Icelanders are a bit sensitive to criticism

One of the journalists at Iceland Monitor, the English section of news site, recently wrote a hilarious article on Icelish, pointing out 5 things that native English speakers need to realise about Icelanders speaking their language. Things that Icelanders don’t necessarily like to have pointed out to them.

“I think Icelanders are doing a marvellous job of looking after their language – particularly when compared to speakers of comparably small languages,” says Charles Gittins, journalist at Monitor.
“I think Icelanders are doing a marvellous job of looking after their language – particularly when compared to speakers of comparably small languages,” says Charles Gittins, journalist at Iceland Monitor.

“I would say that I am now fairly fluent in Icelandic although I do of course still make plenty errors in both speaking and writing,” says the author Charles Gittins who is a native of the UK, Warwickshire to be precise.

Charles should know what he’s talking about, having started learning Icelandic in 2009. “At the time I was working as a translator at the European Union in Brussels. Iceland applied to join the EU in the summer of 2009 and the institutions began immediately to organise training for officials in preparation for Icelandic becoming an official language of the EU,” Charles recalls.

“I took a 2-year course in Icelandic in Brussels with my EU colleagues, after which I completed a BA course in Icelandic as a Foreign Language at the University of Iceland in distance learning.” Charles’ connection to Iceland may have been his destiny because through his language learning he obviously met some natives and in 2010, he met his now husband with whom he moved to the country four years later.

“… there is one thing that seriously annoys me; how people drive … I think it must be that Icelanders are so nice in daily life that they need to vent all their selfishness on the road!”

Back to Icelandic, or Icelish. What was the most difficult thing about learning the language? “For me, it was the phonetics. I’m usually quite good at nailing pronunciation in foreign languages fairly quickly, but in Icelandic it took me longer than usual – I still haven’t really worked out why.”

With all the wonderfully weird sounds, Icelandic words often sound spectacular to foreigners. But Icelandic words are also often made with great originality, such as Charles’ favourite Icelandic word: ‘gervitungl’ (meaning ‘satellite’, literally ‘synthetic moon’). “It’s a wonderful image for the object it denotes and it has a beautiful sound to it,” says Charles. Words like that exist because of Iceland’s approach in “preserving” the language by creating new words rather than adopting them from other languages.

Charles with his husband Ingvar P. Guðbjörnsson, Political Advisor to the Minister of Industry and Commerce, Ragnheiður Elín Árnadóttir.
Charles with his husband Ingvar P. Guðbjörnsson, Political Advisor to the Minister of Industry and Commerce, Ragnheiður Elín Árnadóttir.

“I think Icelanders are doing a marvellous job of looking after their language – particularly when compared to speakers of comparably small languages. I love learning all the new words coined by language authorities for this and that.”

Charles hesitates before continuing. “That said, I do feel Icelanders have compartmentalized the world into ‘Iceland = Icelandic / rest of the world = English’ rather too much and are letting English dominate their foreign-language learning. I find it immensely sad when I hear, say, an Icelander and a Dane using substandard English to communicate rather than trying their hand at each other’s languages.”

Having a good insight into Icelandic culture, Charles admits he’s noticed some characteristics of the nation that he reluctantly agrees to share with the rest of us. “If I had to generalise, I would say that Icelanders are immensely generous, but slightly emotionally constipated,” he laughs and is forced to elaborate: “In my experience, if you need help with anything *practical*, Icelanders will go to the ends of the earth to help you. But if you need help with something personal or emotional – somebody to talk to, discuss feelings, or be shoulder to cry on – then I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them.”

Charles also finds that Icelanders are generally taken aback when they realise that he, a foreigner, speaks their language fluently. And the fact that people sometime dare to criticise Iceland. “In general, I find they are most surprised when you do not follow the accepted line that Iceland is paradise on earth. Iceland is a wonderful place to live, but has its upsides and downsides just like anywhere else. But many Icelanders don’t seem to have grown up with that in mind! Many are quite taken back when you say that x or y is better in another country than in Iceland.”

Asked whether there’s something he hates about Iceland, Charles refuses to use that expression, adding that he loves Iceland and has done ever since he visited for the very first time. “But there is one thing that seriously annoys me; how people drive! They seem to have no idea what their indicator is for and roundabouts are absolute death-traps. I think it must be that Icelanders are so nice in daily life that they need to vent all their selfishness on the road! Not to mention, using mobile phones at the wheel…grrr!”

Eurovision expert Last month Charles appeared on the grand finale of Söngvakeppni Sjónvarpsins, Iceland’s pre-selection to the Eurovision Song Contest. Here he is discussing entries from other countries with the show’s hosts, Felix Bergsson and Ragnildur Steinunn Jónsdóttir.

Á. Óskarsson
Á. Óskarsson

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Á. Óskarsson selur fjölbreytt vöruúrval fyrir íþróttahús, sundlaugar, skóla og leikskóla og einnig ýmsar vörur til einkaafnota. Fyrirtækið selur vörur til íþróttaiðkunnar og leikja ásamt því að bjóða upp á ýmsar lausnir fyrir íþróttamannvirki.

Á. Óskarsson hefur komið að fjölda stórra verkefna við byggingu íþróttamannvirkja og hefur frá stofnun kappkostað að bjóða vandaðar og endingargóðar vörur.

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