So one evening, over thirteen years ago, I sat at this very table at Lækjarbrekka restaurant with a handsome young man. It was a date, but not the kind you'd imagine. As a matter of fact, everything about it was as fictional as reality tv, something my poor dinner partner had absolutely no clue about.
I had jut recently come back to Iceland a year earlier, and because I'd been working in the film industry (I was Sandwich Girl!) I knew tons of people in the movies and tv field. One day got a phone call from one of them, an assistant director named Fahad Jabali (check out his creds on IMDB), who told me he needed someone who could pass as an attractive professional woman traveling on business in Reykjavík. It was for an investigative piece for the tv station Stöð 2 about prostitution in Iceland, appropriately titled Sex í Reykjavík [article in Icelandic.] I said I was game.
My job was to become a globe-trotting IT specialist and check in to one of the grandest hotels in the city at the time under a false name. Speaking of course no Icelandic, I was to then ask the hotel to find me a "date" for the evening as the company who'd brought me over had made a reservation at a nice restaurant and I didn't like eating alone. There were rumors floating around town that it was fairly easy to hire male prostitutes via hotels if you asked right...
...and could obviously pay the right price.
The concierge obviously had no clue what I was asking for when I checked in, but Fahad encouraged me to keep on pressing in case it was a false front. So I did, saying that every great hotel in the world that I'd been to had access to people who could dine with their solo guests. I suggested that there was compensation to be had, and especially if the evening went "well." I puffed up a bit and pressed the poor young woman until she broke down and said she'd call her cousin to see if he was available for dinner. A few minutes later she called my room to tell me that he would meet me at the restaurant at 7pm that night.
Here's where it got interesting. I was wired with a mike and mini tape recorder and sent by taxi to Lækjarbrekka where I was seated at the window seat in the photo. After a few minutes' wait a good looking young man in his twenties was shown to my table and we began to chat. He was obviously nervous and even though I was too I wasn't allowed to show it. Thankfully he was easy to chat with, and the hardest part for me ended up being having to pretend I didn't understand a word of Icelandic, and to not accidentally pronounce words like skyr even remotely correctly. Over all we had a very fine meal.
As a matter of fact it went so well that things got tough for me. I was supposed to try to push him farther, to get him to agree to sleep with me for cash money. Did I mention that there was a camera guy across the street filming the whole thing out of his backpack-cam? By dessert, and with a few glasses of wine in us, I was finally gaining the courage to proposition him as a willing buyer of his personal wares. At long last I asked, "Would you be willing to come back to my hotel and sleep with me for...compensation? He looked blank at first, absorbing what I'd just asked, then looked right into my eyes and said what will go down in my history as one of the most charming, sincere and traumatic things I've ever heard. "Oh, well, yes I would like that very much...and you wouldn't have to pay me." My stomach did a flip.
Right then I felt a click against my hip as the mini cassette ran out. I excused myself and went to the ladies, where I turned the tape over, but decided at the last minute not to turn it back on. I went back to our table, took a deep breath, and told my handsome young friend that I had a confession to make. In Icelandic I asked him to stay as normal as possible while I told him what was really going on, because we were being filmed. He blanched, but nodded and let me talk. I told him the whole story. I confessed that he was such a genuinely sweet guy that I couldn't possibly keep stringing him along. He was honestly just the concierge's cousin, and that's it, and I was a fraud.
After one more drink we were smiling secret smiles together and truly having a wonderful time. As some point I'd turned the tape back on and we both slipped back into character to give the tv team some good, juicy stuff to maybe use. He actually asked me on a real date, but told him that I had a boyfriend, who happened to be waiting for me back at the hotel (there was never any possibility that any transaction would take place. I had a signal that I was to give the camera dude when/if I needed him to call me on my cell to give me some emergency excuse to stop the proceedings.) As we stood up from the table I gave him the goodbye my character would give after a failed proposition, but off camera we gave each other a big warm hug and kiss, and went our separate ways.
The show aired in March 2000, and got a lot of press at the time. That was the year that Reykjavik filled up with strippers and exotic dancers from around the world and there were nudie clubs on every other corner, it seemed. Since then they've been made illegal, and a recent push to close down the few remaining "champagne" clubs has made headlines. Here's an article by my friend Paul Fontaine on the situation. I wish I could find a copy of the show online even though my undercover gig didn't make it into the final cut, but no luck.
All in all, though I'm sure there's some kind of escort service up and running here in Reykjavik, I'm glad I ended up just having a very good dinner with a sweet, normal guy who I'll probably, though, never see again.
Posted by Iceland Eyes on November 21, 2013