Summer is coming!

I just looked out the window, and it's not completely dark yet. The sun is below the horizon but there's still an orange glow. The time is twenty past eleven in the evening. It hasn't snowed for a few days. On Friday I'll be finished with all my final assessments for university. Summer is most certainly on its way!

Election night

Don't trust this man.
Iceland has a new government. Unfortunately it will probably be headed by the lizard queen himself. The voting was on Saturday but since Iceland has proportional representation, I suppose they're taking a few days to work out the coalition. Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn got most of the votes though, and then Framsókn. The left took a massive beating in this election. In good news, though, the Pirates got three þingmenn!

It seems having experienced an election using this voting system, I now understand proportional representation. It's definitely cool that your vote actually counts so much more under this system. My friends can vote for the Pirate Party, a party that ended up with around 5% of the vote, and they didn't throw those votes away, they're actually represented in the new government. It would be a miracle if that happened in the UK, the voting system just doesn't allow for it.

The only trouble then is that you've got a coalition government, which is generally less efficient than a majority government for obvious reasons. But overall I think I'm coming round to the idea of proportional representation. I'm not sure whether it would work in Britain - it would radically change the political landscape, that's for sure. The Liberal Democrats and the Green Party would be a much stronger presence. Unfortunately it would also offer the best chance for less desirable fringe parties to get people into parliament (BNP, UKIP). It's tricky. 

Edit: Apparently the new Prime Minister will actually be Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, leader of Framsókn and not Bjarni Benediktsson. I am not sure how they worked this out, since it seems like both parties will have the same number of seats in the Alþingi.

Spring and politics

April is here and I think winter is well on the way out. It did snow just a little yesterday, but we've had some very warm and pleasant days recently also. I am busy working on various final projects at university, doing a little paid translation as well, and following the run-up to the elections here. 

Some of my friends and acquaintances are actually on the lists this election, for the Icelandic Pirate Party, which was doing rather well but has been having a little PR trouble recently. I don't really follow Icelandic politics too closely, but elections are always exciting even if you can't vote in them. So I've been getting to know the different parties a little. So far I have ascertained that Bjarni Ben is probably some sort of space lizard, and I will certainly never be voting for Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn if I ever become an actual Icelandic citizen. I don't know who I would vote for if I did have a vote for this one, probably the Pirates or Vinstri Grænir... but I haven't actually done the research. Luckily I don't have to worry too much about it; as a disenfranchised útlendingur I am no more than an observer with no moral duty to make an informed decision.

Esja II

The weather was good today! Sunshine for the first time in ages and a balmy 5°. So we went to climb Esja, which was much more snowy than the last time I went up. We didn't nenn all the way to the top, because of the snow and the wind, but we made it to Steinn. Here are some lovely pictures:

Photo face at the bottom.
Me on Steinn.
Mountains, Gandalf.

A couple of misconceptions regarding Icelandic folklore

So after having lived here a while and seen a variety of stuff catering to the tourist market (fun facts about Iceland and suchlike), a couple of things are particularly starting to stand out as bollocks.

Firstly, you may well have been told that there are "thirteen Santa Clauses" in Iceland. There are precisely no Santa Clauses in Iceland. What is interesting is that Iceland has maintained a rather different (although admittedly obviously related) folk tradition. The jólasveinar, or Yule Lads if you like, are indeed thirteen, and they do come and leave presents for children. But they do not live at the North Pole in a magical toy workshop staffed by elves or travel around on a magic sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, so not really sure why people would say that they are multiple Father Christmases. They are supposedly the mischievous sons of Grýla, a monstrous troll woman who lives in the mountains and carries off naughty children in a sack (although parents tend not to threaten their children in this manner these days). Each of the thirteen days leading up to Christmas, one of the Yule Lads comes down from the mountains and leaves a little present in children's shoes. This sounds like it must be an absolute pain for Icelandic parents, although probably no more a pain than doing a Christmas stocking. They all have names like Spoon-Licker and Door-Slammer and each is supposed to make mischief and trouble according to his name, although I don't think this features much in how people actually behave at Christmas, I think it's mostly about the presents. In the thirteen days after Christmas they leave again, one by one. Nowadays you will see people dressed in red and white with the beard and everything, who are supposed to be jólasveinar, and I think it's a bit sad that this old Icelandic folklore is being morphed into the Anglo-American traditions.

You may also have heard that Icelanders believe in elves. I won't lie, I was hoping that this would be true. But it really isn't, although it probably was in the 19th century. I have not met a single modern Icelander who professes to believe in elves. Of course there are mentallers in every country, so you can find a few in the media, but you'd probably find plenty of people in every country who believed in elves if you did some sort of survey. Elves are an interesting part of Icelandic folklore, but people don't really believe in folklore these days any more than we do in Britain. Incidentally, they are nothing like the Tolkien elves. They are just like normal, middle-class 19th-century (since that is when they first appeared in illustrations, that's the only reason) farming folk, except they are usually invisible and live in rocks. 


This morning, noting with relief that yesterday's insane blizzard had entirely abated, not even leaving that much snow on the ground, I checked Oh, thank god it's warmed up again, I thought. It's 2°. 

I can remember a time when I thought that 4° was intolerably cold. Although I suppose everything's relative. When you've spent the past three days at -6°, battling through an icy wind that gets through all your clothes and makes it feel more like -12°, and you opened the curtains yesterday, but it didn't work because they were completely coated in ice and snow, I think it's understandable if 2° and not much wind is starting to look pretty cosy. Go away, winter!

Universities in Britain and Iceland

I've only been to one university in Britain (University of Sheffield), and only one in Iceland (Háskóli Íslands), so perhaps this won't actually all be valid, but here are a few differences between tertiary education in these countries in my experience:

1. It costs practically nothing to go to university in Iceland, whereas in Britain it costs an awful lot. In Britain you will definitely finish in debt, whereas in Iceland you can pretty much pay for your studies yourself with a part-time job.

2. Anybody can go to university in Iceland. If you managed to finish menntaskóli, apply and you pay the 60,000 kr., you've basically got a place. No UCAS forms, interviews, conditional offers... Much more egalitarian. Then once you're in university, you can try out a few courses, switch departments, whatever - it's incredibly relaxed. 

3. To a certain extent, however, you get what you pay for. Basically all UK universities, to my knowledge, offer their students access to online academic publications. J-Stor or whatever, you can log on via your university and read thousands of journals and articles. Here at HÍ... nope. You have free access to any thesis written by a past HÍ student, but no J-Stor. You actually have to pay for access yourself or see if it's there in paper form in the library (probably not).

4. Here, essay or project length is measured in pages, which is clearly ridiculous. Sometimes formatting instructions are part of the requirements, but sometimes not. Which obviously means that you have a fair amount of leeway with regards to length. In Britain, essay-length is quite rightly measured in words. Because, obviously.

5. The grading system can take some getting used to. To me, coming from a UK humanities department, 70 is excellent, 80 is ridiculously good, anything above that is pretty much impossible. Here, 7 (they do it out of 10 rather than 100) is quite good, 9 is excellent, 10 is ridiculously good but very much possible. This is bizarre to me. How can any work done in the humanities be "perfect"? Maybe it is a little silly to have grades that are never used and exist only as a sort of artificial space to remind you that perfection is unattainable.

6. Hardly any seminars. At Sheffield our contact hours were 50% lectures, 50% seminars, in which you would discuss what you had learned in the lecture, plus additional reading. I took some modules that were only seminars, never any modules that were only lectures. Here a lot of modules are only lectures. Which doesn't seem like a very good approach, to be honest. You don't learn so much just by sitting there listening to a lecture as you do by actually engaging yourself in an discussion of the topic. Mind you, lectures are certainly a lot easier, and I am quite lazy, so swings and roundabouts.

P.S. It's worth noting that there are universities in Iceland that charge tuition fees (Háskóli í Reykjavík does). Apparently they have fancier technical equipment and are more rigorous. Maybe students there even get online journal access.