Friday, September 9, 2011

Ice Ice Baby

Call me a wild and crazy world-traveler if you want, but recently I decided - prepare to be awed - to change planes at Reykjavik International Airport.

As the seasoned geographers among you will know, Reykjavik is located in Iceland, a major world nation which celebrates itself with the proud national motto, "Oh, you know, that little place up there somewhere near Greenland."

"I'VE never heard that motto," you are saying, with narrowed eyes.  To which I say: well, naturally.  It is translated from the Icelandic.  During my flight on Icelandair, I became an expert on Icelandic language and culture via my in-flight magazine and fun facts on my napkins.  This is how I learned that the Icelandic language* is spoken by only 12 people worldwide.  To put that figure in perspective, this is fewer people than watched the wacky in-flight movie featuring Ashton Kutcher.

And I think I understand.  Because, frankly, Icelandic has "problem language" written all over it.  I don't care who you are - you could be an Icelandic baby born in Iceland to Icelandic-speaking parents - assimilating this language is going to give you hernias.  When you're at Reykjavik International Airport, you can't believe how lucky we Anglophones have it, because everywhere you go you see signs like this:

Kjörfnnenbjoörrflokinnennkrönninenflöokinjörginnen - Arrivals

Bjïnninenflöokincöokinsnöokinhjardinenflörpöôöøøø - Departures

No child should have to be born to this.

On the other hand, Iceland** boasts one feature that absolutely no other nation - and I include Poland in this statement *** - can claim.  I speak, as you have no doubt guessed, of impeccable toilets.  My theory is a good third of the national budget is spent on having large, intimidating crews of strapping Icelandic toilet specialists come in**** every 10 minutes to clean every national toilet until it sparkles.

I didn't stay around long enough to see this magical event happen, of course, but there is no doubt in my mind.  You can tell they take their toilets SERIOUSLY in Iceland.  Not like SOME countries (not to name names, but these countries rhyme with "Prance" and "the Punited Ptates of Pamerica").  Any other major world power, bar none,***** would be proud to feature such excellence.

The Reykjavik airport itself (which, contrary to legend, consists of more than just toilets) is all at once the most beautiful and most eerily quiet, lifeless airport in existence.  I have made fun in the past of the Portland, Maine airport for being too sedate, but compared to Reykjavik, Portland is the Lady Gaga of airports.  Granted, I was jet-lagged and exhausted in Reykjavik, but I honestly don't think anyone ever announced a flight.  I don't know how you were supposed to know when your flight was boarding.  I actually ended up briefly following a herd of passengers toward a Stuttgart flight before an airport employee tipped me off.  Had this not happened, I suppose I would still be at the airport, or in Stuttgart, or possibly the suburbs of Alpha Centauri given my comprehension of what was going on at any given moment.

Yes, an Icelandic adventure such as mine will leave you thoroughly unnerved and permanently twitchy, but if you don't take my word for it yet, then let's talk for a moment about currency.

So: currency.  It is worth noting that, in Iceland, you are paying for things, such as badly needed food, in a currency that no one, including Icelandic people, has ever heard of.  That means you have no idea what things cost, so let's say you toddle, hunger-crazed, into an airport dining establishment at four in the morning.  (Of course, YOU have no idea what time it is; it might as well be one or six or even thirty-seven in the morning.)  You are pretty much going to be grabbing your dinner items at random.  One of them might turn out to be Pepsodent.******

Then comes the bad part, when at checkout you are told by the pleasant Icelandic person on duty - and this here is a direct quote - "That will be two thousand, one hundred ninety."  For a time I was pretty sure I bought sushi, yogurt, and popcorn for a mortgage payment.  But - and here's the thing - in such a state, you hand over your credit card anyway.  You don't care.  I, for example, could feel the blank expression on my face - a mix of mild terror with strong apathy and even stronger snack attack - as I handed over the card.  There was no turning back.

Of course, everything turned out okay in the end.  I got back to Paris, which was all I had ever wanted to do in the first place, and I retain, as a proud souvenir of my travel adventure, a snazzy paper bag that reads "Flugnesti: flight take away."  I have no idea how "Flugnesti" is pronounced, and I am afraid to even try saying it, given that I fear the Icelandic feds (they have my info: I bought their sushi) might have wiretapped me.  And you never know how much of a surcharge they might slap me with for each bad pronunciation.  Several "thousand" an hour, is my guess.  How else do you think Iceland keeps running?

* Namely, Icelandic.
** Which as we have discussed consists of the Reykjavik International Airport.
*** Seeing as I have never been there.
**** I imagine them riding in on Icelandic ponies, because, well, why not.
***** What does this expression even mean? Seriously.
****** Or, in Icelandic: "Tjëflohjörnkkenkväakkinnenfjøøpseudöfnoop"


David Barry said...

This comment assumes that "Seriously" means "Seriously".

The OED's definition 8 for the verb 'bar' is "To exclude from consideration, set aside." I think I've only ever heard it used in the expression 'bar none' or as a participle (barring a lightning strike in the next minute, I will post this comment).

But apparently in the olden days people said things like, "We bar, in this discussion, any objection which proceeds, etc." The creation of the expression 'bar none' is pretty straightforward from there.

(Curiously, 'bar none' seems to have become a popular expression only around the turn of the last century: Google graph.)

Nicola said...

@ David: haha, thank you, I actually didn't know the origins of it. I guess the "seriously" was a bit jocular, but what the heck, I'm glad to know.

The Old Wolf said...

What the flappng scrith! You landed in Iceland and didn't sample hákarl? Wicked, wicked child, you wasted the entire experience. Sparkly-clean toilets you can find in İstanbul - oh, sorry, wait, no you can't - but rotten shark þorramatur can only be found in Iceland.

*sits in the middle of the floor and wails*

Kiefler said...

I submit this as the proper meaning of "Bar Nun"

And I feel your pain about currency differences. I was once lucky enough* to be in Bora Bora. The currency there is the "Comptoirs Francais du Pacifique franc (XPF)**"

This is based as $1 XPF to .01 USD.

So when I had to soft charge a $2000 USD deposit in the unlikely event*** that the unlikely event I drove my rented dune buggy off the edge of the coral reef, the receipt in fact shows a printed charge of $200,000.00.

That will wake you up.****

So thanks for this chance to present this little "Nicola-style commentary."*****

* - That is, I paid way too much money.

** - This roughly translates to: "We may be Pacific Islanders, but we can speak French too. Neener Neener"

*** - This probably happens all the time.

**** - Actually, I think I fainted.

***** - Permission was not actually obtained. Please don't sue me. Really...