From Iceland — The Politeness of Icelanders

The Politeness of Icelanders

Published August 20, 2004

The Politeness of Icelanders

Come on, we’ve all bitched about it – polite mannerisms are relativity unheard of here. But another surprisingly polite saying is ‘takk fyrir síðast’ which directly translated means ‘thanks for the last time’. It’s used when meeting a friend one has partied/dined/gone out with recently. What you are saying is ‘thank you for the last time we were together’. I had only been in Iceland for a few days when this was said to me. A cute guy with a huge smile walked up to me and said in English “thanks for the last time”. I couldn’t believe my ears “I think you have mistaken me for someone else.” I answered. What was it exactly this guy thanking me for? Yet he carried on unperturbed, “No no, at Jóna’s the other night.” I did remember meeting him there, but nothing had gone on between us. The audacity! High-pitched and frantic I retorted with “I don’t know what you are talking about, it wasn’t ME!” He seemed bewildered, his smile had faded. “Haaaa” he said before walking away. Off I strode to my Icelandic girlfriend to explain how my reputation was in jeopardy. She, needless to say, found it very amusing.

Are sayings and proverbs fading out? Are they being replaced by smiley faced icons and abbreviated phone messages? I tend to avoid using them, but Icelanders probably use them all the time and it’s my ignorance that is turning a deaf ear to these sayings. That could be the answer to why I’m having such a difficult time conversing in Icelandic – it’s these confusing sayings that are blocking my way.

Here are some examples why that could be true:

The raisin at the end of the hot-dog = Rúsínan í pylsuendanum. (the icing on the cake)
I measure one-pulled with it = Ég mæli eindregið með því. (meaning “I solely recommend”)
Now there won’t do any mitten-takes = Nú duga engin vettlingatök. (meaning: now we are going to do it properly, basically: if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well)
I come completely from mountains = Ég kem alveg af fjöllum. (not understanding something)
Thank you for the warm words into my garden = Þakka þér fyrir hlý orð í minn garð. (“my garden” is actually oneself, so it means: thank you for the kind words on my behalf)
Everything goes on the back-legs = Það gengur allt á afturfótunum. (things aren´t going according to plan)
It lies in the eyes upstairs = Það liggur í augum uppi. (meaning: it’s obvious)
He stood on the duck = Hann stóð á öndinni. (a breathtaking surprise)
And my favorite one:
Lose hair as you gain years = Fækkar hárum er fjölgar árum. (another way to say “grow old gracefully”)

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