mánudagur, mars 13, 2006


Icelandic has its own words for almost everything and "taxi" is no exception. Here in the Land it's called a "leigubíll" or a rent-car. Of course, then came the advent of the Icelandic tourist explosion and the Language Godfathers had to come up with a word for a real "rental car" and so that became, cryptically, a "bílaleigubíll". Yep, a car-rent-car. Somehow that extra "car" on the front connotes Hertz and Avis.

Well, anyway, the taxis here are often really nice, spotless cars like big Toyota sedans, or even BMWs and Mercedes, with polite, often white-haired, drivers, and always with credit card machines. (Coming in 2045 to New York and Boston!) To differentiate them from the posh sedans driven by Icelandic bankers, they drive around with a little plastic "TAXI" bubble mounted on the roof. I guess "LEIGUBÍLL" was too long.

Having been in the One True Land just a short time, I started to recognize these little plastic bubbles to mean "taxi" and so began to treat them as equals in the bizarro world of Icelandic driving. Because, generally speaking, Icelandic cabbies know what they're doing, where they're going, and which stalk is for the directional. They command respect in the land of driving cluelessness.

But there is another kind of car on the road with an almost-identical plastic bubble, and this is a car that must be steered well clear of. Because this plastic bubble sports the dreaded (and almost-too-long) "ÖKUKENNSLA". I keep thinking these other cars are taxis, and thus driving normally near them, and then, almost too late, I see the frightened 19-year-old behind the wheel, staring out through the windshield, eyes fixed forward, face frozen in a rictus of concentration. They're always trying to merge at 15 km/h (that's slow, for the American reader) and stalling out on hill starts (because they have to learn on a thing called a stick shift, Americans) and driving too near parked cars. And forget trying to hail a student driver. They don't even stop.


Blogger JB said...

After I wrote this I found a hilarious Icelandic ad depicting a hapless driving instructor. The green bumper sticker at the end, æfingaakstur, also means learning-to-drive. So you should avoid those cars, too, when you come here.

And I can sympathize with this BMW owner, who has to turn around when the pavement ends. I've had this thought/vision/nightmare regarding the impracticality of driving my own Heidi in Iceland many times.

Blogger Einar said...

"Bilaleiga" means carrental, "bílaleigubíll" means litterally carrental-car and not car-rent-car. You need to be 17 years old to obtain a drivers' license in Iceland, so those scared "oekukennslu"-students would typically be of that age... :-)

Blogger JB said...

OK, carrental-car. That makes much more sense.

I dunno, I see a lot of these students who look a little older, like maybe they failed the first couple years and have to shamefully repeat the road-practice portion of their education. Anyway, they still never stop when I hail 'em.

Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

'Driving cluelessness' is I think what you will find in the US, people in the states don't even know how to drive through a round-a-bout!
Also, the driving test in Iceland is the same I believe as all over the EU and contains 100 questions. The test I took in the US contained a total of 20 questions and if you answered the first 16 correctly you pass by default and the test stops. The drivers test for me here was a three point turn in a parking lot.
My drivers test back home took me an hour in slow and sleet, and I had to know the workings of the engine.

Hmmmmm ;D 'Driving Cluelessness'
Oh, and anyone travelling to the USA, Sundays are the worst for driving as that's when you get both experienced and totally inexperienced drivers on the roads.

But frankly I think it's all relative to what you get used to first

Blogger JB said...

Book learnin' ain't street smarts. I still say, I'd rather share the road with an average downtown Boston driver over an average Reykjavík driver, any day of the week. Including Sundays.


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