Even in a country where 99.5% of the population speaks English, there will be a language barrier if you don't know the native language.
Sure, you can easily visit Iceland, take tours with English-speaking guides, and hang out in downtown Reykjavik without knowing a single word in Icelandic. I did the same thing when I visited as a tourist a year ago. I made no attempt to even learn the local greetings and only once encountered someone who didn't speak English (late at night at a hole-in-the-wall gas station when I needed change for a bus ticket.)
Living and working in a different country, however, completely changes the scenario. In the suburbs, where there are virtually no tourists, everyone simply assumes you are Icelandic and starts speaking to you in Icelandic, until you a) reply back in English, b) stare blankly, or c) recite the phrase I wrote below.
It's interesting sitting in a room full of people speaking Icelandic and suddenly hearing English and realizing that you're being addressed!
As I said, most people do speak English. That, however, does not include some of my tiny skaters who've not reached the age that English courses begin in school. Occasionally, there is an eight-year-old who is bilingual enough to translate. Other times I speak to them in English, they speak to me in Icelandic, and I just demonstrate the same thing over and over. There was one day I did about fifty single toe loops because I couldn't get my explanation across in words!
I just joined a gym and took my first fitness class there. I never realized how much instructors talked in classes until taking one in Icelandic and only knowing the words for "again," "come," and "three, two, one." Now I know how the little skaters feel when I try to teach them to skate in English!
Also, grocery shopping is an interesting experience because many products are imported from all over Europe, especially Scandinavian countries. A lot of times, there will just be the Norwegian or Finnish or Swedish or Danish (or all four!) on the packaging, which only confuses me (and Google translate) even more!
It's all part of the adventure and I'm starting to take Icelandic classes next week and will keep you updated with my progress!
Hi, I’m Crystal! I love to travel and am currently a graduate student in Scotland. You’ll get all the best tips and insights from my experiences as a former ice-skating coach in Iceland and former study abroad student. Of the 27 countries I have visited, a type 1 diabetes diagnosis has been the strangest land yet. Type 1 has not slowed down my travels and you'll learn how to take type 1 with you on the road! You can connect with me further on Instagram @CrystalChilcott, or send me ideas of where I should travel next via email: firstname.lastname@example.orgHappy Travels, Crystal
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