The other day I was relaxing with a cuppa in front of one of those current affairs type television shows – the ones where leading politicians and pundits analyze recent events and try to explain why we should all be interested. I was trying to follow as much as possible – legislative jargon is not my strongpoint in Icelandic – when the camera panned to the presenter posing the next question.
And then I heard it, coming from off-camera but clearly from one of the show’s famous guests.
If you’ve ever spent extended time on this little island, you know what I’m taking about: the nose thing. It’s that habit many, many people seem to have of clearing the deep recesses of their sinuses on a regular, public, and very vocal basis.
It’s the rumbling roar of phlegm, mucus and God knows what else being scraped from all orifices of the head and then, just when you are expecting a huge wad of something germ-filled to be expectorated from the mouth, it’s the sound of it getting gulped down into the lungs or chest cavity of the offender, to sit in wait until it is loudly dredged up again. Seem disgusting? Try listening to it – often.
But lots of people do it. Politicians do it. Children do it. Businesspeople do it. They snneerkkk at work, at dinner parties and, apparently, on live television.
We immigrants to this country enjoy rolling our eyes at each other when we hear this rumbling roar, especially when it happens during formal occasions and when no one else in the vicinity seems to blink an eye.
And I’m sure I have some personal habits that I unknowingly inflict upon the Icelandic population that don’t irk me or my compatriots in the slightest. (I know, for example, that my step-daughter can’t believe I am so gauche as to leave the top lid of the toilet seat up on occasion.) But snerrkking trumps a minor bathroom faux pas.
Maybe all this sinus-clearing goes along with the informality of Icelandic society – the nation is refreshingly free of pretence and protocol. That’s why we get to call everyone by their first name.
But the other side of the coin is that less pomp surrounds occasions when other cultures might have expected it. I have met very few Icelanders who know how to properly hold a knife and fork. I have met several who think nothing of burping loudly in public. Even the word “please” does not really exist in a commonly-used form in Icelandic. In fact, where I volunteer at a local Red Cross shop, it is perhaps considered blunt, but certainly not impolite, for customers to approach me with a simple: “Listen. Let me have a Coke.”
It is not my intention to come across as utterly Victorian here. Casual Iceland is the best kind of Iceland, as far as I’m concerned. It’s just a shame that it comes with nasal snerking.
ER – [email protected]