Lately in some of the Icelandic news media, there has been some discussion of the difficulties of learning Icelandic (note: now is not the time to point out the famous person who learned it in a week). Not only is it difficult to pronounce, as two ll's together make a "dk" sound or an Hv makes a 'kw' sound, but with the declensions? Even those who have studied for years can have difficulties writing as endings change due to their location in the sentence. One word can have twenty different meanings, all dependent on the ending.
While I did not necessarily 'give up' learning Icelandic, over the past 1.5 years, I did not stress myself as much. I have continued to learn and figure out more vocabulary, but passively rather than aggressively tackling the books each night. I have scared myself at times suddenly understanding things that I didn't think I deserved (for lack of study) to comprehend.
Another impediment to my language learning and an oft-discussed topic among expats here attempting to learn Icelandic: if you don't speak it perfectly the first time, the conversation is immediately switched over to English, no ifs, ands or buts. Given this, it is often not easier to even start, unless you are say, at the Subway ordering your kalkun og beikon sub med sosa.
Or you can do what I do and just nod a lot if you aren't quite sure what is being said, and then accidentally answer in English. Well, I did that the other day at the National Gallery while making a purchase. Yikes, I must be a tourist.
So, despite the fact I made no mention of being a tourist, was dressed in my requisite black outfit, black mocs (not sneakers), and did not grin or chat about the weather, you can bet what happened ....
The clerk offered me a tax back form. Yes, if we could claim taxes in this way it would be fabulous. Our system is much more complicated, much longer and I probably should not say much more. However, I can't claim the taxes and more to the point, live here and pay taxes on purchases just like everyone else.
And what do I get for it? Someone assuming that I am here on vacation based solely on the fact I spoke English. Never mind it is actually one of the languages taught in all schools here or that there is actually quite a large expat community (overall) and many of them use English as a common communication tool. Nope, you speak English and you are a tourist.
I don't know why this offends me so much except that
- I am not eligible for said tax back
- Most of the time I try to use Icelandic, the conversation is switched to English
- It really negates your sense of belonging to a place to be pegged as a tourist only on your method of communication
Before the woman could even speak, I made it clear that we do in fact live here and cannot use the tax back form. She stared open-mouthed as I walked off. Now, I realize this may seem rude to some, however, I think the woman was surprised, but not offended. And, perhaps, just perhaps, next time she will think twice before whipping out the tax form to the next hapless expat who simply hasn't had the time to master the millions of endings in short stay.
What will that do? Well, perhaps it will cement their sense of connection to a country that is currently their home, whether it be for another year or, say, another six weeks or so. Which reminds me, time to stress out about moving now!