(Note: This diary is being written after a return from my first week at my new job in Iceland, currently as a contractor until my work and residence permits go through. Everything you read happened one week prior.)
Diaries in this series: Iceland Calls :: The Icelandic Language :: Tvær Vikur Til Reykjavíkur :: Reykjavík, A City of Lights :: Reykjavík, A City of Drizzle and Dancing Clouds :: Reykjavík, A City of Cats and Gods :: Reykjavík, A City of a Storied Tongue :: Reykjavík, A City of Yuletide :: Reykjavík, A City of Hope :: Frá Reykjavík, Til Hjartans Heimveldisins :: Doldrums and Storms :: Til Kaliforníu, Til Iowa, Til Íslands
Þriðjudagur. Another morning. Another vakning. Another ganga to the office.
When "S", my boss, brought me in, he told me that he didn't actually expect me to accomplish anything this trip -- simply to start to get to know their highly complex system. My first day in the office, despite all the introduction work and paperwork, I had already found a likely bug. This day, however, the progress slowed down significantly. The program failed to run right through the debugging tools. My email didn't work (lots of back and forth with the IT staff). And more and more paperwork to get right.
But I've got a big picture window full of Icelandic clouds and the occasional light plane or helicopter taking off and flying past them. :)
(Note: You can find an Icelandic pronunciation guide here. I'll try to work a little Icelandic vocabulary into the text where it shouldn't distract from the diary.)
Today we have our first real conference meeting. In Icelandic. Full speed, no slowdowns for the byrjandi in the room. I'm picking out a fair number of words, but it's usually of little use; a sentence like "Ég ætlaði að (???) þegar (???)." ("I planned to (???) when (???)") conveys precisely no information. I don't know whether anyone notices, but I'm quietly trying to mouth along the words as they talk, hoping to train my mouth to make the sounds like they do in the future.
Every now and then S. stops and gives me a brief summary of what's been discussed. Every now and then someone stops to grab one of the cookies I baked ("It's a tradition," I'm told, "that whenever anyone here goes overseas, they have to come back with something for everyone at the office. So you're off to a good start!")
Hádegismatur (lunch), and today I'm on my own. I go up to the counter. There's no need to talk with the woman behind the counter because today is buffet style, a mix of Indian and Greek food. I bump into an older gentleman, incredibly polite and friendly, and we exchange a few sentences in Icelandic -- where I'm from, why I'm here, etc. He smiles, gestures at the food, and says, "gerðu svo vel". I thank him.
I could try to sit next to some of my coworkers, but I don't want them to feel any obligation to switch languages (which I know they'd do quite readily). Instead, I spot a laus, unused copy of Morgunblaðið (not my Icelandic paper of choice, but it's there). I pick it up and do my best to read it -- a habit I would continue every day for the rest of my trip. Some of the articles I follow pretty well, like the arrival of a new bird never before seen in Iceland and one on the first útlendingur to serve in the Alþing (a Palestinian refugee, she's also the first Muslim to serve in the Alþing). On some others, I'm totally lost. I don't have my homemade dictionary on-hand at lunch, after all. But even whem I'm lost, I do my best to try to figure things out; I'm going to need the practice.
(Above: Amal Tamimi, the first Muslim and first foreign-born person to serve in the Alþing)
Several times during the day S. comes down to check up on me, offering me tips about their system while I work on the paperwork. At one point, I take a break to write for them a packet-sniffing script that I semi-overheard that they needed.
The cleaning woman accidentally makes some noise in the hallway. I go out to check on her. She says, "Ég er bara ég." Ultra-simple sentence -- "It's just me." It's even the first line of the chorus of an Icelandic hip-hop song that I like. Yet I can't tell what she's saying. She comes into my office to empty the trash; after a quick "Góðan daginn", I ask her (in English) what she said. She keeps trying to translate what she said into English rather than to provide the Icelandic words that she said, so I start to write down what I heard, and I eventually get her to finish the sentence in writing. And then I stare at the paper and I'm just frustrated that I had trouble with it at all.
Paperwork done, evening at hand, I head out, one of the last to leave.
Today I have a private Icelandic lesson with a different teacher than the day before -- this time a woman in Reykjavík. I drive to town, find a parking space, then meander, semi-lost, looking for the address. I go down Freyjugata. To Baldursgata. To Þórsgata. To Oðinsgata. Something just seems fitting about walking to a lesson in the closest modern descendant of the language of the vikings, on streets named after Norse gods.
I can't find it. I circle back. Constantly I'm being waylaid by cats. Yes, cats. Reykjavík is a city of cats, tame ones with owners, cats who roam the streets, assaulting innocent travellers with insistent demands to be pet. It can always be wise to allocate a little time when walking to your destination to account for a "waylaid by cat" delay.
Finally, I think I've found the house, but it's a duplex. I knock on the first door, and when a guy answers, I'm immediately flustered and switch to speaking enska instead of íslenska. Drat. He doesn't know anything but wishes me well. I try the other house, and a woman answers. It's her. We exchange pleasantries in Icelandic and get to work.
The topic of the day is framburður: pronunciation.
I've long known about Icelandic pronunciation (it's the first topic one generally learns in any language), but in Icelandic, it's very complex and has a lot of intricacies (to this day I don't think I can say "kærlega" right to save my life). Whenever I see a new word, I have to figure it out. Is that "g" making a sound like a "k" or a deep-mouthed "h"? Is that "f" really a "v", or even a "p"? Why is there a hidden jóð here? How do you pull off an unvoiced trilled "r"? So we sit down and go over all of the rules again, practising as we go, talking perhaps 2/3rds in Icelandic, 1/3rd in English, although most of what's said is quite simple. I'm still having a lot of trouble with the understanding when others speak, but I'm cautiously optimistic. We have a laugh when I explain that the first time I was able to get a rolled "r" was in a bar (she recounts a similar story from elsewhere), and there's some snickers when I use the normal pronunciation of the "ll" (more of a "tl" sound) when saying "gallabuxur" (jeans). Because in one of many Icelandic idiosyncrasies, that particular "ll" is not the "tl" sound, but just a "l" sound, and when you say it with the "tl" sound, you're saying "defective pants" ;)
The whole time the lesson is going on, she's writing down notes. She has the most beautiful handwriting, almost like calligraphy. She tells me that she'll digitize the notes and email them to me later; I look forward to it. I will, a couple days later, be disappointed when there's merely typed up in a word file (she probably thought she was helping me out by doing that). :(
We say our við sjáumsts and part ways; I head back to my car. Rather than go straight back to my hotel at Reykjavíkurflugvöllur (the airport), I drive to the shore closer to Viðey to get a good view of the Peace Column, Friðarsúlan.
Gott kvöld í Reykjavík.