Outlander

In Icelandic…

Icelandic child: Where are you from again?

Me: The United States.

Child [looking a bit surprised]: Oh.

Me: Where did you think I was from?

Child: Frá útlöndum. [‘From abroad.’ Or, literally, ‘from outland.’]

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On Independence, Or: Asking for help when pouring your milk

So, when it rains, it pours, eh? You don’t hear from me for over a month, Internet, and now you can’t get me to shut up. I suppose all I can say is that finals and the holiday season are approaching and who knows how good I’ll be about keeping up with you then. So I might as well bury you in posts now.

Anyway: a bit belatedly (all my own doing), my second (mostly) monthly column for The Island Review is now online. It’s called “Independent People” (totally original, I know) and delves into giving and receiving help in Iceland, as well as an amusing experience that Mark and I had while driving up to Akureyri at the end of the summer. Here’s a sample (from the middle, so: Spoilers, I guess?):

I have only received one direct reproof in two months at my new job looking after children at an afterschool center. This was for preemptively pouring a glass of milk for a five year old at snack time. “Larissa, we do not pour the milk unless they ask,” said my colleague. “We want them to become independent.” Keep in mind, I later mistakenly directed the same child to walk home by herself, leaving her stranded on her doorstep until her mother came home an hour later. Utterly distraught at this epic blunder, I apologized profusely, only to have the same colleague shrug and say, “Well, we all make mistakes.”

You can read the whole piece on The Island Review’s website, here.

Variations on a Theme

Awhile back, I was looking for interviews with author Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir to read in preparation for a book review I was writing about her recently-translated-into-English novel Butterflies in November. I ran across an interesting one on a website called The Island Review and was intrigued by its simple but flexible premise:

The Island Review is an online magazine dedicated to great writing and visual art that comes from, is inspired by, celebrates or seeks to understand the extraordinary appeal of islands, as places and as metaphors.

It seemed like it would be an interesting outlet to write for, and so I took a look at their submissions page, pleased to find that they were seeking regular, island-based contributors. One thing lead to another and I am now a regular columnist. My first “introduction” post went up today and picked up where my last blog post here left off, actually. Here’s a little excerpt from the mid-beginning:

No matter how open and adventurous you are when you move to a new country, no matter how much prior knowledge you have about the place, no matter how intentional and premeditated your arrival: integration in a new culture is a journey. And kind of a long one, at that. I’ve been here in Iceland for just over two years now and I’m starting my third year studying Icelandic as a Second Language at the university-level (that’s the whole reason I came, actually). And although it’s often been something of an uphill battle, my partner and I have been very happy here. We’ve made lives for ourselves in Reykjavík—the nation’s single urban hub, home to more than two thirds of the total population—and have had opportunities that would have been completely and utterly impossible in the crush of in New York City, where we previously lived for ten years.

Moreover, in my time here, I’ve picked up a fair amount of local habits. I drink squeeze boxes of kókó mjólk (chocolate milk) with frankly alarming frequency, despite the fact that when I arrived, I couldn’t stand milk and wasn’t really a fan of chocolate, either. I wear a traditional Icelandic lopapeysa sweater. I get antsy if there is no intermission during a film at the movie theater. Swimming outdoors during a snow storm doesn’t faze me (the pools are geothermally-heated, after all, and anyway, I’ve started winter sea swimming, too). And, like any born-and-bread Icelander, I now understand that umbrellas are not only futile in the country’s gale force winds, they are also symbolic of man’s inability to cope with slightly inconvenient weather patterns.

And yet, although I’ve adopted a variety of Icelandic tendencies and adapted in other, perhaps more significant, ways as well, I still experience a sense of distance and remove here in Iceland, a sense of being outside.

(Don’t worry, there’s an upside: it’s not all ‘woe is me.’)

I’ll be contributing a post at least once monthly from here on out. You can find me on The Island Review website (here, with two other columnists based in Tasmania and Tierra del Fuego) and I’ll post excerpts on this blog, too, of course.

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.

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