Áfram 2015!

So, here we are, almost February. The year is well underway and I am happy to say that at least from our vantage point here, it seems to be getting off to a good start. Classes are several weeks in and I’m splitting my time between one rather challenging Translation Studies course (MA level, in Icelandic), an ÍSL (Íslenska sem annað mál, or Icelandic as a Second Language) course which focuses on learning how to write like an adult (thank the lord), and a couple literature classes (including one MA class on Scottish Women’s lit—great so far) which are really just for my own edification and allow me to enjoy the opportunity of like, being in college again and just studying for fun (whoo!). And full disclosure to this academic adventuring: the side benefit of the literature classes is that they are taught in English, thereby removing some of the second-language pressure and allowing me to focus the majority of my attention on the translation class.

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At Home, Again.

This art is made of yarn. And it is amazing.

This art is made of yarn. And it is amazing.

It seems to me that the more normal life gets here, the harder it is to write about it. I’ve never been particularly good at keeping a daily journal, for instance, and it seems that the less fish-out-of-water I feel here in Iceland, the less able I am to step back and break my experiences down in writing.

I suppose the upside of this is that life is feeling a lot more like Real Life here. We have jobs! We have friends!! We have bills and pay taxes! And now, we have a spiffy new apartment that is filled with (cheap!) furniture that we own. I can’t express how strange it is to think that we own furniture in another country.

But yes, we’ve been in our new place for going on three weeks, and have unpacked and gotten the place—a sunny, third-floor-apartment-with-balcony!—looking really cozy and comfortable. The moving process itself had a lot of steps, but it honestly was pretty painless—due in great part, I must say, to Mark’s incredible pre-move tenacity.

For one, he tracked down a number of useful and inexpensive items on Bland, which is basically the Icelandic Craigslist. Then he found out a local car rental place (Cheap Jeep) which rents a mini-van (Ford Town and Country: WHAT UP) and got them to take all the back seats out so that we could better move furniture. (This was a great idea.) We then found plates and bowls at a yard sale (but somehow no cutlery…for the time being, anyone who comes to eat at our house has to bring their own forks and spoons). And, best of all, we got to spend a fair amount of time in Góði Hirðirinn (The Good Shepard), a Red Cross meets charity shop meets swap meet where you can find everything from couches and bookshelves to kitchen appliances, electronics, and AMAZING YARN ART (see above; below) for incredibly low prices.

Yarn art detailing. I definitely need to learn how to do this.

Yarn art detailing. I definitely need to learn how to do this.

Seriously, we got a sweet copper-esque coffee table for roughly $4 and a great Miró-inspired lounge chair for roughly $12 and a blanket with two fancy horses on it…and Mark, on his solo scope-out mission while I was at work, even found me a hand mixer (the beaters were located in an entirely different spot and he had to check each one to make sure it fit in the mixer and then he called me all triumphant only to have me ask him to go back and get me bread hooks, too….) which I have already used with great results. Should you take great pleasure from second-hand awesomeness (which I do), this place is simultaneously the best and the worst thing that you could know about while moving in Reykjavík—it took a lot of self control for me to not purchase one of the 60s-era Soda Stream soda makers (next month, maybe), or the porcelain doggie figurines or several heavy shag carpets that were specifically made to hang on your wall…

Anyway, we’re settled now and have submitted all our address change forms and rent benefit forms (a social benefit which gives you a monthly discount on your rent if you make less than a certain amount in salary…) and are finding it quite enjoyable to work in our kitchen/dining room/living room. It’s nice to feel at home, again.


Hvaða er stjörnumerkið þítt? (What’s Your Sign?)

“Fortune Teller,” McCall’s Magazine, Style and Beauty Cover, 1940, via George Eastman House Photography Collection (found in Flickr Commons)


Having just completed my first two weeks of classes in the Icelandic as a Second Language BA program, it’s interesting to reflect back on this same time last year. My, how things have changed!

At the start of last year, we had no kennitala, and no place to live, which resulted in a great deal of money spent, and a great deal of hair falling out. I also failed my entrance test to the Icelandic BA program which was an epic blow to my ego and not a little soul-crushing. Eventually, of course, this all worked out. We found an apartment, I made my peace with the fact that I was entering the Icelandic-for-Super-Beginners program, and life continued anew.

This year makes for an interesting point of comparison, however, when you consider that when we arrived, we returned to an apartment—and our landlady had made the bed for us and left the light on, even. And we may have jumped right into the thick of it, but I came back with a job, and moreover, suddenly had an amazingly confidence-inspiring run of Winning Icelandic.

And oh, as it turns out, having that first year of preparation for the BA program was a really good thing in the long run. Because as it stands, I am ahead of the curve in my classes—my professors speak in Icelandic and I understand. I actually skipped a grammar lecture because I am already familiar enough with the concepts the teacher was discussing. It’s really great, not least because these first weeks at work have required a lot of my time and attention, and if we were jumping into concepts I had no familiarity with, I’d be a wreck right now. It’s a lot more fun, I think, to not be a wreck.

The thing with these first year classes is that we are starting from the very beginning in a lot of ways—we’re talking about the fact that nouns have genders in Icelandic, and thus far, we’re only dealing with them in the nominative form. But these basic concepts are being combined with a number of others (new and/or additional rules for vowel shifts, matching adjectives/pronouns in gender/number/case) which are more advanced. The text books are all in Icelandic and the explanations are often rather cursory. It’s like a crash course in the language leading up to more complex study (I think, at least), and really—I would have been a mess last year trying to navigate this all from scratch. Instead, I am now simply reinforcing what I already know and adding to it here and there. And even better, I’m listening to people speak in Icelandic at least 7+ hours a week.

One of our lessons this week was about star signs. It was a similar lesson to one we had last year, but with much more vocab. I had to go through and translate all of the descriptions for each star sign, and then explain whether I thought the adjectives fit my personality or not. This, nicely enough, involved some explanations of the nuances of certain adjectives and slight differences between synonyms, which I appreciated.

I’m a Taurus, or naut. My personality description was as follows:

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A Trip to the Doctor

Although I hesitate to call myself an “expert” at living in Iceland just yet (we’ve only just barely had our six month anniversary here, cue triumphal music), I was honored to be asked to contribute informational articles about living as an expat in Iceland to the Expat Blog’s “local expert” series.

My hope is that in contributing to this series, I can help shed some light on some of the more quotidian complications associated with moving to Iceland, having troubled through these seemingly simple processes myself. The first of such attempts is this article, published today: “Visiting the Doctor and Filling a Prescription in Reykjavík.”

I realize that this is rather specialized information, but should you be interested in learning more about the Icelandic social insurance system and what it is like to visit a doctor in the capital, it might be of interest.

An Anniversary

Today in my speech class I practiced the phrase “Við erum buín að vera á Íslandi í einn mánuð,” or “We have been in Iceland for one month.” This is quite apropos because Mark and I have, in fact, been in Iceland for one month. Til hamingju (congratulations), us!

To celebrate this occasion, I give you Silvia Night’s “Congratulations!” a very strange song which was Iceland’s entry in the 2006 Eurovision competition. Before you watch, though, I should explain that this song (and the comedic persona of Silvia Night) was intended as parody and wasn’t supposed to be taken as seriously as many/most of the (extremely earnest) Eurovision viewers did up taking it (you can hear the ‘boos’ in the video). Apparently, Silvia Night was a character on an interview-based comedy show which had the same ‘insult/offend/shock your guests’ approach as did, say, Ali G. It may not be your cup of tea (it’s often not mine), but there it is. So, til hamingju! Einn mánuð á Íslandi!

What a Difference a Day (or Week) Makes: In Which our Search for the Elusive Kennitala Comes to a Triumphant and Edifying Close

(Let’s kick off the day with a little Dinah, yeah?)

So big news, everyone: Mark and I not only both have kennitalas now (Whoot!), we have also both received our National ID cards (double–triple!–Whoot!). OMG: we are real live legal adult humans in Iceland now. (Although funny story–or funny now that we have the cards in hand, but still kind of not funny at all–you may remember that we trucked off to Kopavogur, a suburb of Reykjavik, in order to have our photos taken for our ID cards, since the machine at the Directorate of Immigration in Reykjavik was broken. You may also remember that this involved two buses and a very taxing episode in which the fact that I don’t (yet) speak Icelandic was made abundantly clear. Well, haha, guys–joke’s on us. We had our pictures re-taken at the Directorate in Reykjavik when we went to drop off our housing form, making the ones taken in Kopavogur completely useless and irrelevant. Ha! Hil-arious. Good thing our new pictures are extra super attractive and not as shamed-deer-in-headlights as I assume the other ones were.)

So, you might ask: what have we done to take advantage of our new personhood? I will tell you. The first thing we did–Mark’s great idea, actually–was to go to the public library and get our library cards! Yay! Totally perfect first act as a citizen in a new town, right? In fact, our ID cards were so brand-shiny new that our information hadn’t yet made it into The System, and the poor librarian had to enter all of our data by hand, instead of it just auto-filling. Library cards in hand, we paid our annual library fee (the public library system here is a bit like a subscription library–you pay a membership fee, although it’s extremely nominal: about $13 for the year) and headed up to the stacks to load down with goodies. At least I did. My first goal was to pick up some Icelandic movies/TV shows so that I can start my daily infusions of listening-to-Icelandic, since I’m told that watching TV is basically how anyone learns any language ever. So I started with:

  • The first season of the Icelandic legal drama Réttur. This is particularly timely: I just read that the American rights for the show have been purchased by NBC. It’ll be developed and adapted into an American version which will be called “Rittur.” We have already watched the full first season of this show (six episodes) and besides being very watchable, it’s also been rather enlightening in regard to the Icelandic legal system. More on this later, though.
  • Sveitabrúðkaup (Country Wedding), a very popular comedy starring about half of the famous actors in Iceland and one which had long ago been recommended to me (thanks, Amber–I’m finally going to watch it!)
  • An Icelandic-language version of the Disney movie Tangled, which I figure will be useful in terms of having a somewhat more accessible vocabulary. (And cartoons are the way to do it, right Leigh?)
  • An audio book for kids called Snuðra og Tuðra. I had never heard of this series (about “two rebellious sisters with minds of their own…”) but apparently, there are ten books or so, and they are rather popular–I found a theater adaptation, for one thing.

So I’m off to watch a movie now. For school. Win!

First Classes, First Impressions

You’d think, perhaps, that moving to a new country and having pretty much nothing to do would be awesome. But while it certainly can be nice to not have any specific claims or obligations made on your time, it can also create a sort of purposelessness that I, for one, am not made for. It’s not really that I’m bored–I’m actually great at filling time–it’s more that these last few weeks have really emphasized that I haven’t yet been doing what I came here to do, which is, of course, to learn (speak, read, listen to) Icelandic.

But delight of delights, I had my first class bright and early this morning (8:20 AM): framburður og tal, or “Pronunciation and Speech.” I got to the classroom early, having managed to catch the bus up to school instead of needing to walk, and was the first one there. I sat and enjoyed my coffee as other students started to show up, including a Russian woman (we’ll call her Irina) who told me that she’s been living in Iceland for two years and now that’s she’s completed her Master’s in international business and has decided to stay in the country, is going to learn Icelandic. Having originally planned on taking the Practical Certificate in Icelandic as a Second Language, and taken care of her registration some days before me, Irina had all sorts of information about registration procedures that I had not yet been made privy to, and a long list of questions all designed, it seemed, to emphasize that I was decidedly starting this class on the back foot. (‘Have you emailed your tutor about your ‘extra topic?’ No. ‘Have you read about the final examinations?’ No. ‘Have you purchased the blue dictionary?’ No. At this point, she merely pursed her lips, shook her head slightly, and changed the subject.)

The instructor opened the classroom and let everyone get settled in their desks before beginning with her introductions, which, mercifully, were in English. She started with an apology: “We know that things have been complicated and that the information you have needed has not always been easy to find,” she started. “I do not want to discuss all of this now, but…[little shrug] It will be our future problem to fix.” More students continued to trickle in during these regrets, and it soon became clear that the classroom didn’t have enough seats for everyone. “We know that this room is not big enough for all of you [shrug]. We will be working on…for now, the next person will just have to sit on the floor.” (Luckily, there were enough extra chairs to be had outside the room–no one ended up on the floor.)

After explaining the basic structure of the certificate program and how the students are to be divided into working groups, she moved on to a newly developed aspect of the curriculum: the íslenskuþorpið, or “the Icelandic Village.” As she explained, we, as learners of Icelandic, should by all rights benefit from learning the language in country–from “having it in our ears and eyes,”–and should learn the language more quickly here than we would if we were studying, “in say, Greece or Iran.” However, it can be exceedingly difficult to get Icelanders to speak with you–the non-native speaker–in Icelandic if they sense for even a moment that you are not a local. “It’s not that we’re impolite,” she hastened to explain, “we’re just impatient.” Because so many past students have shared their tales of woe with the ISL instructors at the university, because for examples, “sometimes you are studying at home, these sentences that you want to say in Icelandic, and then you are spoken to in English–and this can be shocking, very shocking!” the ISL program has actually made agreements with local “businesses, shops, libraries,” and other institutions, “to accept you and speak to you in Icelandic.”

We all had a good chuckle at this, but really–thank god. So through the course of the semester, the 50+ students enrolled in ISL (I’m just guessing at the enrollment, it could be a little more) are going to be sent to specific locations around town and made to interact, in Icelandic, with people who–we were reminded again–”have made a contract: a promise to speak Icelandic to you.” (I totally love this.) After each expedition into The Icelandic Village, we’ll report back on the experience in class, discussing such particulars as “What was difficult? What were my failures? What mistakes did I make?” and other such points of optimism. (You can tell they think this is going to go well.)

After the basic introduction (roughly an hour of an hour and a half class), we took a break so that we “wouldn’t fall asleep” and were directed to the coffee shop on the ground floor. With half an hour left, we started working through the stafrófid (the alphabet) and basic pronunciations. (Fun fact: Icelandic does not have the letters C, Q, W, or Z, which are all referred to as “útlenskir stafir” or foreign letters, although “of course, we have to be aware of them.” Pointing to the ‘z’ with her very long teacher-pointer-stick-thing, she mentioned that “we had this one once, but about 30 years ago, we threw it away.” Take that, Z.)

After class, I emailed the tutor for the self-study ‘class’ that I’m also taking as part of the requirements and was able to set up an appointment for this afternoon. As it turns out, while each student only selects one ‘extra topic’ to be tested on–Reading, Grammar, or Listening–we have access to the material for all three topics. So I’m officially enrolled in the “lestur” (reading) section, but can do grammar and listening on the side. I purchased the first reading text and the grammar book at the bookstore, and from now on will be reading this perky-looking kid’s book in Icelandic and answering comprehension questions each week. There are three short books total that I’ll be reading for this topic, which isn’t too shabby, right?
So, a good start. I have homework! I have listening exercises! I have a purpose! Ég er að læra Íslensku!

Tomorrow: Orðaforði I, or Vocabulary 1.

A Confirmation, A Resolution, and a Move

Test results out today and for reals, I have official confirmation that I did not pass that test. Somehow, that was still disappointing, even though I knew it as soon as I left the testing room. I’m starting the Practical Certificate Program on Monday, which will hopefully help to put things all in perspective and strengthen my resolve on successfully coming from behind (i.e. No Icelandic) to ultimate and glorious triumph in the space of nine months (lots and lots of Icelandic). I won´t actually have many classes a week in the certificate program, though, so I’ll need to find some supplementary activities, I think, which can up my odds a bit. But I´ll figure that out as I go, I suppose.

And good news! We´re moved in! And the apartment is outfitted with all sorts of goodies that we weren´t expecting (an immersion blender!). There are still a few things we need to acquire (hangers, for one), so we´ll have an excuse to go to the IKEA this weekend. No internet in the apartment until next week, so it´s probable that my posts will be a little further between until we’re up and running at home.

In the meantime, have a great weekend, everyone! We’re going to an Iceland vs. Norway football (as in soccer) game tonight, and I have every belief that learning a few Icelandic football anthems will be a step in the right direction for me.

With All Due Credit to Vivien Leigh…

As you may have gathered from the previous posts, while we’ve certainly had our ups here in Iceland, our first week was a bit rocky. Of course we expect some navigational difficulties and transitional hiccups. Of course we knew that there would be confusion, setbacks, and unexpected discoveries (like the fact that face wash pretty much isn’t sold here? Really–they all apparently just have naturally perfect skin. But more on that trifle anon…). But let me be the first one to say that the whole “house thing” (i.e. us not having one) was starting to grate on me. And although I was trying to do my best Scarlett O’Hara (see above), by Sunday, I was quickly approaching the end of my rope.

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