As anyone in Iceland or otherwise remotely tuned in to Icelandic news should know, none other than Justin Bieber graced this barren wasteland with his presence last week. And of course, the Icelandic media (and much of the public) was all over it. “News” articles (the term is used incredibly loosely in this context) began popping up at an alarming rate, reporting on everything from what Bieber ate to where he used the restroom to what he was tweeting about his Iceland stopover.
I can’t bring myself to write too much on the topic, but I would like to share a couple screenshots I took from Vísir.is that I think beautifully capture the insanity. Check out this ridiculous string of headlines:
“Óli to the rescue: Bieber slaughters FH in FIFA 16” (If this still doesn’t make any sense, you’re not alone. Apparently FH is a football team and FIFA 16 is some sort of football-y PlayStation game. Some computer genius named Óli came to Bieber’s rescue by configuring his PlayStation in his hotel room. Or something like that.)
“Superstar in Iceland!”
“Bieber and friends toast with red wine in the Westman Islands – video”
“Justin Bieber sings in the Icelandic rain – video”
“Bieber in his underwear at Fjaðrárgljúfur”
“Justin Bieber in Iceland: Dropped by Lemon (a restaurant) in Reykjanesbær”
I couldn’t even capture all the headlines in a single screen shot. Here are the rest from that page:
“Bieber’s bodyguards banned photographs in Reykjanesbær”
“Bieber ordered a turkey sub: employee still in shock”
“Bieber used public toilet in Selfoss: stop along the Golden Circle”
“Lively discussion about Bieber on Twitter: ‘Someone ought to point out to him that in Iceland tourists poop on the side of the road'”
“The Bieber-walk remembered: ‘Once a Belieber, always a Belieber'” (Unsure about the phrase “Bieber-gangan,” I actually had to read this article, and was amused and disturbed to learn that it refers to an actual parade of Beliebers organized by teenage girls back in 2011. Apparently the goal was to convince the Biebs to hold a concert in Iceland. If you understand Icelandic, and actually even if you don’t, it’s worth watching the video in this article that shows the event.)
“Caught Bieber outside the restroom at Ólís (gas station) in Selfoss”
“Bieber shares a video of himself in Iceland: ‘Today is an amazing day'”
Then things escalated with reports that Bieber had invited a couple of girls up to his hotel room – presumably, of course, to play FIFA 16.
I was talking about this Bieber mania with a couple friends and one of them commented that after his visit (all of 48 hours or something) here, Bieber would instantly be branded “Íslandsvinur,” “a friend of Iceland.” And she was right. The next day, in a Fréttablaðið article, I read this: “Um helgina, af hverju ekki að… hlustaðu á Justin Bieber, fátt er meira viðeigandi þessi vikulokin en að rifja upp gamla smelli með nýjasta Íslandsvininum” (“This weekend, why not… listen to Justin Bieber. It seems fitting at the end of this week to revisit some old pop songs with the latest friend of Iceland”).
Justin Bieber: Eitt sinn Íslandsvinur, ávallt Íslandsvinur.
Bónus: Fallbeyging nafnsins
In case you were wondering, this is how “Bieberinn” declines in Icelandic:
Every language has words the meanings of which seem incredibly specific in any context outside of that language. That is, some characteristic of the people who speak the language or the place(s) in which it is spoken has rendered this word necessary, whereas it might not be quite as useful in other cultural or geographic contexts. In Iceland, many such words are tied to the weather. For anyone who has ever lived in Iceland or even visited for a few days, this will come as no surprise. The weather here is volatile, and it is often big. It is experienced with multiple senses – you see it, you hear it, you definitely feel it – especially when the weather in question involves strong winds, which it pretty much always does.
One of my favorite Icelandic verbs is að fjúka, which means essentially “to be blown by the wind.” As an added bónus, if something has been blown away by the wind, you would say “það hefur verið fokið” (“fokið” being the past participle), which of course bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain less polite English word. So as a native English speaker, it always appeals to my less mature sense of humor when I come across this word in its many incarnations.
This week, thanks to our first bout of stormy autumn weather, the word has been cropping up all over the place, sort of like the tree branches and leaves that have been blown all over the city.
This article, from pressan.is, notes that no fewer than twenty-two trampolines were reportedly found blown into trees, onto cars, around light poles, etc. in the greater capital area.
Bónus fact: The séríslenskt orð (uniquely Icelandic word) for trampoline is “fjaðradýna” or “fjaðurdýna,” which literally means something like “elastic/springy mattress.” I know I’ve already overused the adjective “delightful,” but how else can I describe these wonderfully literal Icelandic words? They are truly delightful.
Besides the flying trampolines, probably the biggest news in these parts is the Icelandic men’s football (that’s soccer to you, my American friends) team’s qualifying for the 2016 UEFA European Championship, to be held in France next year. This is the first time ever that the Icelandic men’s football team has made it to an international championship. (Iceland is also apparently the smallest nation ever to make it into a national tournament.) Anyway, football is hugely popular here, and things that earn Iceland international recognition are hugely popular here, and partying is hugely popular here. Put all these things together and you can imagine what the scene was like downtown after Iceland’s win against Kazakhstan (the game was actually a draw, but for some reason I don’t understand and don’t actually care to understand, a tie meant that Iceland advanced and Kazakhstan did not).
But should you have trouble imagining the scene, don’t fear – Some industrious journalist at Vísir took it upon himself to painstakingly detail the entire evening’s timeline:
National football team downtown: Where did the boys celebrate?
The timeline begins with the end of the game at 20.45, at which point the team of course celebrated heartily on the field, before devoting a good amount of time to interviews and the like. The article then (unnecessarily, if you ask me) points out that the boys showered and got all dolled up (well, okay, I’m embellishing on the translation here) for the celebration.
At 21.55, the team appeared at Ingólfstorg, a square downtown where the game had been live streamed on a big screen thanks to mobile phone company Nova.
At 22.20, the team hopped on a bus which took them to Gamla Bíó, where the celebration continued.
Around midnight, most of the team headed to b5, where they were greeted by a whole host of supporters, including a few famous names (UFC fighter Gunnar Nelson… actually, that’s the only “famous” person on this list that I’ve ever heard of).
Apparently there was a lot of singing at b5, and the song “N*ggas in Paris” by Kanye West and Jay-Z was in heavy rotation. The article describes this song as “appropriate” for the occasion, since the team is heading to France next year. I think we have different definitions of “appropriate,” Mr. Journalist.
At 02.00, the friendly local police force appeared to kick people out of b5, since by law, clubs/bars have to close at 1 AM Sunday through Thursday. The journalist points out that it was pretty difficult for the police to get everyone to leave (although I have heard only reports of extreme glee and drunkenness, not violence) and states that people there were somehow likening the situation to the battle between American hip-hop group N.W.A. and the cops. Seriously? I can only imagine that a vast amount of alcohol went into this comparison.
On a more serious but equally ridiculous note: The way this achievement has been reported in the news, both here in Iceland and abroad, you could easily assume that this is the first time any Icelandic national football team has made it to an international championship. But in fact, the Icelandic national women’s football team has made it to the European championship not once, not twice, but three times (1995, 2009, 2013). That whole idea, so popular in clickbait articles and blogs, that Iceland is an oasis of perfect gender equality? Not true. Iceland might be doing a lot of things right on this front, but gender inequality is pervasive, not least in sports. So if you’ve been excited about the men’s football team, by all means, be excited. But don’t forget the women’s team. Don’t diminish their accomplishments.
Parliament members walk past a naked Jón Sigurðsson
To Americanize this headline, we could say something like, “Congressmen walk past naked George Washington.”
Jón Sigurðsson was the foremost hero of the 19th-century independence movement that resulted in Iceland finally shrugging off the Danish crown. A statue of him stands in Austurvöllur, the square right in front of the parliament building. A few days ago, there also happened to be a giant poster advertising the film “Fyrir framan annað fólk” on the side of the building behind the statue (and therefore also across from parliament). Why the promo poster involves a photo of naked Jón Sigurðsson remains a mystery to me, despite a good amount of googling. If anyone knows, please, by all means, educate me.
Anyway, I’m pretty sure this article came into existence simply because some photographer or journalist happened to be near the Alþingi and took note of this admittedly amusing sight. It might not be big news, but since I’ve decided to blog about just this sort of “news,” I’m certainly not complaining.
And that concludes the second edition of “things that make the news in Iceland.” Let’s give it a few days for more non-news to break, and then I will return with more.
Sometimes the things considered newsworthy in Iceland really make you wonder. Every day, there seems to be an abundance of “news,” at times puzzling, at times hilarious. I absorb as much of this news as I can, since it is, after all, a great way for me to practice reading Icelandic and build my vocabulary. Because I fancy myself a generous person, I’ve decided to regularly write a summary of “things that make the news in Iceland” for your reading pleasure. After all, it’s important to be well-informed when it comes to matters of critical importance.
Without further ado, I present to you the first edition:
Okay, so an Icelander, one person in a nation of 330,000, is going to appear as a guest on the Dr. Phil show. I suppose that could be considered news. But that is not what this article is about. The Icelander in question, María Birta, is going to the Dr. Phil show – as an audience member. She is going to attend a taping. In other words, she’s going to do what any other human being on earth with Internet access and proximity to LA can do simply by calling or emailing the show.
María’s husband Elli, knowing she is obsessed with Dr. Phil, surprised her by getting tickets for the taping. It would be nice to think that it’s this kind gesture that is newsworthy, but my more cynical side wonders if the “news” in question is simply that an Icelander is somehow (very, very loosely) associated with an international celebrity.
The article identifies María’s husband Elli as a former member of the band Steel Lord and states that today the couple runs a store called MONO.
I think this speaks to something I’ve observed over and over again, a desire to place every single Icelander, to identify him and show how he fits into the big (well, actually quite small) picture. If the person reading this article doesn’t know María and Elli, he or she will know someone who does. That whole “six degrees of separation” thing? In Iceland, we can reduce it to about two degrees. There’s an obsession with knowing everything about everyone, and it creates this notion that even the most commonplace happening is big news or a huge achievement.
It should be noted that comments about this story were split between people wondering how this is newsworthy and people fiercely defending the glory of Dr. Phil. It made for some interesting reading.
Today’s gripping news was that a woman who lives in 101 Reykjavík (downtown) ordered a pizza for home delivery from a new pizza place. The twist? She didn’t realize the restaurant is in Akureyri, 380 km away.
Here’s a quick translation of the article:
Hrefna Rósa Sætran, cook and restaurant owner, shared a rather amusing story on Facebook about the mistake she made when ordering pizza a few days ago.
Hrefna Rósa had seen a photo that the actress Saga Garðarsdóttir shared on Facebook. Saga, who lives in Akureyri, wrote in the caption that she had downloaded the restaurant’s app and ordered a pizza with bacon and eggs.
“I was all, ‘Cool! New pizza place! Got the app, ordered a pizza and the kids and I waited excitedly.'”
Hrefna continued, “So around 6.00, a full hour after I ordered, the phone rings. The pizza guy says, ‘Hey, so, we don’t deliver to Fossagata.’ I’m all, ‘What do you mean? Fossagata is downtown!’ The guy says, ‘Yeah, exactly, and we’re in Akureyri.'”
Yes, people. This is news.
Here’s the thing. “News” like this probably becomes “news” because some journalist happens to be Facebook friends with María, Hrefna, or whoever happens to share a weird story on his or her Facebook wall today. I know the practice of mining Facebook for “news” stories is hardly a uniquely Icelandic occurrence, but the prevalence of it is getting a bit alarming.
When my language skills were weaker, I would read headlines like these and assume I must have misunderstood something. But now I know that such stories are to be expected. I anticipate them with glee, actually.
Here’s a bónus story: “Police face no serious problems at Ljósanótt festival.”
Ljósanótt is an annual festival in Keflavík. After this year’s event, the local police shared that everything went swimmingly and there were no serious matters to speak of. In other words, the story here is essentially that nothing happened.
Well, that’s the first roundup of non-news from Iceland. Until next time, curious readers.
My second day back, after a full day celebrating Menningarnótt and nine hours of deep sleep, I joined Ásta Sól and the Snorri Plus group for the annual convention of Þjóðræknisfélag Íslendinga, AKA The Icelandic National League of Iceland. I attended part of the program last year with Ásta, and I must say, I experienced such a soaring joy and warm and fuzzy feeling of reward when I realized how much more I understood this year than last. I didn’t catch each and every word, but I was able to follow along well with each presentation.
A quick summary of the program:
US Ambassador Rob Barber showed up to address the attendees and make some remarks about the importance of strong relations between Iceland and North America.
Unfortunately, Canadian Ambassador Stewart Wheeler was abroad, but a member of his staff came on his behalf.
Almar Grímsson gave a presentation on North Dakota poet K.N. Júlíus (AKA Káinn). Káinn was a gifted satirical poet, born in Akureyri, who lived most of his adult life in the Thingvalla area of North Dakota, where he worked as a laborer and grave digger. It has become a custom for visitors to his gravesite to toast his life and achievements with a shot of Brennivín poured over his headstone. You can read more about Káinn on my friend Sunna’s website Icelandic Roots.
The 2015 Snorri West participants shared about their four-week West Coast adventure. They visited the Icelandic settlement areas in Vancouver, Victoria, and Nanaimo, British Columbia.; and Blaine, Point Roberts, and Seattle, Washington. I’ve gotten to talk to a few Snorri West participants over the last couple years, and it’s always interesting to hear how it’s just as rewarding for them to visit Icelandic settlement areas in North America as it is for those of us of Icelandic descent to visit our homeland.
A researcher named Katelin Parsons discussed her work with the Árni Magnússon Institute cataloguing Icelandic heritage manuscripts from North America. This presentation really resonated with me, as the sort of work Katelin and her team are doing is something I could envision doing myself some day.
The Snorri Plus participants introduced themselves briefly. I have to say, they were troopers for sitting through the three-hour-long program. The speakers did make an effort to summarize things in English, but by and large the program was in Icelandic. Still, the Snorris seemed to take something away from the experience.
Genealogist, speaker, lover of all things Iceland, all-around wonder woman, and dear friend Sunna Pam Furstenau gave a presentation about the work she and her team atIcelandic Roots are doing – researching genealogy, helping people discover their family histories, providing scholarships to Snorris and others studying in Iceland, and so much more. Sunna’s love of her work is abundantly evident whenever she talks about it, so listening to her is always a joy.
For whatever reason, I took a photo of Rob Barber toward the beginning of the conference and then never took out my camera again, so words will have to suffice.
My return ticket brought me back to Iceland the morning of Menningarnótt, a city-wide festival that loosely serves as a farewell to summer, welcome to autumn, and a general celebration of the lively cultural life at the heart of this city (and this year happened to mark 20 years of Menningarnótt). I can’t remember whether this was intentional or not, but I was happy not to miss it, even though I knew I’d be tired.
After a few hours of not-so-deep sleep, I went with Ásta to meet the Snorri Plus group, who had just completed the 3 k fun run of the Reykjavík Marathon. We headed over to Bæjarins Beztu for post-race (or, for me, post-flight) pylsur. After the Snorris scurried away to have their own Menningarnótt fun, Ásta, Erin and I hung out near Bæjarins Beztu for a little bit. Within the span of about ten minutes, several friends walked by, including my Irish friend Kevin, who gives walking tours around the city, and my Seattle friend Mark, who just bought an apartment a stone’s throw away from our house. Being there with friends old and new and running into people I know really made me feel very quickly that I was home. It was a warm and fuzzy feeling that helped drown out the cold exhaustion.
I met up with my friend Steffi and we got in line for vöfflukaffi. Vöfflukaffi (literally “waffle coffee”) has become a tradition on Menningarnótt. Residents of a certain downtown area open their homes to friends and strangers for free waffles and coffee. While there were at least seven or eight homes to choose from, we of course went for vöfflukaffi at the home of Reykjavík’s most beautiful head of hair, Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson.
This being the third time I’ve seen him at a public event this summer, and having chickened out on getting a photo with him the first two times, I was determined to get a photo this time around. But… I didn’t. It was insanely crowded and terribly hot and Dagur was busy cranking out waffle after waffle.
It should be noted that while the weather was fine in the morning, it got progressively worse throughout the afternoon. Having come from five weeks of hot, dry weather in Washington, though, I was actually thrilled to enjoy a legitimate downpour, especially because for once it was not windy, allowing Icelanders and visitors alike to make use of umbrellas – something very rarely seen in Iceland.
Steffi and I made our way down Laufásvegur to a backyard singer-songwriter concert. We stayed to hear Svavar Knútur and Hafdís Huld, but poor Steffi was not dressed for a downpour, and with her shoes soaked through, she wanted to get somewhere warm and dry. So we walked across town and camped out at Stofan for a few hours.
One of the big attractions on Menningarnótt is Tónaflóð, a big outdoor concert at Arnórhóll. Since I wasn’t terribly excited about any of the performers this year, I opted to watch it from the comfort of the couch at home with Ásta’s pabbi. This not only meant that I didn’t have to be cold and wet, it also meant that I got a running commentary from a real live Icelander, which always makes these things more enjoyable. Watching just about any Icelandic show, be it a news program, documentary, sitcom, or a live stream from an event like Tónaflóð, with an Icelander means that you will get to find out all the details of who’s who and who did what and who was married to whom and who got arrested for this and who is famous for that.
Shortly before 11.00, I headed back out and made my way down toward Arnorhóll to meet up with friends and watch the fireworks show. Last year, tired and overwhelmed, I stayed home and watched them on TV, so this year I wanted to make an effort to go see them in person. The show was only about 10 minutes long, but it was spectacular, with fireworks shooting off near Harpa and from a couple other locations along the water. I read a horrible rumor recently that this may be the last year that fireworks are shot off for Menningarnótt, or at least so close to downtown. I hope that’s not true. There’s some kind of magic to watching fireworks burst in the night sky in the company of thousands of other spectators. (And, I have to admit, I much prefer this type of orchestrated show to the free-for-all madness of New Year’s Eve here, but I know I’m probably in the minority on that.)
A fun fact about the name: “Menningarnótt” translates to “Culture Night,” and I’ve always wondered why an event that takes place all day long bore this name. Well, while watching the live broadcast of the Tónaflóð concert, I learned that twenty years ago, when Menninarnótt began, it was in fact an evening program, running from 10 PM – 3 AM or something like that. Over time, it has grown and evolved into a full day festival with events for people of all ages, but by that point the name had stuck, and so it will forevermore be Culture Night.