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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

Fimmtudagur.  Every morning that goes by loses six about minutes of daylight. The week that I'm here loses two-thirds of an hour by itself.  It's even more dramatic of a change than it sounds, as the sun rises lower in the sky each day, making it easier to be blocked by obstacles or screened by clouds, until the peak of its arc is just a couple degrees over the horizon.  It's hard to say just how long the "day" is since the sunrise and sunset are so long, which amplifies the randomness of mountain obstructions, cloud obtructions, cloud reflections of a "set" sun, etc -- but the nominal day length at the solstice is about fjórar klukkustundir, four hours.

Everyone Not-From-Iceland that I've talked to has informed me in some way or another that I'm supposed to be bothered by the dwindling daylight, that it's supposed to be some big challenge to overcome, psychologically.  And while I've not experienced the solstice, or exposure to the short day for long periods of time, I can say that so far I have trouble understanding what the big deal is.  The sun rises and the sun sets, even if cloud-shrouded, and my body gets a sense that another day has come and gone. Perhaps not everyone is equally sensitive to the day length issue that is so extreme up here by the Arctic Circle.

(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.)

In the morning I return my car (my boss S. has no issues with me ducking out for half an hour). There had been some confusion over the return date because I made an embarassing series of mistakes in my Icelandic, first in using "leggja" (put) instead of "leiga" (rent), and second, using the present tense instead of the past.  They had also failed to communicate between their offices, so my spouse got a confused call from the rental agency asking where their car was the day before.

The actual work I'm involved in still feels like two steps forward, one step back, and sometimes one step forward, two steps back.  But bit by bit, I learn the system. Big, complex, somewhat abstract computer systems tend to scare some people, but  honestly, I kind of like them.  There's so much potential for improvement as we go along, and I know that as soon as I get the system fully instrumented for debugging, I'll find and be able to fix hundreds of bugs and potential bugs.  The question is just how to stop it from breaking first.  ;)

My new boss, S., seems to care little for how much I'm showing in results -- just for me to learn the system.  Sure, every employer is like that to some extent at first, but I've never really been in as low-stress of an environment such as this. Most of the stress, I'm putting on myself, because I want to see the work done. I chat briefly with my coworkers and take a few breaks to stare at some drifting lenticular clouds out my window, or the occasional plane taking off from the airport, but overall I keep myself focused on the tasks at hand.  All the while, I  try to keep my mind working in Icelandic.  I even take the time to look up the Icelandic words for things like "semicolon" (semikomma) and "backslash" (bakstrik) so that I can think of the keys I'm hunting and pecking for on the unfamiliar Icelandic keyboard in terms of their new, proper names.

Before lunch, a woman behind the counter offers me a tiny vial of a green liquid that they have trouble translating the name for, but manage to convey the ingredients -- spínat (spinach), engifer (ginger), gúrka (cucumber), etc -- and that it's some sort of health drink.  Come lunch time, it's a different woman, who starts speaking to me in English before she notices that I'm responding to everything in Icelandic.  "Þú talar íslensku?" -- "Já.  Jæja...".

Such a situation always leads to any combination of the following dialogues:

* How long I've been learning Icelandic
* Where I learned it
* Where I am from
* Why Iceland?
* How do you like Iceland?

The good aspect is that you start to get used to hearing the questions and to have you answers ready.  Of course, I imagine it may get a bit wearisome after a year or two  ;)  I understand that some people end up starting to use sarcastic responses to mix it up, such as turning each question back on its answerer after answering them ("Hvenær byrjaðir þú að læra íslensku?")

Me being in a  line, it stayed short; I made sure there were no non-vegetarian ingredients in the sauce on the potatoes, asked for what I wanted, and sat down with my copy of Morgunblaðið for my daily try-to-read-the-newspaper ritual.

After work, being without a car, I walk downtown.  Reykjavík is a very walkable city, with its small size, very visible landmarks, and minimal obstruction to them.  "Ah, there's Hallgrímskirkjan."  "Ah, there's Perlan".  "Ah, there's the harbor, and there's Esja".  And so forth.  I wanted at least one chance to walk the town without being in a rush to get somewhere, and had promised a friend I'd get them something unusual for their Christmas collection.

I found what I was looking for in Eymundsson, a Barnes-and-Noble style place downtown: figurines of the whole family of Icelandic Santas.  Yes, plural -- the ogress Grýla, the Yule Lads (jólasveinarnir), and the Christmas Cat (jólakötturinn).  They started out as stories to terrify children (to the extent that the Alþing passed a generally ignored law back in the 18th century prohibiting their use for that purpose), but have gradually merged with the modern American Santa Claus to depictions that are a lot less threatening (but still quite creepy).  Iceland has a "Meat-Hook" Santa (Ketkrókur), "Window Peeper" Santa (Gluggagægir), "Doorway Sniffer" Santa (Gáttasþefur), etc.  Jólakötturinn is a large, scary black cat who goes into the homes of any family who doesn't give their kids at least one article of clothing, and eats all the food (and sometimes the kids as well).  I chose Grýla, however, because her sack of naughty children that she's hauling off to make into soup really screamed "jól" (Christmas) to me  ;)

Grýla was, by the way, responsible for the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull.  ;)

Going up to buy it, I'm tired and don't notice that I've walked up to the coffee shop counter instead of the sales counter.  

"Bara þetta."

"Já!  En..."  The cashier proceeds to tell me to head over to the other counter, too fast for me to follow everything he says, but slow enough that I was able to  get the general idea.  I labba over and ask the woman behind the other counter to ring it up.  I follow through her telling me the price, but only catch the word poka (non-nominative singular form of "bag") in the response.

"Viltu endurtaka?" (Would you repeat that?)

She says the same thing again, still way too fast to follow.  I should have added "hægt" ("slowly"); I always forget that!  I just smile and nod, and she stuffs it into a bag.  She proceeds to rapidly tell me something else that I don't follow at all.  I just sort of sheepishly smile, hoping it was just a comment.  She waits a second looking at me, looking like she wants some sort of acknowledgement, then continues wrapping it up and hands it to me.  We exchange niceties and I walk out.  Æ.

I take the long way back in order to walk past the Hallgrímskirkja, and half an hour later, I'm back at the hótel by Reykjavíkurflugvöllur.  

Originally posted to Rei on Thu Nov 24, 2011 at 04:03 PM PST.

Also republished by DKOMA and Community Spotlight.

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