Conversations in Iceland

I enjoy having conversations with people when I travel. Talking with fellow travelers is just as interesting as chatting with locals.

Sun Voyager Iceland
Solfar (Sun Voyager)

On my first day in Iceland, I walked around Reykjavik to get situated and see a few sights. The only real sight I saw that day was Hallgr√≠mskirkja, the main church in the city. As I walked around the clock tower to look out over the city that was bathed in sunlight (yeah, it was bright that day), I overheard a family speaking Chinese. Since I hadn’t spoken to anyone other than the receptionist at the hostel, I decided to talk in Chinese.

My first conversation in Iceland was in Chinese.

With a family from the same district of the city in which I used to live.

Hallgrimskirkja as seen from the street
Hallgrimskirkja as seen from the street

I found it amusing that I had quite a few more Chinese conversations in Iceland (in the first couple days I think I spoke more Chinese than English). I met a lot of Chinese students who were on winter holiday from studying at European universities.

I also met a group of guys at a whiskey bar who said they were in a death metal band. One of them also said he had a degree in theology and taught middle and high school. One of the classes he taught was evolutionary theory. They were a lot of fun to talk with and added to my Icelandic education.

Hallgrimskirkja at night (?) or maybe morning
Hallgrimskirkja at night (?) or maybe morning

They explained the difficulties of learning Icelandic and told me to not bother. “There’s a reason we speak English,” the one guy told me. I learned that there are 42 ways to say green, depending on the grammar of the sentence. At that point I decided it wasn’t just the pronunciation that would be difficult for me to learn, and I should just stick to studying Chinese.

I also learned about life in Reykjavik.

Everyone seemed to accept that they pay a ridiculous amount in taxes compared to what we’re used to in the US. The acceptance stems mostly from the fact that education and healthcare are free. The only problem that came up was violence–yes, there’s violence in Iceland. Apparently, when Icelanders get drunk, they can get confrontational, and I witnessed what looked like the start of this outside a bar at closing time on the Thursday before I departed (I didn’t stick around to see where it might lead).

Overall, Icelanders were fairly easy to talk with if I started the conversation–few locals start conversations with tourists. I also found that most younger Icelanders speak English with only a slight accent (almost sounds British), while older Icelanders tend to have much thicker accents that can be difficult to understand at times. And they all seem to enjoy talking about foreign politics with tourists, which is not a topic I generally bring up when traveling.

2 thoughts on “Conversations in Iceland”

  1. When I went to Paris, I couldn’t communicate with the Parisians. The only time I was able to speak to strangers was when I went to Chinatown, or to a Chinese restaurant.

    1. Will, I just enjoyed the opportunity to practice my Chinese with some friendly tourists. I thought I’d speak Chinese when I went to Chinatown in Montreal, but I heard them speaking French there–I was confused.

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