Monday, 12 November 2018

Speaking Icelandic: Useful and Funny Phrases

One of the best ways to get to know a country’s culture is to study its language. The words people use in Iceland and our colorful, funny expressions give you a small peek into the mind of the typical Icelander. What I’m talking about goes beyond the simple greetings and everyday expressions for travelers like “hallo” (hello), “takk” (thank you), and “gaman að kynnast þér” (nice to meet you). I want you to do more than just get by. Now don’t get scared; I’m not asking you to master the Icelandic language! Germanic languages can be a little tricky, and I’m sure the fact that we’ve got some funny symbols and letters might be a little intimidating. But there are just some expressions that I think you might find culturally interesting and perhaps they’ll even give you a little chuckle. Let’s dive in and learn some useful and funny phrases in Icelandic.

Man contemplating funny and useful expressions in Icelandic

I Will Find You on a Beach (Ég mun finna þig í fjöru) 


This is perhaps my favorite unusual saying in Icelandic. Lest you think all Icelanders are sweet, innocent, mild-mannered Nordic folk, let me relieve you of that illusion. We descended from the Vikings! And just like anyone else, we get mad! Except when we get angry, we threaten our newly-formed enemies with a vow to track them down and strike when they are least expecting it. If someone tells you “Ég mun finna þig í fjöru“, you must never ever let your guard down. And keep that in mind next time you see a sweet-looking, little old lady wandering the streets of Reykjavik. You know she’s found a few people on a beach. Maybe she’s on her way there now.

Correct usage: Hey! You just cut in front of me in line at Sandholt Bakery and bought the last croissant. I WILL FIND YOU ON A BEACH! *Shakes fist angrily*.

Icelanders will find you on a beach

You are such a latte-drinking wool scarf (Þú ert nú meiri lattelepjandi lopatrefillinn) 


It’s pretty safe to say that people who live in large cities have nicknames for people who live in the country and vice versa. Iceland is no different, and there’s a phrase in Icelandic similar to calling someone a city slicker. Being a “latte-drinking wool scarf” is reserved for people who live in Reykjavik’s city center and is a derogatory term. The negative connotation comes from the idea that we sit around in our posh wool scarves sipping lattes all day like total snobs. To be fair, I do like doing both of those things, but I have other hobbies as well.

Correct usage: Berglind and Leif came to visit me at the farm this weekend, and neither knew how to ride a horse. They’re such latte-drinking wool scarves! *Eye roll*.

It’s Window Weather (Gluggaveður) 


Much like the word “window shopping” reflects any culture obsessed with buying things (and sometimes things they can’t afford), this expression comes from a land where we frequently experience weather that is quite nice to look at but not so great to be in. Whether it’s a gentle snowfall during the holidays or a stormy, rainy fall afternoon, sometimes it’s just nice to be inside where it’s warm and dry while admiring the weather from afar. Bonus points if you’ve got a blanket and a hot drink in your hand.

Gluggaveður is the common Icelandic expression for window weather

Correct usage: Is your Netflix subscription up to date? There’s a winter storm headed from Vik to Reykjavik this weekend, and it looks like we’re in for some window weather.

Speaking Icelandic: Useful and Funny Phrases 


There are plenty of little gems like these in Icelandic. Master these first three, and you are well on your way to impressing your new friends in Iceland. And if you really want to blow them away, learn how to pronounce (or just how to spell) Eyjafjallajökull. If that slightly complicated name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s the volcano in southern Iceland that wreaked havoc back in 2010. With your newly-learned Icelandic language skills, you are ready to go to Iceland and blend in with the locals. All it takes is a little practice, as and as we say in Iceland, “No one becomes a bishop without a beating” (Enginn verður óbarinn biskup). That roughly means “you have to work toward your goals and be ready to face the challenges along the way”. Good luck!

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