Heyrðu! Útlensk!

That’s me. Sorta.

So: on Friday I had my last day as an official member of the Grapevine staff (although I will continue in a freelance capacity), and on Monday—following a great trip North, which I will tell you all about later—I set about updating my CV for the zillionth time and putting out some feelers for my next expedition into gainful employment abroad. The ink was hardly dry on the CVs when I got an unexpected phone call from the first after school program that I applied to work at, a job basically herding, feeding, entertaining, and preserving children ages 6-9 for a few hours in the afternoon between the end of school and when they are picked up by their parents.

I had thought this job was a no-go, even though I had a very successful interview (I thought, at least), as I hadn’t heard back from anyone since I had gone in for my interview in early/mid-June. But then here was the call I’d been hoping for: ‘You still want a job? Yes? Great—can you start tomorrow?’

Well, yes, actually.

So, on Tuesday afternoon, I took my first 40 minute bus ride from the university to a neighborhood called Grafarvogur. (It’s a suburb with an interesting history, involving a now grassed-over garbage dump, and a church-turned-fertilizer-factory which was the site of an explosion in 2001 that shut the place down officially. It’s also currently home to a couple notable authors and artists—see more in this short article here.)

It’s all been a very jump-into-the-deep-end, we’ll-tell-you-as-it-comes-up (if we suddenly realize that you don’t know what the rest of us all know) introduction to Icelandic child care. But my co-workers are all entirely pleasant and understanding and helpful and, most importantly, patient with me, as I am not only learning a new job, but also doing it in Icelandic, which makes me a lot slower on the uptake than usual. On occasion, I will say things in English, or they will say things in English, but as a rule, everyone switches back to Icelandic pretty quickly, which is affirming and helpful and will probably speed up my language acquisition by about a million. (I will report back on this in a week or so…I expect to be damn near fluent by then…djók!)

The other thing that will help with the whole Icelandic thing, of course, is that I’m speaking to young children who (mostly) don’t speak any English. And kids are great for language-learning, for many reasons. Consider, for example:

  • When you say something incorrectly in Icelandic, adults can usually fill in the blanks and sort of figure out what you mean by context and implication. Kids don’t have context and can’t infer anything, so instead of filling in the blanks and supplying you with the answer you need, they instead just cock their heads at you and look at you like you are crazy. Or a moron.
  • Kids are linguistic tyrants. They have no problem correcting your mistakes, probably because they spend so much time being corrected themselves. So you say something wrong and the kid in front of you will usually repeat it, correctly. Often this is accompanied by the “you are a moron” facial expression, which, perhaps not unexpectedly, is quite motivating to get it right the next time. In one such case, I asked a kid to do something (can’t remember what) and she looked at her friend and said “What did she say?” at which point, her friend whispered back disapprovingly, “She’s from another country!” in the same voice you would use to tell a small child not to stare at a person who was missing an arm.

Beyond language-learning, what I discovered this week from working with the kiddies, however, is that my foreign-ness (not least my foreign name, which may of them seem entirely unwilling to believe is actually my name) is hilarious and confusing and exciting and strange and must constantly be reconfirmed with the munchkins. It is a source of endless conversation, and hilarious, if sometimes inappropriate, commentary. My favorite of these, so far, was the kid who yelled, “Heyrðu! Útlensk!” at me, meaning, “Hey! Foreigner (or, Listen, Foreign Lady)!” since he forgot my name. I informed him that I had a name, and he needed to use it, which started a whole new conversation along the lines of:

-What’s your name?

-Larissa.

-[confused head tilt]

-Larissa.

-That’s your name?

-Yes.

-What does it mean.

-It doesn’t really mean anything.

-[Confused head tilt. Walks away.]

There are sure to be many stories. Watch this space.

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