þriðjudagur, maí 16, 2006

"the island"

Here's a good way to really piss off both Icelanders and me: refer to Iceland as an "island". Sorry, boys, that's a no-go. For one thing, Iceland is a nation all its own, with an 1100-year history, a unique language, and home to the world's oldest Parliament and Europe's oldest prose: a place that's certainly deserving of the moniker "country". But for another, Iceland is just plain big. I had some friends come up last fall and they had charted out an early itinerary that would have them bouncing around the country like a crazy ball: taking a 10-hour drive into the West Fjords the first day before lunch before dashing 8 hours over to Akureyri for dinner. Clearly they hadn't figured on the size of the place: it's an 832-mile drive around the Ring Road of Iceland, for example, and that doesn't even take in the remote West Fjords.

One of E's friends keeps bringing up the fact that we live on a "tiny island", as though we're stranded on a north-sea version of Martha's Vineyard. I don't think she really gets it. In reality, Iceland is around 20% bigger than Ireland (a place I've never heard called an island) and unlike Ireland, with its placid horse-grazing green interior, Iceland's vast interior packs a wallop: uninhabited and uninhabitable, crossable only with plenty of supplies and planning, and only two months in the year. Throw in some towering craggy mountains capped with glaciers, endless plains of lava, hundreds of miles of black sand beaches, and lonely fjords stretching up to the Arctic Circle, and you have a place best referred to as the Land.


Blogger cK said...

Hmmm. I refer to Iceland and Ireland as countries, so points for me. I do refer to them as island nations sometimes, but that seems to be only in regards to discussions about dynamic weather. Otherwise, "island nation" seems more like Fiji or the Phillipines, place with hundreds or thousands of islands strung together.

Faced with a language issue, I'm often at a momentary loss for what it is I actually say/write. For example, our two pronunciations for "coupon." Which one do I actually say? Being asked the question, I can hear myself saying either. Rats.

Blogger carmen said...

I'm not sure I understand why calling Iceland an island is offensive or would preclude it from being a country as well? The dictionary defines "island" as "a tract of land surrounded by water and smaller than a continent." So in truth, Iceland is an island which happens to be sovereign, just as is Cuba, Madagascar (bigger than Iceland), Taiwan, teeny Nauru, the UK, even New Zealand (though comprised of two islands). And Ireland is referred to as an island---"the Emerald Isle," ay laddie! ;) Actually, the Icelandic Tourist Board also calls it an island:

So why is being an island an affront? (It seems to be working well for Hawaii... ;) )

Blogger JB said...

Hi again Cahmen,

I agree that Ireland is called an "Isle" in a complimentary sense. And I agree that Iceland is technically an island, the 18th largest in the world.

But when tourists/American military personnel refer to Iceland as "the island" it's usually either with 1) a seeming intent to diminish the place 2) no actual knowledge of the size of the land mass. It's a little like someone whose entire visit to NYC consists of Times Square telling her friends back in Kansas, "It's a nice city, but I don't know why everyone says it's so big."


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