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

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