Review of Scandinavian Social Resources in DC

My Icelandic Meetup got the attention of the webmaster at the Icelandic Embassy.  If google brought you here, don’t forget the Icelandic language meetup group meets weekly!

I decided to revisit some of the pan-Scandinavian social sites again and see which ones are language centric (study and conversation) and which ones are cultural centric (food and family).  I think there are more Danes and Swedes in the DC area than any other Scandinavian group.  Danes I think have more social events going on, and Icelanders probably the most proportionate to the number of Icelanders around here.

Danish Club.  Looks active.  Danish is obviously the best group for movies, since they have the most movies.
Sons of Norway DC
.  Looks like a cultural group.
Scandinavian Association of DC.   Panscandinavian cultural group.
Swedish Embassy.
Meetups: Norwegian, Icelandic, Danish, Swedish.

LiveMocha Review: Icelandic

I finished the LiveMocha Icelandic course! Huzzah!

I scored 2369 points which puts me about 7th place at time of finishing.

The five lessons were pretty much effortless learning.  The learn by example was extremely helpful for learning the proper cases for prepositional phrases because at the end of the lesson it just felt like a preposition should go with a word with such and such an ending.

Some lessons were tedious (time and numbers), some questions had mistakes (ie. sound didn’t match the text), some questions had more than one possible answer but the computer accepted only one, double clicking meant you lost points (the computer interprets the 2nd click as a response on the next question).

Aside from these technical difficulties and characteristics typcial of all computer based training, this course was well worth the time I invested in it.  Since it is free, I can’t see why you are still reading this review and not leveling up on LiveMocha Icelandic.

Movie Review: 101 Reykjavik

101 Reykjavik is the expensive downtown district of Reykjavik.  It represents the height of economic development in Iceland.

The movie is one of those “what is the meaning of life” movies.  The main character is an aimless guy with no sense of direction.

Among Icelandic movies, I rate it a 5 out 5.  There is lots of Icelandic that I could understand, although someday I should watch it again at 3/4 speed.

Culturally, I think this movie really brings to light how Iceland is both a hypermodern Scandinavian country and still something of it’s own that hasn’t decided what to do with the evolving memes concerning family, the social welfare system that are coming out of Europe.  The North American anti-smoking meme has not caught on at all.  Maybe booze and cigarettes is the northern societies way of killing of the weak, without being so explicit about it.

The end isn’t depressing.  This could have turned into an existentialist tale about the meaningless of life, but fortunately it wasn’t.  Funny how unrelentingly sad movies can be turned into happy movies in the last five minutes, it makes for a reassuring metaphor for life.

Iclelandic Music on Youtube

First, head over to HeraSings and watch this one.   The lyrics are really, really sad.

Here are the lyrics with my attempted translation (The # of refrains is different)

Ég kom í þorpið kvöld eitt um sumar   (I come to town one evening in summer)
klukkan tólf í miðnætur    sól, (12 o’clock midnight)
ég fékk herbergi upp á verbúð, það virtist í lagi (I took a room in a fisherman’s hut, it was okay)
með vask, borði og     stól. (with sing table and chair)
Um morguninn gekk ég út á götuna að skoða, (In the morning I went out to see
sá gömul vélhræ* liggja útá lóð, (Saw “worn out macinery” standing on the land (?))
ég sá hús sem áttu sögu og sum voru að deyja, (I saw the house which had be told that and someone had died)
það seytlaði ú gluggunum blóð.  (That the window trickled with blood)

Það er stelpa sem starir á     hafið  (It is the girl that stared at the sea)
stjörf með augun mött (Paralyzed with eyes glazed over)
hún stendur öll kvöld og starir á hafið (She stands all evening and stares at the sea)
stóreyg, dáldið fött. (?  funeral cloths?)

Ég sá hana dansa með döpur græn augu,  (I saw her dance with sad green eyes)
dansa líkt og hún væri ekki hér, (Danced like she was not here)
hún virtist líða um í sínum lokaða heimi, (She seemed to float about her locked up home)
læstum fyrir þér og mér. (Locked from you and me)
Hver hún var vissi ég ekki en alla ég spurði (Why she was so I didn’t know, then I asked)
sem áttu leið þar hjá (What had led her here(?))
þar til mér var sagt að einn svartan vetur  (I was told with(?) a certain black wind)
hefði sjórinn tekið manninn henni frá. (The sea had taken her man from her)

Þetta er stelpan sem starir á hafið (It is the girl that stared at the sea)
stjörf með augun mött (Paralyzed with eyes glazed over)
hún stendur öll kvöld og starir á hafið (She stands all evening and stares at the sea)
stóreyg, dáldið fött. (?  funeral cloths?)

Þessi starandi augu, haustgræn sem hafið,  (This one’s staring eyes, autumn green which she had)
ég horfði ofan í djúpið eitt kvöld, (I watched often the depth one evening)
þau spegluðu eitthvað sem aðeins hafið skildi  (They reflected something that only they knew)
angurvær, tælandi og köld. (Melancholy, deceptive and cold)

Uppi á hamrinum stóð hún og starði yfir fjörðinn (Up to the sky she stood and stare at the fjord)
stundum kraup hún hvönninni í, (Sometimes she kneels to the angels)
þar teygaði hún vindinn og villt augun grétu (There she drinks wind and mislead eyes weep)
meðan vonin hvarf henni á ný. (While the hope she has is renewed)

Þetta er stelpan sem starir á hafið (It is the girl that stared at the sea)
stjörf með augun mött (Paralyzed with eyes glazed over)
hún stendur öll kvöld og starir á hafið(She stands all evening and stares at the sea)
stóreyg, dáldið fött.(?  funeral cloths?)

Þetta sumar var fallegt, ég fékk nóg að vinna, (The summer was beautiful, I took enough to work)
það fiskaðist og tíðin var góð. (That fish hut and time was good)
En ég stóð og hugsaði og starði út um glugga (Then I stood and thought and stared out the window)
um stelpuna sem var talin óð. (At the girl that was ??)
Eina nótt hrökk ég upp í skelfingu og skildi (One night I jumped up in terror and knew)
hvað skreið um í hjarta mér. (What had crawled about my heart)
Það sem virtist vera í fyrstu bara forvitni hjartans (That was … firstly just curiosity of the heart)
hafði fundið ástina hér. (Have found love here)

Í stelpunni sem starir á hafið
stjörf með augun mött
hún stendur öll kvöld og starir á hafið
stóreyg, dáldið fött.

Daginn eftir fór ég með fyrsta bílnum  (The day after I went with the first car)
sem flutti mig suður á leið. (That took me south on the road)
Ég leit aldrei til baka, ég bölvaði í hljóði (I never look back, I curse in the silence)
og í brjóstinu var eitthvað sem sveið. (And in hear was something that burned)
Er ég les það í blaði að bátur hafi farist (I readin the paper a boat had left)
þá birtist mynd í huga mér (It published picture of interest to me)
þar sem hún stendur og starir á hafið (There she was standing and staring at the sea)
starir þar til birtu þver.(stares there until light…?)

Ég man stelpuna sem starði á hafið  (I *remember* the gilr that stared at the sea)
stjörf með augun mött
hún stendur öll kvöld og starir á hafið
stóreyg, dáldið fött.

*vélhræ   vél=machiner  hræ=worn out

Icelandic Study Advice

Learning a language is all about productivity.  Paper dictionaries, are not a productive use of time.  What is best is read on line with a online dictionary close enough to allow for cut and paste.

Online Dictionaries : Enter first few letters of word, does an English and Icelandic lookup at the same time.

University of Wisconsin: Enter word, even the inflected form, and UWDC will usually find it.  You can use d for ð. Doesn’t do as good a job with a “starts with” search.

Google Images.  Enter word, search. Example, Ísbjörn. Do not search for “að keyra” “to drive” using the google image search technique.

Being motivated about learning a language is all about real social relationships. Icelandic meetups, like the DC Icelandic Meetup.  This has been the best thing for my Icelandic skills outside of BYKI vocabulary drills.

Italki, online social networking for language learners.  I personally haven’t benefited from this service, yet, but it shows promise.

Day 3 & 4

Day three, we went to the tourist agency and booked tickets for the rest of the week– a good thing since everything except tourist centric companies are closed most of the rest of the week for Easter.  Son was really really difficult, so we took time out for a nap.  Then we went swimming.

Today was the Golden Circle– Gullfoss (Gold water falls) and Thinigvellir (the open air campsite for the old Icelandic parlament).  Gullfoss was very windy.  The paths were iced over completely– while unlikely that we’d slide into the canyon, it was very difficult to walk on it.  We went to Geysir and saw a geysir erupt.  We bought souvenirs.

We watched half an Icelandic movie– I’m impressed with my ability to pick out a word or two every other minute.  My progress with my Donald Duck comic book is slow but measurably positive.

Tomorrow…horse riding.  If today is any indication– it will be very, very cold.  Matthew Martin-sicle on a horse. 

Day Two in Reykjavik: Donald Duck will bankrupt me

Coffee, toast with strawberry jam, cucumber slices, musli, cheese. Yum.  I wonder if the locals actually eat this sort of breakfast, or if this is just a ‘continental breakfast’ for hotel guests.
The National Museum
We went to the excellent national museum.  I was tremendously excited that with the help of the dual language English/Icelandic exhibit descriptions I could read some Icelandic and learn some words.  Our trip was cut short by hunger and my son’s hiking shoes disintegrating–the sole started to fall off.

Donald Duck- Pylsuhejran (Hotdog hero)
I am reading Donald Duck comic books.  A laborious process, but one with rapid a return on effort.  The newspaper on the other hand is a laborious process with slow returns. The word hotdog-hero is not in any Icelandic dictinary, yet they use it.

Went to Kringlan, the largest shopping mall (and probably only one of two shopping centers big enough to call a mall).  Bought lots more cheap dairy, expensive Donald Duck comic books (including a double–oops), thought about buying a phone that would work with the local phone system but at $67, I decided it would be a flagrant waste of money, since in a few days I won’t need it.  An extra laptop would have been handy though.

Icelandic Language Books
I finished reading “Teach yourself Icelandic.” It was a good book because the pace of new material starts out slower than “Colloquial Icelandic”. At the end of the book the author moves rapidly through a lot complicated rules and tables of conjugations and declensions.  I’m not entirely convinced that conjugated languages are best learned the same way as times tables.  It isn’t a scientific preference, but I seem to learn better by seeing a sample sentence, then making a similar sentence (model + exercise).  “Learning Icelandic,” the book I bought so far uses this technique a lot.

Using Technology
I’m so impressed with my progress with “Before You Know It” vocabulary drill software, I’m kind of disappointed that I don’t have a word set drill for each chapter– it would be a nice way to prepare.  My iPod keeps getting the language stuff out of order (when I transfer the book audio clips to my iPod).  The trick to fixing sort order is to sort it and right click “Copy to Play order” after fixing the sort in iTunes.

Random Bus Trip
We took a random bus trip and ended up in Hafnarfjörður.  We could have continued and gone to Ikea, but we didn’t– it was too late.  Instead we ate rye pancakes with Easter Ale, then went to the coffee at this place. (Finally, internet maps for Iceland! Took me forever to find them.) Here is the coffee shop’s web page.

Then we ran to the swimming pool, boiled for a while, practice breast stroke, goofed off, ran home.  And then I wrote a blog entry.  Then I wrote the previous sentence.  [repeat].

Day One and a Half: Airport and Flying to Iceland

The D’oh!
I carefully packed 4 Kg of food to take with me to Iceland. As a budget traveler and vegetarian, this is a good idea. Pick food that doesn’t require refrigeration. You are allowed about 3KG or $180 of food, per person, which ever comes first. But, unlike me, don’t leave your carefully packed bag of food at home.

TSA- Taking Stupid Articles
Pack all your food in check-in luggage. Don’t presume you understand the TSA’s rules, you probably don’t. The TSA wants all your food and toiletries so it can throw it away. Don’t believe anything else. TSA was on my shit list for stealing a can a soup, now they are on my shit list for stealing a jar of peanut butter. Why the terrorist don’t start using the TSA as a weapon I don’t know. If I was a terrorist, I’d start using underwear and bra bombs, so that travellers would have to strip before boarding any plane. The resulting TSA policies would so demoralize the west, we’d capitulate to the terrorists in weeks.

TSA style security has also arrived in Iceland. On landing, they also want to check your shoes and liquids. Why terrorists who need to build their bombs on planes using eight ounces of water don’t just drink it and then piss it out on the plane, I don’t know. Next the TSA will be watching us to make sure we piss out enough water to fly dry.

Flying Iceland Air

Effortless. The food was good– an Indian curry. They also had some low fat Icelandic butter, which went nicely on the roll.

I discovered that you can offset the carbon you create while flying by giving money to the re-forestation project on Iceland. Very elegant solution to global warming. Then once you are there on the bus from Keflavik to Rejkyavik, you can pass Alcoa, which uses geothermal and hydropower (clean energy), to mess up the views of the wilderness and releases fumes that exacerbate global warmin in the process of turning bauxite into aluminum. Or something like that. In any case, Iceland could use some more trees.

Guest House Pávi

The FlyBus ticket seller didn’t recognize the name, and said we’d have to get off at the main station and hike. The key is to immediately ask if you can go to a more famous hotel next to your obscure guesthouse. When you get to the FlyBus main terminal, they will drop off some people and may transfer you to a smaller bus, but you will get delivered eventually to the reasonably famous hotel of your choice.

We made it there to find out the door was locked and we had to call Danny. But my Korean phone didn’t want to talk to the Icelandic phone system. My Finnish Nokia phone had no problem last year. Sigh. So we hiked to the bus station, got ourselves a yellow card (I asked for a “Gula kortið” and the cashier didn’t understand me, so I switched to English. A pattern that is still repeating– I keep messing up the endings of words) And made phone call to Danny.

Danny picked us up and said that the room we reserved didn’t have any hot water due to construction, so we got a free upgrade to a location closer to downtown, with free internet access and we got to check in 3 hours early. This was an issue last year– Iceland Air arrives about 3 hours before check in time, so you have about 3 hours to deal with some bulky luggage before you get a key. Since we are traveling off season, the room was already ready & vacant.

The new location is just a stones throw away from Háskoli Íslands, Tjörn and the Alþingi. And we are close to the mysterious ‘black line’ which is the streets where many, many bus routes all overlap. The Rejkyavik bus system has blue-green-red lines that combine to form additional colors on one map.


So far, my son and I are surving on Icelandic dairy. Cheap, lots of calories and mmmmm. Bonus is my 3 star restaurant when I’m in the city.


After searching the internet for like half an hour at home, I couldn’t find Donald Duck comic books in Icelandic. Once on land, I found them immediately. The key to buying books in Iceland is to find the used book store. A cheap new book runs $15 to $30 and up to the stratosphere. A used book is half that- $5-$7.

Jet Lag

Jet lag left us both cranky. (My son angrily denies that he is cranky) We arrive with about 2 hours of sleep on the plane. We used top notch pillows and blindfolds, but two hours +/- is still not enough. Last year we took naps and didn’t really try to adjust– i.e. we stayed up late every day. This year, I’m trying harder to adjust on the first day so that the remaining days we aren’t so far out of synch with the tourist industry’s schedule. I’ll report on how the experiment goes.