fimmtudagur, apríl 06, 2006

great danes

I was at the pool yesterday, getting dressed in the locker room, and next to me were three out-of-towners. As they walked out past me, one of them said something to me in a bizarro form of Icelandic. I realized he was asking me where to leave his locker key. So I answered, in non-bizarro Icelandic, "uppi" (upstairs) and he mumbled some kind of thanks in his strange language and went up the stairs.

When I got out to the front desk, the three foreigners were quizzing the confused counter ladies in the same guttural brogue. I realized then that they were Danish tourists, and that they were speaking Danish with every expectation of being understood. I had heard of this phenomenon before, but this was my first encounter with it.

The Danish-tourist logic is apparently, "We used to own you guys, so you should all speak our language." Yet Iceland became fully independent from Denmark in 1944, but obtained home rule even longer before, in Our Year of the Babe, 1918. Today marks almost 90 years since home rule began, and three generations since full independence.

Now granted, Icelanders do learn Danish in school, even these days, although I'm not sure it's compulsory any longer. But, like American high schoolers learning Spanish, they may study it for a year or two, but they forget it right after the 6th-period bell rings. Danish is in about as much circulation in the Land as Latin is these days.

So next time you come to Iceland, Danes, better study up on the original Old Norse that begat your throaty tongue. Or just try English.


Anonymous Johnny Damon said...

"Throaty tongue"- I like the sound of that.

Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

Hi again, a small comment on the independece thing. Iceland recieved home rule in 1904 and got independane from Denmark in 1918, sharing a king with Denmark. The formation of the Republic in 1944 was just a change from being a Kingdom, full independence had been achieved in 1918. This is something that is widely misunderstood and most people think Iceland did not get independence until 1944.

Anonymous Skúli said...

In fact Danish is compulsory from the 7. to 10. grade, four years. Most people add one to four years to that.

Anonymous jessica said...

do they speak english in Iceland commonly? sorry, i know that's a bit non-sequiturial. but i've been wondering about this because i want to travel to Iceland (very badly.. I'm really obsessing over it actually).

by the way, they call me jb too.

Blogger JB said...

Hi anonymous, OK, thanks for the clarification. Iceland became a sovereign state under the Danish crown in 1918. But didn't Denmark continue to provide some services for Iceland in the years 1918-1944? And how many countries sent ambassadors to Iceland during this period? And what about the "1944" line of TV dinners, for the "independent Icelander"? :-) I'm just askin'. It's kind of a semantics debate isn't it?

Skúli, I talked to a coworker who told me that students could choose any Nordic language these days, not just Danish. Is that incorrect? But the bigger question is, how would you feel if someone, without so much as an "excuse me" fired off questions at you in Danish? (And yes, it annoys me when people assume English capability here, too.)

Jessica, Of all of the countries I have been, Icelanders' knowledge of English as a second language is the best. If you're coming here as a tourist, you'll have absolutely zero problem with language. That said, a lot of Icelanders seem smug about their "perfect" English when really their English is kind of a "Hollywood English" that doesn't in many cases extend much beyond vocabulary that might be used by Wesley Snipes in "Demolition Man", for example.

Blogger Jens said...

Spare us JB, after this whole cartoon business we Danes do not need further abuse. Here in the States, we mainly get mistaken for Germans, like wednesday when I took the family to a middle-eastern (Syrian) buffet. Considering the venue it felt awkward when I clarified in a whispering voice: "no, we are from (gasp) Denmark". As the Daily Show pointed out, Danes may soon have to travel the world with a Finnish flag attached to their backpacks....

Btw, all the Icelanders that I ever knew spoke reasonable Danish, or at least understood it well.


Blogger JB said...

Hey, we Americans take plenty of abuse in the world, especially those few of us who actually leave the US, and are forced to defend our crazy, multifaceted, diverse, geographically vast, insular, socially backwards, and tremendously creative country as de facto goodwill ambassadors. This cartoon flap will pass and you can go back to blending in again. But I don't have a tremendous amount of sympathy. Welcome to the club.

Blogger Jens said...

I know JB, and we really deserve it these days. Danes can be extremely obnoxious, in fact way more than the average tailgating, Bud-drinking, gun-slinging American .....



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