þriðjudagur, júní 27, 2006


All of us here at the Iceland Report editorial desk wish to extend hearty congratulations to our founder, editor, mentor, and prodigious bagel-bites eater, Jared "Játvarður" Bibler, for his interview today with Euro-city blog Shortcut.

mánudagur, júní 26, 2006


My guitarist friend Bent (who also works a summer job as a horticultural magnate, knows a thing or two about web design, and cooks a mean charcoal-grilled whale) pointed me in the direction of this Finn-invented sport. In Icelandic it's called mýrarbolti, or swamp soccer, and the European championships take place this August in lovely Ísafjörður, a fjord town far in the north of Iceland (but for cultural reasons said to be "west"). As part of Bent's summer work, he flooded a field overnight and organized a marshy match for all of his employees. You can see a video of live play action on the official site.

So why not make mýri the word of the day today? It means swamp or marsh, but came into English as mire from the Old Norse (Icelandic) around the year 1300.

Now, not to mire you in too much etymology, but while I was researching mýri I made another discovery. The word fen is the same in Icelandic and English, and it also means marsh or swampland in both languages. Bostonians from my old 'hood are well aware of this old word, as it lends its name to the Back Bay Fens and indeed the whole of the Fenway area, including the Grand Old Lady herself, Fenway Park.

föstudagur, júní 23, 2006


I just got back from Smáralind, Kópavogur's answer to Kerlinglan, which in turn is Iceland's answer to the Cambridgeside Galleria. So, it's a mall. In fact it's Iceland's largest mall of a total of 2.5, and it's right down the hill from where I work. Since it's basically all there is for places to go in this sprawly lost district of Kópavogur, it's where I went for lunch. It's my suburban teen-mall-rat past come back to haunt me, I suppose.

I was meeting up with one of Iceland's 63 MPs (Members of Parliament), a gentleman about my age who I met at a party a month back. Iceland has the world's oldest representative assembly, called the Alþing, which basically translates to the General or High Assembly. The Alþing has been around since the year 930, which is basically well before you were born. So they knows them some representative democracy.

I didn't understand just how representative that democracy was until today. We met up in the cafeteria line at Café Adesso, shook hands, exchanged the Standard Icelandic Greeting, and then sat down and spoke over salad and coffee. I showed up with a whole list of ideas for improving the immigration process, and he listened and tossed in ideas of his own. Then the conversation really got going and ranged over Iceland's high tech industry, aluminum smelters, American politics, the Icelandic securities industry, trade policy, and agriculture. When he got up to go to his next meeting, I realized we had been speaking for over an hour. All this for someone who won't be able to vote for him in a parliamentary election for at least five years. I am fundamentally wowed and very impressed.

Today's word of the day is tré. You can guess the English equivalent, I hope. Both the Icelandic and English words come from proto-Germanic, just like gras. And the proto-Germanic flavor of the word comes in turn from the proto-Indo-European (way back, waaaay back!) word for "oak". Sweet A.

fimmtudagur, júní 22, 2006

love/marriage/baby carriage

One cultural difference that just comes right out and slaps a young guy in the face is the nature of the Serious Relationship Question. I have a lot of friends and relatives in the States who are fond of asking variations on the theme, "When are you going to pop the question?" Any time I mention that E and I are, say, taking a weekend trip to Paris (not all that uncommon from Iceland) it's inevitable that I'll hear from those Stateside, "Oooh, so you're going to make an honest woman out of her!" Americans, even those who consider themselves progressive, do seem to take the whole "living in sin" idea fairly seriously.

Meanwhile Icelanders have a whole different agenda. Marriage just isn't as big of a deal here. Sure, some people are married. But many live happily and successfully together as couples and never get married. Some get married as a way to celebrate being together in a relationship for a long while. Icelanders use the word maki (spouse) in the sense of any couple who cohabitates, irregardless of their standing in the Eyes of the Lord.

So the Serious Relationship Question here is totally different. Here in the Land it's: "So when are you two going to start having babies?" We both get that one a lot. At least this is perceived to be a joint decision, so we get to share in the brush-off burden. One of my coworkers told me after I'd been here maybe six months, "You know, you aren't getting your tax money's worth if you don't pop out a couple of kids. It's the Scandinavian way."

Meanwhile, continuing the theme of names of things I can see around me as I write, the Icelandic word for grass is gras. Crazy, I know. They both come from proto-Germanic, the Big Daddy Ancestor language of all the Germanic languages, Icelandic and English included. The word grass comes from "that which grows" and is also related to the word green, which is grænn in Icelandic.

miðvikudagur, júní 21, 2006

articles of antagonism

One of the "perks" of being an American living in Iceland is that any time an American media outlet does a feature on Iceland, I get about 63 copies of it. The New York Times, for example, seems to do a piece on Iceland about, oh, every Sunday. As soon as the paper hits the streets, my inbox fills up with links to the article, followed by a hardcopy snailmail clipping from E's mom a few weeks later. I appreciate the thought, but it's not like these articles contain any magic new tips that I don't know from living here. And their often-patronizing tone is downright annoying.

For you Bostonian readers, the Hub equivalent would be, "When in Boston, be sure to visit Faneuil Hall. All the cool people be there. It's an undiscovered paradise. Bostonians are gruff, but they sure are good-hearted people underneath. Be sure to ask them about the 'Red Sox', their local team. They like that."

So, if you have the urge to send me a link to an Iceland-themed article, give it a once-over first. If it contains any reference to the "legendary" Blue Lagoon, chances are I'm not interested.

Today's word parallel is stóll, which means "chair" in Icelandic. In English, it's equivalent to stool. Turns out the English word for "chair" used to be stool, as well. But then the French word "chair" came in in the 1200s and everyone thought it was so fancy and new that stool went downmarket and eventually even came to mean poop.

fimmtudagur, júní 08, 2006


My brother and I went today to that bastion of urban American consumerism, the Cambridgeside Galleria, because it was pouring solid rain and I had to pick up some cheap underwear. (The Land may be known for glaciers and geysers, but not cheap underwear.) The pouring rain ruled out Downtown Crossing, my normal consumer haunt of choice in the Hub.

Wandering around the chaos of the early-afternoon mall, I decided to splurge and buy myself a water massage. You know, 10 minutes of lying face-down in a tanning-bed-shaped contraption while water jets pound your back. It was something I had always eschewed, but hey, today was vacation.

When I emerged from the (well worth the $12, except for the "relaxing music" pumped through broken headphones) massage coffin, bleary-eyed and looking for my glasses and shoes, it was into the midst of a circle of 10 or more people, standing around waiting for a turn: I had attracted a crowd. The locker that had my stuff in it was inaccessible, because three shoppers had piled it high with their many bags, and the girl running the show asked them to move them aside so I could get my stuff.

The three shoppers had a familiar look, and then, lo and behold, a familiar vocal lilt. They're all speaking Icelandic. For some reason this didn't really surprise me and I jumped right in, telling them I dug the water-massage, asking them where they lived, and talking about KR's chances in Landsbankadeild. They were genuinely happy to talk to me, and the fact that I was wearing the Icelandic shield on my T-shirt only helped matters.

We said our sjaumsts and I met back up with my bro and told him my amazing fortune. But as we walked along through the mall, I started to realize that the language was everywhere around me. Icelanders were in little clusters walking together, talking on benches, picking out sandals in Old Navy, waiting in line at the Gap dressing rooms. We might as well have been in Kringlan. Some of the same people I flew over with recognized me in the Gap and we fired up another conversation. Later I needed to get by someone else and last-second remembered to say "excuse me" instead of "fyrirgefdu" but then even she turned out to be from Iceland. It was really something to feel like part of the diaspora, but also a little sobering: it seems now like the Land has established its rocky fjord-fingered hold and will forever pull me back, even from the Americana glitz of a shopping mall in the city of my birth.

mánudagur, júní 05, 2006


Back in Beantown for a week, the first thing that struck me was the dark. After not seeing true darkness for probably more than a month now, the idea of the pitch-black sky outside Logan Airport struck me as completely unnatural. I knew logically and from experience that it would be dark here; I did grow up here after all. But the actual fact of darkness struck me as just as hard and impossible a thing as the heat would a New Englander stepping out of an airplane onto the Florida tarmac in January.

On my first night here, I sat up in bed abruptly at 4-something a.m., utterly confused, and found myself in the middle of inky blackness, not a shred of light anywhere. I looked around everywhere in futility for something for my eyes to grab, having no idea where I was, guessed briefly the afterlife, and finally remembered, "Oh yeah, it gets dark here."