over lava hummocks) with a view over about 75 mountains and the bright blue water of the fjord.

Then it was off to tour the old whaling station that gives the fjord its name. Active until 1989, it was where whales were brought in to be butchered into steaks and rendered into oil. It was a haunted place, full of the ghosts of hectic endless shifts, blubbery riches from the sea, and blood-covered workmen. The mom of the tour guide had prepared a special feast of whale carpaccio, with melba toast crackers and homemade dipping sauce ("phenomenal finger food!"). It was my first taste of whale and I have to say it's quite delicious. I can understand now why whales were so prized back in the Ahab day.

After that we hit the tiny farm-school town of Hvanneyri for a tour of the church, the local teaching dairy, the local museum of (farming) transportation, and a team competition to determine the one with the most "country strength". This involved leaping over giant hay bales, pounding nails into a post, climbing ropes, and sorting potatoes. Our resident securities software team leader and lifetime farmer, Bjölli, did us proud.

About when hunger and fatigue were hitting, our bus took us to a farm restaurant in the middle of an empty valley, surrounded by steep peaks on all sides. We were the customers that night, and they had set out a banquet table for us that ran the length of the place. After dinner we sang our team songs, awarded prizes (my team, OMseXy, took first place, with our hula skirts and reinterpreted Bubbi lyrics), and then all sang more songs together outside on the restaurant porch. Finally, in the 11:30 p.m. sunset, we headed back to town, feeling happy and entertaining the bus driver with more singing and a whole string of politically incorrect jokes told over the bus intercom ("typical country weather" being my big contribution). Back in the metropolis, we converted ourselves into a house party in the 107 and then went on the inevitable 2 a.m. twilight trek to downtown Reykjavík, where we stayed until it was bright again.

I'd say that's a pretty good deal for 20 bucks.


Blogger gk said...

There is an old story about the name of Hvalfjörður it something like it. (I am not sure is remember it correctly)

A group of men rowed a boat to a small island (can’t remember where). It was the last trip of the summer. The goal of the trip was collected eggs for the winter. When they arrived at the island the spilt up in order to cover more ground. Then a storm started to build very fast, so the man moved swift to the boat and started to row hard in order to get to land be for the weather got any worse. When they gotten to land they discover that in all the panic a man had be left behind. The weather was bad that where was no way of going back without the boat breaking up on cliffs of the island. The men made the decision to wait until weather die down. But for some reason weather around the island was bad the whole winter. It was not until the next summer that anyone was able to get the island, by that time everyone thought the man was dead. But to there surprise they found the man in good health. He never told of how he had survived. What happed was that he had been taken inn by the elves, There he meat a elf woman and with her he had a child. The elf woman only allowed him to leave if he promised that he would have there child batiste in a church. The one year later he was at church a small child shows up at church, the priest asks the congregation whose child this was and no one answers. (This being his child, half man and half elf). The elf woman been very mad at him for rejecting there child turns him into a whale. Then man/whale spends couple of years in the faxaflóa sinking ships, it was until an old man who was skilled in magic lost his sons with one of the ships (I think is he was blind). The old man put a spell on the whale, the enraged whale follow the old man by see into hvalfjör and up the river ( in the bottom of hvalfjör, I think it is called hvalá ) and all the way up the water fall, where it finally died.

Blogger AS said...

"the same people who chose against taking a two-trips-to-Starbucks 2% pay cut to increase their annual vacation time from 3 to 4 weeks"

Don't wanna be rude... but! You dumb Americans :)

Blogger cK said...

I'm amazed at the amount of mysterious trips and theme parties that seem to take place in Iceland. (I've read similar tales at other blogs based there.) It's fascinating, actually.

Oh to be part of a culture that believes in community, taking time out, embraces mystery without embarrassment, etc.

Currently, Seoul is tattooing my heart. I'm so sad I have to leave here tomorrow!


Skrifa ummæli

<< Home