Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Another one bites the dust...

Here we go again.

At some point this year, sooner or later depending on official paperwork, I'm moving to Denmark. My Viking man got himself a PhD position at a  university in Copenhagen, so that's where we headed. An Icelander and an American--quite possibly two of the most unpopular nationalities in Western Europe. Awesome!

When we moved to Iceland two years ago, he reassured me, "if it sucks, we can always move". That was only a few months before the Kreppa, so obviously things did start sucking shortly thereafter.

The first year in Iceland was a nightmare; we lived in a very drab suburb (Garðabær) where I felt very cut off from other expats and society at large. (Remember that Reykjavik has no mass transit besides a marginally-efficient bus system, so for a car-less foreigner in a suburb, that's like a prison sentence.) The second year improved exponentially: we moved downtown, I developed a network of interesting and fun friends (thereby shifting the in-law to friend time ratio back in my favor), and I dumped Icelandic studies in favor of a more useful masters degree at Háskóli Íslands. Which incidentally is also taught in Icelandic. But it's a cheap degree. And I picked up some freelance work, so I could afford a few beers now and then at some neighborhood cafés. Friends! Cool neighborhood! School! Work! Yeah!

Since I'm only halfway through my masters degree and because we FINALLY got a life in Reykjavik, I am slightly ambivalent about this move. Mostly it's because my fragile psyche cannot handle another Garðabær situation. I hate suburbs in the US, and suburbs in other countries are equally depressing. So we made a rule: we don't need to live in the coolest, most hip downtown neighborhood, but there will NO depressing, uppity suburbs. I will not be a Range Rover-driving Stepford Wife.

Also, have you heard Danish? I should be able to read some because some words are similar to Icelandic, but I can't picture myself actually saying anything without bursting out laughing at how ridiculous I sound. (Sorry, H.) Most of the expat blogs I've browsed from Denmark have listed this as a thorny issue. Note to self: must find potato to insert in throat... (Sorry again, H.)

I am also a tad bit leery of living in another Scandinavian country. Scandinavia in general is very safe, family-friendly, and all about being cosy. But Scandinavia is also--how shall we say--homogeneous. In societies that are very homogeneous, and very proud of it, integration is very difficult. This may explain why foreigners tend not to last for more than a few years in Iceland. (Even if they speak the language fluently.)  It's very hard to penetrate the social circles here, and I've heard the same for Denmark. I fully expect the vast majority of our friends there to be other expats and international students. (And there's nothing wrong with that.)

But now for the good things about Denmark: biking, beer, mass transit, trains/ferries to other European countries, masters courses taught in English at universities, Legoland, and goat cheese is available in shops!

Still, I'm afraid to let myself get excited, because I fear the crushing disappointment that comes with the "grass is greener" sort of optimism of moving to a new place. When I heard that we were moving, I thought I would be much more excited because Iceland is just not a good fit for me. I don't coo over infants and my idea of a fantastic hike is San Francisco. And I'm not into cakes and ice cream. Or knitting. Why haven't I been deported already?

I think this move is going to be an exercise in setting realistic expectations and contingency planning. I'll definitely use the valuable lessons from my move to Iceland.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Shining some light on the Reykjavik drinking culture

Drunk people are fun. Especially drunk Icelanders, who all seem to undergo a radical personality shift over the course of a few drinks. (We're talking about ordinarily reserved, somewhat stiff people turning into sloppy, super-friendly masses that love to sing and dance.) But even when I'm not among the inebriated, it's still great fun to be out at bar closing time in 101 Reykjavik to see the wasted youth, tragically hip as they are, stumbling home from the clubs, usually arm-in-arm with a new one-night-stand.

Bar closing time tends to occur around 6:00 a.m. in these parts, although from our street near Skólavörðustígur, a steady stream of liquored up Icelanders (and a few happy tourists) usually starts around 2:00 a.m. People tend to start drinking at house parties, due to the high cost of alcohol, around 9:00 at night before hitting the bars after midnight. So if you're a tourist in Reykjavik, and you're at a bar before 11:00 p.m., you're apt to think, "these people are so lame; no one goes out for a drink." Oh yes, they do.

Drunk Icelandic guys in penguin suits (presumably a graduation party). Credit: Internet.

This morning my boyfriend and I awoke at 5:00 a.m. for a nice, early Sunday drive to the airport. (For him, not me. I'm still stuck in Iceland, dammit.) As painful as that was, it was hilarious to drive past the drunk people, stylish in their glossy outfits and sky-high stilettos yet sweaty and pale, doing the walk the shame. The special thing about the weekend drinking culture in Iceland is the fact that the sun doesn't fully set in the summertime, exposing drunken nighttime behavior in all its glory without the courtesy of dimmed lighting. It's really strange to see mobs of drunk people in daylight--it's almost like being back home in Madison, Wisconsin during a Badgers football home game...

This video is a good depiction of summertime weekend partying in Reykjavik. The lady filming it is even wasted herself. Good job!

Bar closing time in Iceland always reminds me of scenes from the movie 101 Reykjavik or the documentary How do you like Iceland?. It's a veritable blend of humor and despair that plays out every Friday and Saturday night. Expect massive hangovers.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Another "Type" of Expat Confusion

After 2 years on The Rock, I've become accustomed to quite a few distinctly Icelandic things: horizontal rain, baby-mania, the skinka phenomenon, wild weekends in 101, obsession with cakes/ice cream/hot dogs, jeep assholes, scary highland roads, sheep everywhere, summerhouses that aren't quite summery, wide open (and mostly treeless) lava-scarred landscapes, a fervent disregard for rules, and--most importantly--some of the nuances of the Icelandic language. I've experienced a lot, dammit.

But the ONE thing I just can't get used to is the Icelandic keyboard. You see, at my office I'm typing away for 8+ hours a day on an Icelandic keyboard. And I say "typing" loosely. It's more like hunt-and-peck and a whole lotta backspace key action. Then I come home--back to my laptop's US keyboard--and I find myself hitting all the wrong keys because I've been using an Icelandic keyboard all day. What is the secret to switching from one system to the other?  Am I just getting old and unable to make adjustments?

The biggest difference between the Icelandic and US keyboards is the punctuation keys. For example, the following are in different locations: @ " & / * ( ) = - _ \ + ? : ;   And the apostrophe is weird too--on the Icelandic keyboard, I have to shift and hit the key with the accent (the accent for letters like á, ó, í, etc.) but it doesn't work so smoothly. And the quotation marks look all funky too. It wouldn't be a problem for writing all in Icelandic and using Icelandic punctuation but at work I'm creating materials all in English, so it's just an efficiency drag.

The Icelandic alphabet contains 32 letters--not including C,Q,W, and Z--so as you can imagine, the keyboard is quite crowded (see image below). Luckily, the Icelandic keyboard retains the letters C, Q, W, and Z because those are used for foreign "loan words". I imagine that somewhere out there, some grumpy old nationalistic curmudgeons (the people that honestly believe everything Icelandic is best í heimi, or "best in the world") are bemoaning the fact that the Icelandic keyboard contains foreign letters...god forbid those foreign influences threatening the language!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Blogging Blackhole

So we've officially entered that season when blogs slip into a looooonnnng coma. It's ironic because there's so much going on and I finally have some inspiration yet there's never enough time to craft an intelligent sounding blog post detailing all the fun and exciting things I'm doing (or even the non-exciting things I'm doing). My excuse for not posting regularly is that the excessive sunlight makes me retarded (sunlight is my kryptonite; I work best in vampire-like conditions).

Or maybe it's the fact that I've gone and gotten myself a fancy office job for the summer. Don't get me wrong--jobs are great and I'm fortunate to be employed these days--but office jobs and constant deadlines have a way of zapping one's energy levels and creativity. Thus I come home after a day in the office and maybe jog a mile or two before mindlessly watching episodes of Big Love on the media player.(For what it's worth, them Mormon folks are crazy.)

I shouldn't be making excuses--I am a terrible blogger. I will just admit that now. There, I said it! Leave me alone! I really don't know how some people manage to update their blogs every day...or even three times a week for that matter.

So, to make up for my lackluster performance since late May, here's the run-down of the crazy stuff I've done:

  • ATV excursion in a lava field in which I discovered that I really like muddy, dirty activities involving speed
  • rafting trip in a fucking freezing river (Hvítá) by Selfoss in which I discovered how sexy I am in neoprene suits. Unfortunately, I also lost all feeling in my extremities for a few hours (thanks to certain coworkers for trying to kill me--I swear). Saunas are my bestest friends!
  • was convinced by good friend to hike up to Iceland‘s tallest waterfall; this involved a lot of steady walking with a trekking pole, a barefoot crossing of another fucking freezing river, and then getting lost in an Icelandic mini-forest (a rare feat, I assure you.)
  • started a pseudo exercise and diet routine, which is bound to be a complete failure. Besides my lame attempts at jogging, I'm also trying to cut down on red meat and sugar, an impossible task since grilled lamb, hot dogs, and ice cream are mandatory foods in Icelandic summers. (I might be deported for not eating enough of these staples...)
  • Eurovision parties. Je ne sais quoi. Supreme tackiness. Awesome Turkish band that reminded me of a Mad Max movie. Need I say more?
  • The Reykjavik City Council elections in which an actor/comedian was elected to the seat of Mayor. I normally don't give a shit about Icelandic politics because other people give a shit so I don't have to. See my pal Virgile's blog for an awesome rant about local politics AND Eurovision.
And just this evening I took a trip with a few colleagues to Stokkseyri, where we checked out the recently-renovated Ghost Centre and nearly starved to death as we were fed a continuous supply of free beer by a local brewery. Oh, the horrors! Free beer and no bread basket or crisps! And yes, I've finally had some dinner now but I'm still buzzed. (I promised myself no more blogging under the influence. FAIL.) And in case you're wondering, it's not commonplace in Iceland to visit a museum about ghosts and elves and be fed free beer. It's just one of the perks of my day job. P.S. Beer totally enhances supernatural experiences. Another tip: If you've gone a long time since your last meal and you don't want to get wasted too quickly, try Freyja, an Icelandic micro-brew with a zesty citrus & coriander taste that's only about 4.5% alcohol.