“I am Icelandic because I speak Icelandic.”

Back in February—a lot happening that month—I was contacted by Patrick Cox, a journalist who, among other things, runs “The World in Words” podcast for Public Radio International. For those of you with nerdy linguistic leanings (or totally hip linguistic leanings, as the case may be), I encourage you to check it out. It’s a fascinating podcast that looks at language from a socio-cultural-historical perspective and since subscribing myself, I’ve learned about the popularity of hesitation words ‘um’ and ‘uh’ around the world (as well as which genders tend to prefer which word), the origin of the game Mafia, C.K. Moncrieff, the fascinating man who translated Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (and gave it its famous English title), and more.

All of this would be interesting enough to merit a shout-out, but the reason I bring this podcast to your attention now is that based on his visit in February, Patrick has now put together two podcasts about the Icelandic language. And—whoot, whoot—I am (briefly) quoted in one of these. Full disclosure: mine are not the most brilliant contributions on the state of the Icelandic language. But nevertheless, Patrick and I had a lovely chat about Icelandic—a rather invigorating one, I might add, at a point when I was feeling a bit down about the language and my handle on it in general— and I’m delighted to have been a part of his investigations.

I really encourage you to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes (or whatever the kids are using these days), but you can also listen to each episode (17 and 15 minutes respectively) on the World in Words website. There are also written transcripts of both (although they’re abridged, actually—more of me in the podcast version!), but as Patrick says, its preferable to listen to these, as they were all conducted as spoken interviews.

Here’s part one (which I’m included in):

Will Icelanders one day ditch their language for English? (17 min)

Here’s part two:

The future of the Icelandic language may lie in its past (15 min)

Eurovision Partý!

EurovisionUglaAlthough Mark and I definitely watched the first semi-final of this year’s Eurovision contest in Malmö with enthusiasm and fascination, I didn’t post about it because I am just not yet equipped to parse this amazing and amazingly complicated European institution for my American compatriots just yet. But I will be attending a Eurovision Partý tonight (for Iceland’s performance) and on Saturday for the final, so perhaps after this immersive experience I will be better equipped to tell you all about next year’s competition in vivid detail.

In the meantime, I suggest those among you who take enjoyment from unabashed, earnest nationalism, the poppiest of pop music, amazing costuming, circus-like staging, and incredible back-up dancers (and drummers) to check out tonight’s live streaming broadcast of the second semi-final (in which Iceland will perform), here.

In case you want to know more about Iceland’s competitor this year, you can read the Grapevine cover story and comprehensive Eurovision guide. And, for context, I will pass along a sentiment that has been shared with me now multiple times by Icelanders regarding the country’s Eurovision chances and this year’s competition. In the words of one man:

We always think we are going to win. Every year…

But not this year.

(The yearly optimism does seem to be borne out, if this article is any proof.)

Only time will tell…

A Quick Explaination of a Complex Philosophy: Þetta Reddast

One of the first phrases I picked up here in Iceland—and one which I’m sure I’ve thrown about wild abandon on this blog—is “þetta reddast,” or, “it will work out.” This persistent optimism in the face of great trials (a nation-wide economic collapse, for instance) and minor irritations (schedule conflicts, missed deadlines, etc.) may seem a bit blithe to the outside observer, particularly one who really likes to plan ahead. But, myself being something of a compulsive contingency-planner, I personally find this phrase to often be a good reminder to relax and stop worrying about things that you simply can’t do anything about in the present moment. Why waste all that energy worrying when it will probably work out? Because one way or another, things frequently do (or perhaps adjust themselves into new and different, but equally workable plans).

I am not doing a great job of explaining this, but that’s okay—I don’t have to! Because Auður Ösp of the very informative I Heart Reykjavík website has started a new mini-podcast in which she will explain a new Icelandic phrase each month. And the first phrase is….Þetta Reddast.

If you don’t do anything after the first mini-podcast ends, you’ll also hear another (three minute) podcast of hers in which she teaches you how to say important everyday Icelandic phrases like “one with everything” (referring to pylsur, of course) and “one large beer (please).” There is also a link on the page I linked to above for her monthly newsletter which is chock-full of fun things to do around Reykjavík each month.

Just Call Me Friday

Speed Dating Cafe Lingua

In a bit of a break from my usual reviewing/event recapping freelance gigs, I have now had my first quasi-journalistic experience. The February issue of The Reykjavík Grapevine features an article written by yours truly about Café Lingua, a weekly language exchange program at the Reykjavík City Library. And guys: I had to do actual reporting for this article. Like, I conducted not only a phone interview (gasp!), but also a series of email/Facebook interviews (getting better at this Facebook thing) and even one in-person interview. It was rather hard work, honestly, but it (Café Lingua) is a great weekly program and I’m pleased with the final article, so while I don’t think I’ll be turning into Rosalind Russell any time soon (shame, really–those hats!), I think we can put this down in the success column.

The piece hasn’t been posted on the Grapevine website yet, but if you’d like to know more about multilingual/multicultural Reykjavík, you can download the .pdf of the current issue here or read it online. The article, entitled “Speed Dating at Café Lingua: Putting a Face to the Many Languages and Cultures of Reykjavík,” is on page 10.

A Visit to the Christmas Village in Hafnarfjörður

As you may have gleaned from recent posts, Icelanders really, really, really like Christmas. (Someone told me that “the Christmasy spirit makes the winter feel shorter.”) As such, there is a whole lot happening in and out of town this time of year, and it is actually very hard to avoid getting all Christmasy oneself.

I picked up a handy Reykjavík Christmas 2012 Guide to help me navigate all the events, but it turns out that information is all compiled online, too, on this Jólaborgin Reykjavík (Christmas City Reykjavík) website. There’s oodles of fun information there, including in detail explanations of Icelandic “Christmas Creatures” (including the Christmas Cat and the Yule Lads), and a practically minute-by-minute breakdown of an Icelandic Christmas Eve celebration (as well as what people generally do on the days before and after).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

One of the seasonal attractions that kept coming up–both in the above-mentioned brochure and also signage around Reykjavík–was the Christmas Village in the nearby town of Hafnarfjörður. Since we had never been to Hafnarfjörður and thought a weekend excursion might be nice, we headed out there on Sunday. It was a very good day for it–sunny (once it rose, that is), crisp with a bit of a bite–and although the Christmas village itself was rather small and mostly geared toward families with small kids (understandably) we had a nice time sipping hot chocolate (in real glass mugs that the lady sweetly asked us to bring back when we were done) and wandering around for a little bit in the downtown area as well.

Popping into an antique shop that was open, we also had an enjoyable encounter with the proprietor, who, with cowboy-booted legs up on his desk and arms behind his head, casually asked Mark where we were from. When Mark said New York, the man replied that he had been there in the 1970s, and “didn’t get mugged or anything. You just gotta walk the walk and talk the talk,” he explained, before giving us his best New York-accented impression of him giving a cabbie directions. He asked why we were in Iceland and when I said I was studying Icelandic, he just nodded and said, “good for you.”

(I took some additional photos around Hafnarfjörður harbor, which you can see here if you are interested.)