Adventures in Icelandic Laundry

Welcome to my random musings about the world, on a weekly-to-occasional basis.

Where we are: Today is our last day in Reykjavik; friends are coming tomorrow for a little road trip, and then—we’re finally leaving Iceland. This afternoon, we’re getting our laundry done, of course.

Adventures in Icelandic Laundry

Our Reykjavik apartment had a laundry room on the first floor. Lane came along one afternoon, to help us carry three people’s worth of dirty clothes.

After we’d proudly demonstrated our laundry competence and gone back to our apartment on the seventh floor, Lane was amused. “I don’t know how y’all ever figured all that out,” they said.

It took a while, actually.

First we had to find the laundry room. This took several days, and involved, first of all, debating which doors were private apartments, which buttons were doorbells, and what would happen if we just started trying out the key in various locks. Then we spent an afternoon walking in circles around the outside of the building, peering in ground floor windows and wondering how it could be so difficult to find a laundry room.

On the third day, we messaged the apartment host (who is currently in Spain) and asked where the laundry room was. “On the first floor,” she replied. “You need to take a time slot.”

That was helpful.

We finally saw a maintenance guy coming out of a door, and asked him where the laundry room was. It was through that door, then another door.

That was the first problem solved.

We found several notices pinned to a board in the little hallway between the doors, one of which looked like it might be a schedule, so we pulled out our phones to Google Translate. It was, indeed, the schedule. According to the (always haphazard) translation, you can only sign up for one slot at a time, and you have to write down the kilowatts—whatever that means. We studied the schedule carefully; the Icelandic, the handwriting, and the fact that each day’s schedule appeared to be in duplicate all combined to make it very confusing. Eventually, we wrote our apartment number in a slot; unfortunately, this meant that if we broke something, they’d know where to find us.

When our designated time rolled around, we bought some detergent and set about figuring out how to work the machines.

The actual washing of the clothes went remarkably smoothly, for once. The very-helpful diagram on the machines used symbols and arrows, rather than words, so our dirty clothes soon became clean, dry clothes.

Then there was the whole kilowatt thing. We had initially ignored that part—because that’s what we generally do with things we don’t understand—and barreled ahead with the clothes-washing. But by the time our clothes were dry, we had both processed that there was some sort of payment system based on electricity usage, and we didn’t want to be the ugly tourists who screwed up the system, or worse, stuck someone else with our laundry bill. 

We stood together in the little hallway studying the various papers on the bulletin board. There was clearly a lot of information, most of which was a mystery to Google Translate, and therefore to us. We searched every inch of the tiny hall space, looking for some kind of meter that we could read. We searched the actual laundry room, looking behind the machines, on the walls, even trying our various keys on a couple of locked doors. Nothing. 

Finally—totally stumped—I gave up and went to the mailroom, where I found a young woman who spoke perfect English (like everyone else under the age of about seventy in this country). She graciously walked us out into the building’s main lobby, and showed us where the meter is tucked up into a corner, then showed us how to read it and enter our numbers on the schedule.

You can go ahead and visualize us, at this moment, puffed up with pride. These are the small victories that we most relish in this lifestyle: figuring out how to do the things. Washing our own clothes, buying a metro ticket and finding our way across a city, successfully navigating the bureaucracy of a foreign government—Lee and I invariably walk away from these experiences convinced we’re masters of the universe.

Except when we’re not.

A couple of weeks later, I went to get a few items out of the dryer. I unlocked the first door with the key, then turned the knob to open the second, pulling them closed behind me, because … I don’t know. Because doors are meant to be closed. Then, with my arms full of almost-dry clothes, I remembered that the inner door requires a key to exit. And the key in my pocket didn’t work. It works on the front door of the building, and on the first door to the laundry room, but apparently not on the inner door? What kind of insanity is that?

I texted Lee to come rescue me, but by the time he got downstairs, I realized that he wouldn’t be able to get through the first door, because I had the key. I stood there, racking my brain, and wondering when the next person would show up to do laundry and release me.

Lee texted. Do you have the key? Of course I do; it’s how I got in. Why did you close the door? It doesn’t matter; I did. You have to use the key to get out. It doesn’t work. Try again. I did.

It was ludicrous—arguing back and forth by text, through two locked doors. Eventually I put the clothes down and threw my body against the door while trying the key again, and it worked, and I burst out of the laundry room.

Boom! Master of the universe, yet again.

Take care,


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