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(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

Laugardagur.  The Icelandic days-of-the-week rhyme says, "Laugardagur til lukku" -- Saturday for luck.  But I certainly didn't feel lucky.  For me, þessi laugardagur means only one thing: leaving Iceland.  I can't stay and must work instead as a contractor remotely until my atvinnu- and dvalarleyfi go through.

But first, there are a few details to take care of.  Namely, stockpiling goods to transport out of  the Skyr Zone.  ;)  Off I march, through the wooded Öskjuhlíð, past Perlan, toward the Kringlan mall.


"The Skyr Zone".  The term was coined by the author of The Iceland Report, an expat blog launched by a Bostonian who left in the mid-2000s for Reykjavík and documented his experiences.  It's that region demarcated by an invisible boundary ("somewhere over Greenland") that you cross out of  whenever you leave Iceland.  Suddenly all of those delicious dairy products (including skyr), breads, pastries, candies, etc are no longer available.  There are some laws of nature to moving out of the Skyr Zone, such as "all of your Icelandic food products suddenly come precious commodities" and  "no matter how much you brought, you didn't bring enough after friends and family are taken into account".  

I hike through the woods, past the lit-up Perlan (a glass-domed building built using the city's water tanks as structural supports), its spotlight rotating around its summit.  By the time I get to Kringlan, the sun is starting to come up, but it's still quite dim outside.  I walk through the parking lot, past the electric vehicle charging spaces, to the entrance.  Hagkaup's gate is still closed.  I partake of an unbelievable snickers cream cake covered with enough whipped cream to clog the arteries of a giant squid  ;)

Then Hagkaup opens and I start stocking up.

I'm disappointed to see no Jólabrauð among the breads in the bread section.  I'm in the zone on speaking Icelandic now, since the party the other night -- far from fluent, but able to adapt the conversation when failures occur, and not afraid of anything,  I turn to the guy at the display.  

"Ertu ekki með Jólabrauð?"

Hann svarar: "Jólabrauð?  No, I haven't baked it yet."

Oh come on.  I may have an accent and I certainly make mistakes at times, but do you think I can't understand a simple "Jú" or "Nei", or even a clearly-spoken "Ég hef ekki bakað það enn"?  Jæja -- he's just trying to be nice.  I get back to shopping.

I check out.  I start bagging my groceries and get a bit of a weird look from the cashier.  After a bit of miscommunication, she informs me that you have to pay for bags here; I ask her what they cost.  She says tuttugu, and I briefly pause while my mind converts currencies.  $0.17.  "Já, allt í lagi."

I head back from Kringlan to the hotel, passing by Perlan again.  It's 10 AM on a Saturday and I'm going through big parks and long trails, all empty.  Iceland is pretty good at making you feel like you've got this whole world to yourself when you want it, even in the tourist season, let alone this time of the year.  I stroll by the artificial geyser sunk into the hillside (Iceland is awesome that way... dig a 30 meter pipe into the ground, put a choke near the top, slowly feed in water, and you have your own geyser  ;)  ).  By now the sun is rising well over the mountains and fog is being lit up across the landscape.

I ask the front desk, still all in Icelandic and without any hestitation, when I need to check out.  "Klukkan tolf". -- "Takk fyrir!"  I pack and head on down.

Rather than take the shuttle the ~45 minutes to the airport at Keflavík, I had an interesting prospect arise.  The other day, one of my Icelandic teachers writes, telling me she's really impressed, and wants to offer me a job (another one??), a sort of "in your free time" thing, and wanted to discuss it while driving me to the airport.  So I sit there and wait and wait, watching until the last hotel shuttle left and it becomes past time to meet.  Uh oh.

A quick phone call, and I'm reassured that she's still coming, and not long after, she arrives.  We chat about the details (best left out here for now) as we drive toward the airport -- mainly in English, not from a capability standpoint, but simply for a "speed of discussion" standpoint.  A few tangents arise.  The one I found the most interesting was when she mentioned the change in character of people attending her classes.  During the boom times, most of the people in the classes were immigrants from Eastern Europe -- poor, unemployed people who moved to Iceland to do manual labor on all of the big construction projects that were underway.  They didn't particularly want to be in Iceland, or to give up their national identities, or even to learn Icelandic; their employers were making them learn it.  After the crash, those sort of people dried up, but there's been a surge in people more like me --  people who actually like Iceland, want to be there, appreciate the language and culture, and want to learn it.  She mentioned how much more rewarding it is for her nowadays to teach the language after the shift.

I catch my plane and we lift off, leaving the lava fields of Reykjanes and Ísland itself behind in the clouds.  I perform my ritual of listening to Popplagið for catharsis, and spend the rest of the flight studying.  Whenever the stewardess talks to me, she does so (and I answer) in Icelandic.  The family sitting next to me, whenever they need to speak to me, does so in Icelandic as well; everyone is simply perceiving Icelandic as the appropriate language to communicate with me in.  I actually start trying to come across as more tired and aloof than I actually am in order to minimize the conversations so as not to reveal how  inexperienced I still am at speaking and hearing the language; I want to end on a high note, and (perhaps misleadingly) passing as someone who can speak the language at least at a strong conversational level would do the trick.

I land in Boston, annoyed at all the little things that you don't encounter in Iceland -- the dirty airport, the long walks between terminals and gates, the crowds, the lines, the pollution, o.fl.  I keep wanting to speak Icelandic and keep having to stifle the urge down.  All of my mutterings to myself, and my thoughts when I know all the words, are in Icelandic.  I board my flight to Chicago, and start chatting with the man in the seat next to me as I stow my (food-laden) bags.  

"So where are you from?" he asks after a few sentences of back-and-forth.

"Iowa".

He looks surprised.  "Really?  Huh.  I thought you were from Europe somewhere.  Maybe Germany or something like that.  You have an accent."

Originally posted to Rei on Sat Nov 26, 2011 at 04:03 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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