Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Holy crap Icelandic!

Okay, blog!  I don't know how, but in a place with 24 hours of daylight, I still seem to run out of time at the end of the day.  I guess that's a good thing? Anyway, when we last left our hero, he hadn't even started class, yet.

Monday (as in last Monday) was the first day of class.  We were just told to show up at Árnagarður (a building at the University of Iceland or Háskóli Íslands).  I walk into a room full of people and take a seat strategically toward the back (don't want to seem too keen) but not all the way at the back (not a slacker!).  There was a small introduction to the course and to the Háskóli from Úlfar, the head of the course.  Úlfar is something to behold.  As one man puts it, "Úlfar is just glorious."  That truly is the only way to describe him.  This man is a has a very stereotypical Icelandic accent when speaking English, but that is only the beginning.  One can tell that Úlfar was worked very hard on his "w" sound in English, and he relishes is pursing his lips preparation for words that contain it.  Every word, phrase, and sentence that leaves his mouth his a proclamation, and glorious at that.  If you never get to experience Úlfar for yourself, you are living a half life.

After Úlfar finished reciting his gospel, we had to take a placement test.  I got a bit nervous at this point.  We knew about the test beforehand, but I thought that it would be no big deal.  But other people obviously did.  There were people studying verb sheets.  People were comparing the textbooks they had brought with them.  Everyone seemed so confident.  I had nothing! I am lucky I remembered to bring a pen! The tension was further increased by the fact that we were split into two rooms to make sure we didn't cheat.  They were taking this seriously!

Turns out the test was not that hard.  Or least I didn't feel like it was.  I was one of the first to finish, and I went to Háma (the student café) in Háskólatorg (University Square, a student union-esque building).  This was my first sampling of what has since been my source of lunch every week day since.  They have ridiculous cheap but good coffee, kleinur, and then some bog standard lunch items, although with an Icelandic twist (skyr, hangikjöt sandwiches, etc). I started to meet some of my coursemates, most of whom are excellent people!  I hope to have photos of me and them soon.  We did the usually comparing notes about the test.  Again, I didn't want to say anything because I had no idea how good or bad I was at Icelandic compared to these people, and I could have totes bombed the test.  Eventually we ended up back in our initial room to sit and find out the results of our exams.  Two people randomly started writing names on the board, and no one knew whether this was a good, bad, or neutral thing.  Úlfar then decreed something like, "If your name is on the board, then you go with Brynja in the 'beginners' group.  The rest of you stay with Jón in this room."  He then said some more and then exited.  Gloriously.

Turns out my name wasn't on the board and that I would be in the "advanced" group.  I use this term rather loosely because if I'm in it at this point, it can't be *that* advanced.  Another short interlude about Jón.  I met Jón through people on facebook before coming here, so I had chatted to him a bit in Icelandic for practice.  This did not prepare me for Jón's full awesomeness.  Despite an extremely Icelandic name, Jón Símon ******son is not Icelandic.  He is a Cockney.  And he speaks English like one.  He also happens to have gone totally native in Iceland, and speaks fucking perfect Icelandic.  Icelanders think he's Icelandic.  Many people thought that, because of his name, he was Icelandic and just happened to have learnt very colloquial English from an East London teacher(???).  But no, he has just changed his name, married an Icelander, and gone for it.

He also has a hilariously crude mouth and sense of humour.  When answering questions sentence will often start with "Some linguists say that..." and end with "...but that's fucking bullshit."  Jón definitely tells it like it is.

Anyway, the first language class was only an hour, and we did some pronunciation.  I learnt some of the particulars of the language that are heavily oversimplified when you first learn it (basically those convenient lies you are told so you don't overthink everything at first).  It got me very excited.  Fast forward to 3 hours, and we had a reception at the Sigurðar Nordals office, with free food and such.  The inside was cute, and the food wasn't bad.  I met more of my coursemates.  Meanwhile, Max and Jón invited me out for a drink, so after the reception would down off we went.  A group of other students ended up coming with us.  Little did I know that Jón was also inviting a bunch of Icelanders, namely Svanhildur, who took care of a bunch of admin for the course, and her boyfriend, the aforementioned Úlfar, and Jón's husband Hjörtur.  AHHHH!  We all sat down at a table, with us students huddled at one corner, and the Icelanders chatting away happily.  We huddled and tried to understand what the *fuck* they were saying.  I understood maybe one word in 10.  Finally, Jón turned and asked us an "easy" question in Icelandic: "Segirðu pylsa eða pulsa?".  This is an eternal debate among Icelanders.  The word "pylsa" means hot dog, but probably came from the Danish "pølse", so many still approximate that pronunciation.  After having to FINALLY and say stuff in Icelandic, I started to feel a BIT better and started trying to talk.  Over the course of the night I ended up getting to chat with Svanhildur, Jón, and Hjörtur a bit.  Hjörtur, bless him, is a saint.  He put up with a somewhat nontrivial conversation in my horrid Icelandic, and it was great to talk to him!  And the end of the night, I was feeling like SOMEDAY I may be socially functional.  In the meantime, it was good fun to get to go round and talk with people, and hear myself speaking Icelandic and getting better at understand people.

We left the bar way too late, with the post-midnight sun still shining.  I'll talk about the rest of the week as a blurb when I talk about my visit to Reykholt and Þingvellir this last weekend.  It's not quite as eventful, as the days were quite similar but each one was awesome!  I was definitely designed to learn a language like this.  I feel like I have learnt so much in a short time.  I hope I can keep the rate of improvement going.  For the most part, Icelanders have been pretty good about speaking back to me in Icelandic.  A few are stubborn and once they hear/see foreigner, they can't help but speak English.  I am thinking of fighting back and calling them on it.  Now, though, I am off to study some of my new vocab and declension paradigms.  And yes, I call that a GOOD NIGHT =p

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Já, ég er kominn! Yes, I have arrived!

Sorry for the delay in the first "real post".  I really hit the ground running here and haven't had any free time to blog!  Tonight, I finally decided to make sure I stayed in to a) sleep b) study and c) blog, instead of making my task even worse by going out and doing even more things that I would have to blog about =p

I feel like I haven't really stood still since I left Jim at the bus station.  The whole travel experience was draining.  There was a school group of 90 children also going to Iceland who managed to be in front of me during check-in AND when I had to pay my baggage fee (it was too heavy).   Apparently it was a posh school with a bunch of international students, and three of them had visa problems.  I offered to help one of them call an embassy in Reykjavík, and then had to translate the message for them that told them the number was disconnected.  In total, a 5 minute check-in process became a 1 hour and 45 minute one.  I was actually worried about missing my flight.  

The flight itself was fine.  I sat in a row of said school children, but they behaved themselves.  My Icelandic speaking odyssey began with the phrase "Ég ætla að fá kolsýrt vatn".  And success! Although I did not get sparkling water because they were out, the entire transaction was conducted in Icelandic (and I got still water in the end).  I was also able to buy my SIM card in a similar fashion.

The process after landing was standard: immigrate, get bags, customs, get on bus.  The bus ride, however, is rather non-standard.  The international airport is not in Reykjavík but in Keflavík, on the Reykjanes peninsula (this is painfully redunant, as "nes" is peninsula).  This area of Iceland is almost completely lava fields.  The landscape is very dramatic and stark.

Sadly, I don't know that I can do it justice.  Every photo I ended up taking just looks like rocks and grass.  I promise you that the actual experience is different.  Much of the vegetation is actually moss, which grows very, very thick.

I grabbed a cab from the bus station.  After telling the cab driver where I needed to go (in Icelandic), he INSISTED on speaking back in English.  Sadly, this man, while quite nice and talkative, could not speak English.  This meant he basically shouted words at me from the front seat, and I was meant to attach the intention to them:

Driver: "Come from Berlin?" 
Me:"Nei, Bretlandi" 
Driver: "World cup! Me like football" 
Me: "Oh...uhh, yeah, Britain has some Icelandic players"
Driver: "No, Iceland, fótbólti...(unreadable gesture)" 
Me: "Yeah, Iceland is more into handball." 
Driver: "Yeah! We good handball".  

Thank god the drive ended after that.   Upon arriving, I was greeted by my landlord, Paulo, a Portuguese immigrant to Iceland, and his son, Davið.  I was told I was the last person to arrive, and would be getting the "pink room".


Yes.  That is a pink lava lamp.  

The room is fine, actually, and that couch is actually a futon that unfolds.  It has proven quite comfy.  Also, once the slip covers were removed and the sheets put on, the room got a lot less pink.  The gauzy curtains, by the way, are no protection from the midnight sun nor do they provide any sort of privacy.  Oh well!

After that, I went walking around Reykjavík for a while.  I needed dinner.  I ended up in a nice bar on Laugavegur called Prikið, which was great.  I have to say I was shy and tired and this point, and gave in to speaking English.  Such a lapse will hopefully never occur again.  That small tragedy aside, the food was good.  My stroll through Reykjavík brought me to many of the places I came last time with Jim.  My favourite feature of Reykjavík, visually speaking, is Tjörnin (a rather exotic sounding name to an English speaker, but it just means "the pond").

It has a cute little island with ducks and many other birds.  The building you see on the left is Fríkirkjan, the Free Church in Reykjvík.  In Nordic fashion, it is made of boldly painted corrugated iron, which of my favourite features of Nordic architecture.  

I eventually made my way down to Ingólfstorg to meet Max.  Max did this Icelandic course last year, and I met him via Facebook.  He is now the assistant for the course.  He's an awesome guy.  Anyway, I met him, and he greeted me with Icelandic.  I completely died in my ability to say anything, a combination of shyness and tiredness (don't worry, these lapses are not an issue, now!) After the awkward "I know you but I haven't met you" part was over, we walked around and chatted for a bit.  Was nice to have a familiar person.  We walked down to the harbour, and it was nice to smell some salt in the air again.  After that, I walked home and passed out.  I slept better than I think I ever have.  Unfortunately, I only did it for six hours...

Right, this blog post is already too long.  I'm going to stop here.  I will try to catch you all up on Monday and Tuesday tomorrow, as I now have internet access from my laptop at the University and can update on my breaks.  Just to tantalise you, I promise you that I have spoken more Icelandic since this night than I for the rest of my life.  Good stories to follow! In the meantime, the rest of the photos I have taken strolling Reykjavík and such are available here.