Why I Want to Go to Housewife School

A picture of Hússtjórnarskólinn í Reykjavík, via their website.

With my compliments to all the women in my family and life who know how to do stuff (“stuff” encompasses a lot, I know, but purposefully), I give you my most recent foray into long-form blogging: “Why I Want to Go to Housewife School.”

Housewife School” (that’s not the official name, but a nickname that has stuck over the years) is a Reykjavík institution which has been teaching women (and occasionally men) how to do all sorts of useful things—from crafting and (clothing) construction to cooking and cleaning—for 71 years. It was brought to my attention by another Fulbrighter who knows someone who attended the school, but as I’ve been discovering, a lot of Icelandic women have attended through the years.

Photo (I think) of former students at Hússtjórnarskólinn, via their website.

I think it is a fabulous concept and would love to attend myself one day, when my Icelandic is up to par. (Another goal!) In the meantime, I’ve written about it for BlogHer. You can read the full article via the link above, but here’s a snippet:

My great-gram knew how to raise and wring chickens’ necks because she had to. But I’d guess that learning wasn’t much fun (for many reasons), and I’m almost positive that her mom would have been frustrated with Gram’s technique and made some off-hand comments which sparked an argument, and they probably stood in the front yard arguing about correct neck-wringing strategies until they were both blue in the face.

When learning how to do anything, it helps to have an objective teacher.

Cheers to you, great-grama, and grama, and mom and all the rest of you talented ladies who have learned handcrafts and domestic skills without the benefit of a school. And to the women in my life, an extra ‘thanks’ for trying to teach me how to “do stuff” even if it didn’t always pan out. And, lastly, a hearty cheers to my little sister who already knows how to do a lot of cool stuff that I myself probably never will.

Your Surprisingly Detailed, Aesthetically Pleasing, and Industry-Specific Icelandic Website of the Day

I was looking up vocab for an assignment (a dialog exercise related to grocery stores with a lot of meat/butchery terms) and ran across a term I couldn’t find in my trusty dictionaries: frampartur. I got the gist that this was a cut of meat (the “front part,” I believe it means), but again, I like to be precise when I can be, so decided to give it the Good Ol’ Google Image Search Try. Which immediately provided me with a confirmation that “front part” is basically right (no English equivalent yet, but okay). Where did I glean this information, you ask?

From The Meat Book: an informative (online) guide to/for/about the Icelandic Meat Industry:


If you have an interest in the Icelandic meat industry, butchery (hey, some people do), or actually, the skeletal-level biology of grazing mammals, you might want to give this website a visit. Apparently, it started as an industry guide in printed form, but they are taking advantage of new technology (the internet) to make the “book” available to anyone. Currently, you’ll find information about horse(meat), beef, pork, and lamb–interesting to note that some of the animals are introduced with a photo of the live specimen (lamb, pig) and some are not (horse, cow). There’s a little outline on the cover that seems to indicate that poultry will be added in the future, but it isn’t available yet.

Laborlore: James P. Leary’s Public Folklore Class Explores the Culture of Icelandic Workers

Roadside sign guiding visitors to Bjarnahöfn. Photo by James P. Leary

Roadside sign guiding visitors to Bjarnahöfn, where hákarl is made. Photo by James P. Leary

One of the perks about being a Fulbrighter in Iceland is coming into contact with a handful of other students, scholars, and artists whose work and interests are completely far flung from my own, and getting to learn a little about their various passions and areas of expertise.

A good example of this is current Iceland Fulbright scholar James P. Leary, who is not only a very nice guy, but also a professor in the Folklore and Scandinavian Studies program at the University of Wisconsin and the co-director of The Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures. Per his university bio,

“I’m a folklorist who was born and raised in Rice Lake in northwestern Wisconsin. Since the early 1970s my research has focused on the traditional songs, stories, customary practices, and handwork of indigenous and immigrant peoples and their mostly rural and working class descendants in America’s Upper Midwest, resulting in numerous museum exhibits, folklife festivals, public radio programs, documentary sound recordings, films, essays, and…books…”

In Iceland, Jim’s project has been to teach a Public Folklore class at the University of Iceland, focusing on the lives and practices of Icelandic workers and tradespeople. (If you are unfamiliar with the term “public folklore,” as I was, you can check out this Wikipedia page, but in short, “Public folklorists are engaged with the documentation, preservation, and presentation of traditional forms of folk arts, craft, folk music, and other genres of traditional folklife. In later years, public folklorists have also become involved in economic and community development projects.”)

Public Folklore which concentrates on workers is called “Laborlore,” which, quoting a description on Jim’s class website, “consists of the cultural traditions of workers: their job-related personal histories and identities, as well as their informally acquired job skills, sayings, stories, customs, and material expressions.” So in their course this semester, Jim and his students went out and interviewed and photographed Icelandic workers from all social and trades strata:

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