Icelandic Course - Part 1

The Icelandic Course in Ísafjörður started Monday with 15 students of all ages, countries, and occupations. Many people are hard to nail down: "Well, I was born in X but lived in Y and I lived in Z before coming here and am continuing on to M!" or "I studied A but found B to be rather interesting, so I am working as a C in order to study B but with an emphasis on D".

I am a bit bored, but there is a good Internet connection .... I need pronunciation and vocabulary in order to shake off all that Swedish which invades my brain when I want to say something in Icelandic. It has been good to re-learn a lot of the all-purpose phrases and the way Icelanders get around all those horrible endings. They just say Èg ætla að and then slap on an infinitive ("I am in the process of doing" ) and this tends to expand widely to include things past and future, so you get around the horrible, awful inflection of the language.

I even ordered a hamburger in the hamburger station today and the guy asked me if I was from Reykjavik! Okay, I only needed about 3 sentences, but I seem to have managed to get them out pronounced right, so something is working, even if I really have trouble wanting to say something - it still comes out Swedish.

I am also getting better at puzzling out some articles in the newspaper. I delight in finding words I just learned the meanings of. Stígvél, climbing-machine, means boots. The teacher told me that this was an attempt to make sense of the German word "Stiefel".

The Icelandic people are just as allergic to foreign word influences as the French are. A computer is a tölva, a number-oracle; A stove is an eldavél, a fire-machine; alnæmi, too-sensitive-against-everything, is the word for AIDS; myndvarp, picture-thrower, is an overhead projector; geisladiskur, radiation-disk, is a CD-ROM; rafmagn, amber-power, is electricity; TV is sjónvarp, sight-casting. What fun! It seems, thought, that they do not have Icelandic words for either "party" or "to date" yet, although there is currently a contest going on amongst the teenagers to have them find the best word for "to date". My money is on something like "daijta".

We had a talk by a historian about Icelandic history. The short version is: dried fish, salted fish, frozen fish. The long version includes some Vikings and monks and bishops getting their heads chopped off and some witches (all but one a man) burned at the stake and one of the early pseudo-democracies in the world and some fish wars. Iceland does not want to join the EU because then everyone and his brother could come fish their waters, and they are already overfished. But they are considering using the Euro, although mostly Icelanders seem to like to argue with each other and this is a fun new topic to argue about.

There is also a lot of written history - the sagas, some family books, lots of church documents except for about 50 years after the plague hit Iceland with an English boat coming to port and two infected guys going to the yearly parliament meeting where they died after infecting everyone, who then went home to infect their neighborhoods. About a third of the population died (apparently, most of the people who could write) and the Danish king figured the place was a goner, so he offered the Icelanders land in Jutland if they wanted to come to Denmark.

They didn't. They like it here. They make fun of us for wearing wearing so many clothes when it is so warm (10 degrees C, they have open-toes sandals and no jacket on, even some bare midriffs and of course, T-Shirts) and raincoats when it is "not raining", i.e. you don't have to start swimming yet.

We had a field trip up the coast today, really stunning scenery. There's this fishing museum up the coast that has this guy who wears an old fisherman's costume (he's on all the tourist brochures) and explains how they caught sharks with rotten horse meat doused in rum and then used their livers for oil and buried the carcasses for 6 months, then dried them for another 7 before eating the meat - with lots of schnapps called "Black Death" to wash it down. He showed us the needles used to string the fish together (poke it through their eyes) and all sorts of other equipment, as well as some dried fish used to make interesting things.

We went on to a "Natural History Museum" that was a collection of stuffed animals and some stones. The birds were nice, we got to see a lot of birds we learn songs about (and when I look the birds up in the Wikipedia they have names like Whimple that I have never heard of before). They also had a flamingo. I gathered my vocabulary and asked the guy if they had flamingos in the area. "No", he says, "but there was once one that flew to the south by mistake." "And that's him?" "No, we found that one in a foreign country." And that was that. So he/she stands, next to a stuffed stork.

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