From Iceland — Locals Only

Locals Only

Published May 14, 2013

Locals Only
Parker Yamasaki

Iceland is full of sad children. Not on the streets, or in the restaurants, but on the walls. Since arriving in Iceland a week ago, I’ve walked into a number of places where I’ve been face to face with a beautifully painted portrait of a child—soft, delicate and crying. The streets of Reykjavík are filled with these unexplained trends. When my editor told me that she’d be sending me to a show at Harpa titled ‘How to Become Icelandic in 60 Minutes,’ I was thrilled! Perhaps I would begin, sooner than most, to understand some of these Icelandic peculiarities.

By the end of the introduction, it was clear that Bjarni Haukur Thorsson, the lead comedian of the night, was not here to reconcile my curiosity. In fact, he was here to expand it by pointing out and poking fun at the unique being that is the Icelander. Of course he was not unwilling to take down plenty of other nationalities along the way.

Bjarni began with an all-inclusive greeting that made everybody in the audience hyper-aware of their racial roots. “Any Greeks in the audience?” he asked. No one raised their hand. “Yes, not a good time to travel, eh?” And the ice was broken, the tone was set. He greeted the Danes, the Americans, the English, and the Germans. “You probably planned this trip a decade ago!” he called out at the lone German audience member in an impeccable German accent: “Must! Be! Organized!” “Any Italians?” he continued. A holler came from the dark. “Yes, you probably planned this trip yesterday. Whyy nott?” he let out in a perfect Italian slur. He had something for everyone, and made sure each member was properly belittled before the show began. He ended with the Icelanders, of course, who held a strong majority in the crowd, and then launched into it.

Lesson by lesson Bjarni wove together the hysterical (and tragically accurate) Icelandic native. Some of my favourites included lesson #6: Give general directions. It’s always “over there,” he said, sweeping his hand through the air over his head. And lesson #8: Be able to pronounce ‘Eyjafjallajökull’ (which admittedly took me a couple of tries). One of the more obscure lessons was #4: Talk like you’re dead. This lesson was surprising to me, as I’ve always thought the Icelandic accent was whimsical and delicious, kind of like ice cream.

He was a funny man, and a brilliant impersonator. No nationality in the audience was safe from his brutal yet playful humour. But it was the Icelanders themselves that let out the heaviest laughs throughout the show, demonstrating the Icelandic attitude which I had been familiarised with before coming to the country: resilient, optimistic, and not taking themselves too seriously.  It was this attitude that he acknowledged with show’s closing montage of Iceland’s natural wonders, and one final lesson: “Þetta reddast!” (“It’ll work out!”)

All in all, it was worth 60 minutes of my time. That being said, none of my questions were answered. In fact, I think that I left with even more. Like, who taught the Icelandic horse to tölt? If they’re going to eat the balls, why don’t they bother cooking them? And with so much to laugh about, why are all of the children so sad?

If you’re in Iceland and feel like you could benefit from a few more lessons, check out Harpa’s website for future showings and ticket information:

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