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By gwblogabroad

English is, in my opinion, a rather beautiful language. It has this endearing quality of being simultaneously rhythmically poetic and pliable. With relatively little effort, even text in the most mundane of contexts can seem to be intricate prose. In the hands of an adept speaker, this same mundane topic can come alive with eloquence.

This innate beauty to the language, however, often goes unnoticed to those who speak it proficiently. It seems to me that English often assumes the role of merely a means to an end rather than a medium worth noting in and of itself. This is an attribute confined to major languages, even those who serve as lingua francas to mass extent. For an Icelander it provides stark contrast to the linguistic purism of my native tongue. Icelandic is regarded by its speakers as a cultural treasure, and to this day it is fiercely guarded. Where others have succumbed to the constant and overwhelming need for neologisms (the Danish word for "overhead projector" is, rather anticlimactically, "overhead projector" with a Danish accent), Icelanders have held ground (we call it "myndvarpi"). Incidentally there are a few English words that originate from Icelandic (glove has an ancestor in the Icelandic glófi).

As much as I love Icelandic, I think the radically different approach of English, in freely accepting changes to the language and influences from a wide array of sources, is indeed its greatest strength. It is a vast language with a plethora of linguistic roots, reaching far and wide, and one that freely adapts to convey tone and meaning.

A wonderful example of this is a fantastic book I recently read, called "We need to talk about Kevin", by Lionel Shriver. With her stunning use of language she paints a vivid picture of the sharp, bleak intelligence of the protagonist. The consistently cold, orotund and hopeless tone makes the book mentally exhausting to read. Shriver's mastery of language is evident.

One trademark of her writing is the ease with which she uses the outskirts of English vocabulary and literary references, freely intertwining phrases and words like; "raison d'être", naïveté or "I have crossed my Rubicon." It made me think of what is ultimately the whole point of this blog post; the mystic oddities of the English language.

Are all Americans really so well versed in ancient Roman history that one can throw around a phrase like the one above without being faced with a few puzzled looks? Have all the people that say "a rose by any other name...", with a knowing smile, actually read Romeo and Juliet? Is such proficiency in the French language to be generally expected that the intricate, almost philosophical meaning of raison d'être is widely understood?

Why is it that many words and phrases are left largely unchanged (naïve, kindergarten, ad infinatum, pro bono, ...et cedera) while others are in the process of being anglicized (envelope to provide just one example)? Why on earth is "flaccid" almost invariably pronounced as [ˈfla-səd] (flassid) when virtually all other words with a double -c have a distinctive -ks sound?

Speaking of letters; why is -w pronounced double-you? To quote the linguistic genius and poet Christian Bök, from his poem about the letter:

It is the V you double, not the U, as if to use

two valleys in a valise is to savvy the vacuum

of a vowel at a powwow in between sawteeth.

For a foreigner and eternal student of the English language, it often seems rather mystifying indeed. I might not get my questions answered this time, but in any case I highly recommend We need to talk about Kevin and the recent film adaptation, which is truly a phenomenal film. Christian Bök's ingenious study of language (each of the five chapters contain only one vowel) in his book of poesy titled Eunoia is certainly worth noting as well. In case the title leaves you puzzling, "eunoia" is the shortest word in the English language that contains all five vowels. Rather fittingly, the word means "beautiful thinking".

By gwblogabroad

I, like most people, sometimes feel threatened by the World. We've all at some point concluded that everyone were out to get us, that we don't deserve our misfortune. We are all, regrettably, embedded with a predisposition towards self-serving bias.

The truth is that if you're reading this there is overwhelming chance that you're fortunate enough to live comfortably in a bubble void of fear and hate. My troubles seem to me insurmountable at times, but the truth is that they're often self-inflicted and easily avoided and most certainly always trivial when put in context.

Contrast would perhaps better describe the intent. I've never experienced hate. Never once have I evoked such extreme reaction or felt so utterly enraged that the only solution was hate. For this very reason it is often far too easy to dismiss the news from around the World of terror, simply because we cannot sympathize. We've never walked in their shoes.

Times are very different now than really ever before in that we now, those of us fortunate enough to live in reasonable prosperity, live in a world of social media. This lends an opportunity to find strength in numbers, and more importantly it provides a platform to constantly remind us all of the terror and hate. To inspire us to do more to change what we can and ultimately to provide contrast.

To this end I'd like to ask anyone reading this to take 30 minutes of their no-doubt busy schedule and watch the movie below and hopefully succeed in making the monstrously hateful Joseph Kony famous.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/37119711 w=500&h=281]

By gwblogabroad

I'm a notoriously bad shopper. This extends to pretty much all aspects of my life, which explains why about 92% of my wardrobe is H&M clothing. Essentially I just go for what's easy and painless (praise the glory of Amazon.com). One of the few places I can't just fall back on online shopping and sort by best reviewed or most popular is grocery shopping. This means that the rare occasions I can be spotted at a grocery store I'm usually just pacing blindly back and forth with an empty expression of despair in my eyes.

For this reason I have resolved to put down a list of "Kitchen essentials for the lazy exchange student" to make my life easier. With these at hand (in fridge) you'll be sure to cook yourself through any troubles and have a mediocre meal to show for it.

Spice
This one is rather obvious; we need salt, pepper and paprika. But wait! There's more! Next time you go to a burger place put on some nice clothes (read: no sweat stains) and hit on the waitress. Just casual, mind you. A nice tip is to pretend to be just a wee bit drunk to fight the awkwardness, but not enough to be the annoying, loud drunk. Whatever you do, you must refrain to give her a friendly pat on the back because that's sexual harassment (even if it's acceptable behavior for old men in some countries; Italy). The point of all of this trouble is to be able to pseudo-jokingly ask the waitress, as you're about to leave, if you can keep the steak&fries seasoning they keep at the table. If you've played your cards well, she will smile and say "yes". Wink her to show appreciation. This spice is a wonderful addition to your spice cabinet as it goes with damn near everything.

Meat
If you're a vegetarian you should take a moment here to reflect on your priorities and then spend whatever time is left on missing bacon. I like to keep chicken, beef and pork at hand and rotate between them. This keeps my food pyramid from becoming too stagnant, because obviously they're all seasoned with the same burgerplace-spice. What I do, to keep my budget down, is getting them in bulk, then putting it all in individual meal size zip-lock bags and store it all in the freezer. Because I'm somewhat ecologically conscious I also reuse the zip-lock bags (protip). Now all you have to do is remember to take your meat of the day out of the freezer in the morning so it's thawed up and nice when you're planning to cook it. WARNING! I don't trust microwaves, so do not use the de-freeze function on them!

Vegetables
Onion, sweet potatoes, white mushrooms, peppers and zucchini are staples in my fridge. Like all the items on this list they go with damn near anything. Omelet, fried vegetable side, vegetable soup, sauces. That's everything! This also reminds me of the next object...

Eggs
Eggs keep for a long time and serve as a quick meal when time is limited. Other than the obvious uses in omelets and sandwiches, I also sometimes hard boil a few of them and keep them in the fridge for later use.

Skyr + bananas
I've coupled this combo because I always eat them together. See Skyr is an Icelandic traditional yogurt. In america it's actually classified as a cheese, but never mind that. Skyr is naturally fat free, low calorie and extremely high in protein, so it's really good for you. But natural, unsweetened Skyr is also pretty sour, so to counter than I enjoy it with sliced bananas, as a source of natural sweetness. It's perfect for "that 2:30 feeling" (that's a trademark owned by 5 hour energy). Skyr is available in Whole Foods, you should try it out.

Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ Sauce
This goes along with the spice section above, it goes fantastically with all the meats and spices above. Nothing more to say on this one. It's the best BBQ sauce by far.

Oat meal + raisins
I start every morning with a bowl of oatmeal. It's super quick and easy, just throw it in the microwave for 30 secs and let it sit for a minute and it's ready. In America there's a vast array of flavored, prepackaged oatmeal available, but you don't need it. Just buy one of those huge cylinders of pure oatmeal and sweeten it with raisins. It's so much cheaper, lasts forever and is a lot healthier. It's also really tasty.

Chips
This one is an old camping secret of mine. Whatever you're cooking, literally whatever, you can always use chips to make it better. Need some breadcrumbs to bread your pork? No, silly, use crushed chips! Are you lacking some crunch to your burger? Well, throw some chips on it! Did you run out of burger flirty-spice? Just crush up some chips and sprinkle them on there! It's as easy as that.

This concludes my list for now. With these new found culinary weapons in your artillery, you should all be on the fast track to becoming adequate, albeit sub-par, cooks in no time!

By gwblogabroad

An epic voyage comes to a dramatic climax. From the void darkness of Chaos erupts the final passage in what Rolling Stone Magazine called "The Definitive Account of Icelandic Music and Culture" (needs citation). After many sleepless nights awash with deep thoughts and dramatic fist-shaking towards the sky, I'm finally ready to enrich your lives with a glimpse into the modern marvel that is Iceland Airwaves.

Iceland Airwaves began in 1999 in a large aircraft hangar at the Reykjavik National Airport. Even in those early days it was clear to the people involved that this was destined to become bigger, but none imagined the phenomenal success the festival has seen since then.  The venues have now moved from the singular aircraft hangar and into the city, utilizing bars, clubs, museums, cafés, libraries and the new massive music hall; Harpa. This makes it stand out among most music festivals; there are no tents, no mud, no porta-potty.

The festival has specialized in emerging artists, often featuring artists that are on the verge of blossoming into full-fledged fame. Clap your hands say yeah, Rapture, Hot Chip, Vampire Weekend, Flaming Lips, TV on the Radio, Ratatat, Architecture in Helsinki, Klaxons, Sigur Rós, Björk, JJ, Robyn, Toro Y Moi, Bombay Bicycle Club, Mount Kimbie, Efterklang, The Antlers, Ólafur Arnalds, tUnE-yArDs, Beach House, James Murphy, etc...

These are not counting the plethora of fantastic foreign and Icelandic bands that don't get anywhere near the attention they deserve. Mix this all together and throw in some great venues, Icelandic hospitality and grown-up drinks, congratulations, you now have a great music festival.

Don't just take my word for it, though. You could, for example, listen to David Fricke of Rolling stone Magazine instead (actual quote this time), who called it "the hippest long weekend on the annual music-festival calendar." You could also just Google some reviews yourself, they all say the same thing. As an alternative to those visually inclined, I've included a short but fantastic documentary about the festival. Watch the video, fall in love with the festival and then come visit me in Iceland. It's worth it.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/35328791 w=600]

By gwblogabroad

Okay, fine! I’ll admit it, I completely lost track of these groups that I initially made up. This one is supposed to be “rock,” but honestly the bands I have left are way more diverse than that. Woe is me! My solution in this case will be to simply modify the group name a bit. Please don’t send me angry letters, such as the example provided below:

“Dear Thor. I was casually going through my regular schedule of rummaging through the depths of the interweb when I stumbled onto your blog. “Oh dear me,” I thought, “what a delight! Rock is indeed my favorite genre of rhythmic tonal contraptions.” My delight was short-lived. You can scarcely imagine my utter despair when I discovered the extents of your fallacies. For several dark minutes, I stared into the bleak, piercing eyes of the beast that is “Lack of proper categorization of musical genres.” For this crime against humanity, I thoroughly hope your day will be bad. Also I hope you bump into a low coffee table, and hit your shin really hard.

Sincerely,

Ned.

I made that up, but I feel like those guys are always named Ned. Just like all the bros, that fist bump and wear their caps backwards, are all named Jeff. Ned is the kind of guy who reads the news with the sole intention of finding grammatical errors, just so he can send the editors angry emails about it. This particular Ned, I imagine, also owns a cat. The cat is equally arrogant. Let’s commence.

Part III – Rock and other music with sounds

Agent Fresco

Agent Fresco is part prog-rock and part alt-rock, with heavy influences from jazz and funk, and a characteristic polyrhythmic style. That’s a mouthful, I know, but listen to their debut album through and it will all make perfect sense. If you end up going to the Iceland Airwaves music festival someday (which of course you all are), I cannot stress how important it is that you see these guys live. Their songs are so instantly catchy that without exception the crowd will start singing along with the chorus. Not just the few old guys that got too drunk at Burnt out Classic Rock Band concerts and annoyingly blurt out the lyrics, but literally the whole crowd. I’ve seen them many times, and as great as the big, loud concerts are, my favorites are the acoustic ones they do off-venue each year at Iceland Airwaves. They go all-out on the acoustic thing, even abandoning microphones.

If you end up giving any of the bands I’ve mentioned a try, I really hope you pick Agent Fresco. Find their album (gogoyoko.com is a great place to start), listen to it all the way through and then tell me what you think. Listen to the transition from hard, rhythmic prog-rock to slow, hauntingly beautiful piano ballads. If you don’t like this, you’re probably broken. I hope you kept the receipt.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMoNIUGkMxE&h=25]

As much as this will probably push some people away, I’ll also include a video of them playing a song at Iceland Airwaves 2011. Notice how the crowd responds and takes part in the song towards the end. That’s amazing.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLc1OErsXOg]

Hjaltalín

Hjaltalín draws its influences from many genres, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s just call them indie. The band is fronted by a strong male/female vocal duo, the male singer being the charismatic Högni (previously mentioned in relation to Gus Gus). This post is getting way to long, so I’ll just let the music speak for this one. This is Hjaltalín performing with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra in 2010.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbAOrDfjuqk]

Of Monsters and Men

You might actually have heard this band on the radio without noticing it. Their song, Little Talks from their debut album My Head is an Animal, has gained popularity fantastically fast. No wonder, really, it’s ridiculously catchy. They’ve been described as the Icelandic Mumford and Sons and even “the new Arcade Fire” in the Rolling Stone Magazine. Big words, certainly, but not far off. The songs are big, fun and the kind of catchy that just impregnates your mind with humming for days on end.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghb6eDopW8I]

Notable mentions

Hjálmar

It’s an Icelandic reggae band. They’re fantastic. There’s really nothing more to say about this one. They have a big repertoire of fantastic songs, but the one I’ve included below is one of my all-time favorites. It’s one of those songs that make me want to sit in the dark with my headphones on, just swaying my head along with the rhythm.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1Lxg13UL60&h=25]

Mammút

Mammút is a young, mostly female band. What definitely sets them apart is the eccentric, strong vocal style of the lead singer.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PxO9eA_ao4&h=25]

By gwblogabroad

Part II – Folk

Folk isn’t really the proper genre of this category, but rather a description of a shared origin in traditional, Icelandic music. Of the three bands listed here, I suspect only one – Mugison – will appeal to any substantial audience. I’ve tried introducing my foreign friends to Þursaflokkurinn a few times with less-than-great results; my friends say the meanest things sometimes. I could have picked many bands for this made up pseudo-genre of mine – Steindór Andersen, KUKL, Þeyr, etc… - so the ones I have chosen represent my own taste more than anything.

Mugison

Mugison is at once the artist that comes closest of these to being folk, and the one that is the furthest away from what I described above. His roots in Icelandic culture lie, not as much in technique and structure, but rather in poetic lyricism and context. I’ve touched before on the rich music scene in Iceland, to the point where it seems as if anyone can pick up a guitar in Iceland and become a musician. In my mind Mugison embodies exactly that (and in fact his first records were recorded in solitude in his bedroom). Mugison’s style has changed and evolved through the years, ranging from heavily distorted electro-troubadour to rhythmic rock to melodic folk. For a musician, there are few things worse than becoming stagnant in one’s art; Mugison is in no danger of this happening.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xs5krAcyHrw&w=420&h=25]

Þursaflokkurinn

You might as well just skip this section. You won’t like it. Here is a progressive rock band that heavily implements traditional Icelandic folk music, jazz and classical music as well as lyrical scenes from Icelandic folklore. They heavily rely on an oboe in their songs, are you gone yet? The band split up in 1984 after six years of active playing, with many suspecting the decision was in large part fuelled by their lack of success abroad. Listening to their music again now, it’s not hard to see why they did not succeed in conquering the World. Theirs is a niche carved out in Icelandic ground – small, even for Icelandic standards. Nonetheless the band symbolizes an important cultural step, in that they were the first real attempt to modernize (to some extent) the ridged world of Icelandic folklore and ancient sagas. It’s sad that most won’t be able to enjoy the off-beat lyrics, but in case someone connects with the musical aspect… enjoy!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUIbgnVQeKU&w=420&h=25]

HAM

HAM never managed to reach a substantial audience during its initial period of active playing but have since gained a cult-like status in Icelandic rock-history. In 2001, HAM was revived once again with great success, and has since been a steady act at music festivals and most recently releasing their first album with new material since 1995. It’s hard to describe the band’s style. They are often said to be heavy metal, but the band (and I) don’t entirely agree. My best attempt would be something like; operatic heavy alternative rock. The music is an energetic clash of sounds, featuring two singers; one with a deep, powerful baritone providing the backdrop to the raspy growls and screams of the other. It is raw and chaotic, but behind it all lie the roots of Icelandic musical traditions; from the rhythmic structure to the conflicting vocals, resonating in parallel fifths. As great as HAM are, they are a band best enjoyed live. I’ve seen HAM a few times and it is always amazing. My most memorable experience was at Iceland Airwaves 2010, in the iconic venue Nasa in downtown Reykjavík. It was completely packed, it was so hot that the collective evaporated sweat in the room was verging on forming clouds above us and there were at all times at least four people crowd surfing. After the first roaring track, front man Óttar Proppé modestly introduced the band in his raspy voice; “we are the band HAM.” As if we didn’t all know… Below I've included one of their more famous songs, as well as a short clip from the concert I mentioned above. If you look closely you might see my head somewhere in the front, to the right of the stage...

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7n61sA1Gg8&w=420&h=25]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmEMB8GCKtw&w=420&h=315]

By gwblogabroad

The more attentive readers here may have noticed in my first post that I absolutely love music. Because I wanted this blog to sounds really intellectual, I went to wikiquote.org and searched for “music”, as one does. There are many excellent quotes about music there but for this particular piece I have chosen a quote from the famous misogynist Friedrich Nietzsche who once said “If a woman seeks education it is probably because her sexual apparatus is malfunctioning,” probably while slowly stroking his moustache and pausing intermittingly for dramatic effect. However he also said that “without music, life would be a mistake.”  I don’t agree, really, but let’s pretend for a moment that all is good, and that this is a great introduction to an intellectual, contemporary piece on the role of music in the modern world.

For someone that really loves music, Iceland is a great place to live. For a nation so small it is really nothing short of amazing how active the music scene is. If you’re a Buddhist I highly recommend raking in some good karma so you can be reborn on Iceland in your next cycle. If, however, you are not Buddhist then I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do for you. I digress.

Seeing that this is a somewhat cultural blog I figured it would be a good idea to give some insight into Icelandic culture.  Specifically I want to write a bit about Icelandic music. We all know about Björk and Sigur Rós (if you don’t, you and me have a problem) so I’ll try to focus the attention on bands that are less known, but should most definitely be famous. This is a rather sizable task I’m setting myself so I’ve decided to split it into four parts. Roughly these are as follows; electronic, folk, rock and Icelandic Airwaves. Without further ado, here is part one.

Part I - Electronic

Gus Gus

Gus Gus is one of those titans of the Icelandic scene that seems to have been around forever. They always put out solid stuff. I remember that they played once at a dance in my gymnasium in Iceland (almost the same as high school) and they actually sold out faster than the world famous Ratatat that also played at one of our school dances that year so yeah, they’re pretty solid. Personally though I’ve always felt like there was something missing, they were great but just not quite in the zone. Last year they put out a new album and this time they’ve added a new singer; Högni. Högni is also the lead singer of mega-group Hjaltalín, which I’ll mention in Part III of this series. It turns out that Gus Gus + Högni = electro magic. Their album from 2011, Arabian Horse, is one of my favorites of the year. Enjoy!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRzupZkTGeg&w=420&h=25]

Apparat Organ Quartet

AOQ is an odd ensemble. It’s composed of five members, who are all well known within the music industry for other projects, amongst them Jóhann Jóhansson. Jóhann Jóhansson is probably the name on this list, most likely to sound familiar to readers, as he has become quite famous within the neoclassical music-sphere. AOQ, though, is entirely different from his more somber music. The band uses a vast array of outdated synthesizers, organs, cheap electric pianos and vocoders to produce songs of, what can hardly be described as other than, hard electronic rock. Their albums are complex and demanding, but the melodies and drops of powerhouse ecstasy are amazing. They’re also truly an experience to see live.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_VhDG130Ak&w=420&h=25]

Ólafur Arnalds

From Jóhann Jóhansson to another giant of the Icelandic neo-classical scene; Ólafur Arnalds belongs in this section because he not only produces amazing neoclassical soundscapes, but he couples then with intellectual electo-beats. His albums are at once hauntingly beautiful and heavy head-banging bass-orgies. The kind that makes you sway, frown your eyebrows and think “daaaaamn, this is it, right here.” In reference to Part IV of this blog-series, Ólafur Arnalds is also one of the acts I look forward the most to seeing at Iceland Airwaves each year.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38n8V0IUDuA&w=420&h=25]

FM Belfast

And now to something completely different. It’s hard, really, to put the energy of FM Belfast into words. The music, as confessed by the founding band members, is engineered to be perfectly suited to young, sweaty parties. The music is fast, uninhibited and joyful. That’s only part of the experience though. Seeing FM Belfast live, at a good venue, is nothing short of amazing. Everyone dances, everyone is drenched in sweat, no one cares at all. It’s amazing.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mquCq54Lmp4&w=420&h=25]

By gwblogabroad

Americans love hidden costs

I’m sitting at the Denver airport writing this and looking back at the week of skiing I’ve enjoyed in Colorado, one thing is blatantly clear. Americans absolutely love hidden cost. I already suspected that this was the case, but only through my travels has it become this obvious.

In Iceland we don’t tip. It’s not because we are mean, vengeful people that take pleasure in the troubles of the underpaid working class (we do, of course, but for different reasons). No, in Iceland we actually just have the decency to pay employees appropriately so there’s no need for tipping. This means that going to a restaurant or whatever is a fantastically annoying experience for me. Especially since I’m usually going with people that each pay for themselves, so we invariably encounter problems when calculating each part in the sum.

Knowing that this is a school blog I’ll have to contain my vocabulary for this one, but it is absolutely unfathomably stupid that prices everywhere do not include tax. See, legislation should eventually benefit the buyer, not the corporate hell-machine. Now if we step back a bit and try to view this with unbiased eyes, who does this system really benefit? Is the buyer encouraged to spend less? No, of course not! It’s just yet another way of robbing buyers of their hard earned cash through the sleazy tactics of modern commercialism.

These are the basics but it certainly doesn’t stop there. Upon renting a car here in Colorado we were told we had to pay 200$ extra because we were under the age of 25. Now, I’m sure some of you are thinking that this is just common sense but I assure you, it’s not. Neither of us had ever rented a car and we’ve grown up in a country where posted prices are final. If some company had done this to me in Iceland, believe me, all hell would have broken loose. I actually checked the fine print when I rented the car and not once did it warn us of this ludicrous addition to the price, in fact we first heard of it when we were in the office of the car rental in Denver, Colorado. At that point there’s nothing to do, really, but suck it up and pay the 200$. The whole trip was basically a continuous string of these incidents. The lesson learned here is that I was naïve. Naïve to believe people wouldn’t screw me over. I know better now.

It‘s okay to talk smack about other companies in advertisements

I don’t really watch television so I don’t really care about this at all. Having spent a week in a hotel with a certified TV-addict, though, I saw my share of commercials and one thing surprised me. First of all the commercials could all be put into four different categories; diet and weight loss, drugs, taxes and erectile dysfunction.  I’m not sure what this says about the US nation, and I’m certainly not one to pass judgment. What did stick out though was that companies here see no problem in directly attacking the products of other companies; “I was taking this drug, but it doesn’t actually work so I switched to this drug and now I’m feeling great!” Again, not something that bothers me, it’s just weird for me because this is something that’s forbidden by law in Iceland.

Americans are unable to safely operate umbrellas

I’ve travelled quite a bit through the years and surprisingly enough, many of the places I’ve visited also have weather. This means that from time to time I’ve seen people whip out their umbrellas. Personally I don’t mind getting wet but I can certainly sympathize with those who want to keep dry. That is, if they know how to keep their damn umbrella out of my face. From London to Berlin, Copenhagen to Valencia, even in Reykjavik people know how to keep to the side, lift the umbrella when passing people and tilt it when meeting another umbrella-enthusiast. It’s a system that works, everyone is happy. In America this is not the case. It’s as if people view it as their God-given mission to take up as much space as physically possible with their umbrella. Walking in the middle of the street, pointy metal spikes in eyelevel, making sure to direct the raindrops at everyone around, it’s all cool. I’m not entirely sure what the cause of this reckless behavior is, but if Dr. Sigmund Freud has taught me anything it’s most likely penis envy. It’s always penis envy.

Everyone is caring (but most don‘t care)

This one is a bit different because it’s not really hurting anyone, it’s just a weird cultural tic. Whenever getting into a grocery store or a taxi or just about anywhere you’re always greeted with a “hi, how are you?” or something similar. Everyone seems so nice, all the foreigners notice it. The truth, though, is that no one actually cares about the answer. If I told my taxi driver that I wasn’t feeling to well he couldn’t care less. To my analytical European mind this seems redundant. I’m used to people asking me how I feel when they actually care about the answer. Having to reciprocate with this pseudo-courteousness all the time just feels weird and fake.

American plugs are not like European plugs

I knew this one but it still managed to sneak up on me. When preparing for arrival in the US I thought I had taken care of every detail, and yet when I finally got to my dorm room I came to the grim conclusion that I had forgotten to buy an adapter. My first night was spent in a dark room, staring blankly at the barren wall in front of me, with my plethora of dead electrical gadgets lying tauntingly in front of me. After frustratingly staring at my laptop for a couple of hours I realized that I was hungry as all hell, having been kept alive during the day only by the occasional, stale airport sandwich. I decided to venture outside but not knowing where to go to find food at 10:30 PM I ended up walking in circles. You know how people in snowstorms end up walking in circles when they’re lost, because one foot is stronger than the other? It was exactly like that, except not at all. Eventually I did find a 7-11 (ironically positioned very close to my dorm but not close at all to the circular path I had been pacing) and bought another stale sandwich.

Americans only know one thing about Iceland

As much as I try to convince myself that my English is infallible, people eventually pick up on my accent and ask me where I come from. When I tell them I’m Icelandic they invariably get overly enthusiastic and proceed to tell me the only thing they know about Iceland. The American school system is incredibly efficient in teaching students that The US of A is (obviously) the center of the Universe, but literally the only thing they tell students about Iceland, it seems, is the following: “Iceland is in fact green, whereas Greenland is actually icy. End of lesson.” In my mind this lesson is promptly followed by a timid girl in the back of the class going “U – S – A, USA, USA…” which then breaks out into a full blown, school wide, roaring USA-chant. I could be wrong though.

Everyone loves my name

Americans have a hard time pronouncing my name, which is entirely understandable. There are some weird letters in there, accent marks and other incomprehensible stuff. The sounds required to correctly pronounce my name is just not within the average oral capacity of Americans, so I just gave up on trying. Now whenever someone asks me for my name at Starbucks or whatever, I just tell them my name is Thor. It’s true enough. My name, Arnþór, literally means Eagle-Thor, so my roommates just started calling me Thor.

The love it! “Wow, dude, is your name seriously Thor? That’s so awesome, man. You’ve got the beard going and all!” That’s the typical reaction. I’m certainly not complaining about this one.

By gwblogabroad

In our first semester hosting this blog, we had so many great applicants that we couldn't choose only one! I am excited to hear what these three have to say about their time at GW.  Click on each of their names to find out more about them!

Salma: Spring student from Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco

Cecile: Academic Year student from Sciences Po in Paris, France

Arnthor: Academic Year student from University of Iceland in Reykjavik, Iceland

By gwblogabroad

I know what you’re thinking; “who does this guy think he is, doesn’t he know blogs are like sooo 2008?” But here’s a truth bomb for you, I’m bringing it back. All the cool kids are doing it, it’s literally all the rage. All of it. As with any autobiographic literature, however, it is proper to start with an introduction of the author, so here’s first order of business.

I’m Arnþór, but if you’re having trouble wrapping your mind around those letters feel free to call me Thor. I am 21 years old, Icelandic and bearded. I study Industrial Engineering at my home institution, the University of Iceland and I am incredibly lucky to be able to study abroad for the full academic year at GWU.

I’m writing this sitting next to a fireplace in a wooden hut in the Colorado Mountains where I’m on a weeklong skiing trip with a friend from Iceland, who incidentally is studying abroad in San Diego. This, really, is a great example of why I chose to study abroad. I think most of us foreign exchange students basically share the same philosophy on life in this regard. We’re not here for the classroom but rather the adventure of it all. Being able to meet new people and make new friends, visit exciting places and experience new adventures as often as we can. I routinely encourage all of my friends to do this because now, for most of us, is the perfect time and age to experience something like this.

Back to business; I was born in Iceland but moved within a few months to Denmark where I spent the first 10 years of my life (if any of you speak Danish, feel free to say “hej, hvordan går det?”, I need the practice). I love movies, music, photography and a whole host of other totally cool stuff. I also love astronomy, physics and anything with Sir David Attenborough in it. Also, if someone made a movie about my life I would like Philip Seymour Hoffman to play me, although we’d have to implement a plot-twist of epic proportions to explain the age difference.

For the sake of introduction I should also note that I’m an Atheist, bisexual and politically nonchalant although strongly opinionated. Basically I’m the opposite of the stereotypical foreign image of Americans. I am incredibly stubborn and highly reluctant to admit defeat or worst of all; that I’m wrong. That being said, I do really enjoy debating heated topics so by all means engage in conversation with me if you meet me at a party or whatnot.

Describing someone adequately in 500 words is somewhat of a challenge, so naturally I’m leaving a lot out. If anyone reading this would like to know more feel free to say hi, making new friends is always fun. If you could use someone to join to go see a movie, a concert or pretty much anything fun, I’m most likely your man.

Queue slow strings while I wave goodbye in ultra-widescreen B&W slow motion, fading to black, my figure disappearing into the distance.

FIN.

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