(The following is a series of vignettes illustrating certain events that occurred or thoughts that I’ve had during my stay here, since, as I state in the first essay, I’m bad at connecting my thoughts in a fluid manner. All of these essays were written at different times and in a different order than presented here; in fact, the order is completely random, with stories spanning from early October to now, mid-December. Just don’t think too much about it.)
I’ve been asked to write journals more often, but I feel like if I did, they would be very short. I don’t really have a way of connecting the random things that are funny or interesting into a flowing narrative. I try to upload pictures to Facebook when I can, but it’s really difficult. How is it difficult, I’ve just pretended you’ve asked? Well, have you ever looked up at the sky at night and saw a velvety, inky-black canopy completely awash with silver clouds, glittering stars, and a moon so full and beautiful it’s like God Himself is smiling at you from the heavens? And then, when you try to take a picture of it to treasure for all eternity, you get a completely black photo with a few blurry pinpricks of light here and there? That’s how it’s difficult. The Faroe Islands’ beauty can’t be accurately represented by a photograph. It probably can’t be accurately represented by mere words either, but I’ll try, since there’s one scene that, no matter how many times I see it, is just too beautiful to not at least attempt to share.
Some might think I’m being ridiculous by saying this, but I can’t stop thinking about it. Even if it’s silly and I’m the only one who thinks it’s special, the scene still holds tremendous importance to me. I don’t know why. I really don’t know why. It just does.
In order to witness this scene, there have to be some very specific conditions in place. I’ve witnessed this scene only twice, very briefly, once while I was living in Argir and once more now that I’m living in Hoyvík. I’ll just go ahead and describe it so you can see what I mean.
Tórshavn is on the island of Streymoy, and across the water to the east is the island of Nólsoy. It’s not that big, with a population of less than 300 people, and most of the island is dominated by an incredibly steep mountain called Eggjarklettur. Since we’re approaching winter now, all the grass in the Faroes is yellowing. The sight of a deathly yellow tone all over the ground and people’s roofs was slightly depressing to me at first, until I saw what it could look like on Eggjarklettur.
When I was in Argir, I was walking down the street to buy a drink at the gas station, and that’s when I saw it for the first time. It was cloudy and raining slightly, and I had to keep my eyes carefully shielded by my hood so my mascara wouldn’t get smeared by the drizzle. I was focusing on my feet for most of the walk, but as I was nearing the station, I felt the rain stop and lifted my head. The clouds had parted to reveal the sun, but it wasn’t shining on Streymoy at all. All of the light was pointed at the mountain in Nólsoy.
The first thing I thought of was Mars, the planet: bright orange, streaked like marl, giving off a tremendous impression of distance and mystery. The yellow grass on the mountain was the same color as a pumpkin under the glaring late afternoon sun, and the water beneath the cliff was glittering like it was frothing with diamonds.
The smell of damp earth and fresh ocean air, the wind whistling in my ears, water dripping gently from the sky onto my hair, and the strangest sensation that I was just across the fjord from Mars… that’s what I felt that day. I had to stop walking completely to take it all in. I was wonderfully overwhelmed, but the moment passed before I could properly digest it. Beauty in the Faroe Islands isn’t hard to find, but true moments of perfection like this are frustratingly ephemeral, like the time I was on the mountain in Vestmanna and got to enjoy a view of the cliffs over the sea for about two seconds before being consumed by fog. The sun disappeared behind the clouds again, and all of Nólsoy turned dark and yellow once more. I stood there for a while longer, the orange light of the mountain stuck inside my eyelids as I tried to blink and clear my head. Slowly coming back to reality, I remembered my original goal, and strode off to abate my Red Bull addiction.
I was lucky enough to see Eggjarklettur in that state one more time.
Having moved to Hoyvík, I now take a different route to and from school. The busses that take this route drive along a ridge that gives the passengers a nice view of the fjord (called Nólsoyarfjørður. Don’t ask me to pronounce that) and Nólsoy itself. Since it’s been getting dark around four o’clock lately, the sun is always going down around the usual time I leave school. The clouds have been hanging low and dense, so I haven’t seen the sun at all as of late. But on this particular day, I did.
The bus is always packed with students when leaving school; you’re lucky if you can get on the bus at all. That day, I managed to clamber on and squish myself in amongst the horde of exhausted, chattering students, holding onto the bar by the door for dear life. The doors closed, almost clipping my backpack, and then the bus got us on our merry way. I shifted uncomfortably, trying to turn around while also trying not to hit people with my bag, so I could look out the window. I thoroughly enjoy bus rides when the vehicle isn’t packed, but it’s almost unbearable after school. Wedged tightly between an unwashed third-year and the door, I hugged the pole that kept me balanced and prayed the bus ride will be over soon, but as I gazed out the window, I suddenly felt time stop.
There it was again: Mars. Just as majestic and positively alien as it had been before. The setting sun broke through the clouds and turned the whole sky shades of blue and pink and silver. Nólsoy, with its little village and lofty mountain, looked like it was glowing. The ocean, which was white with sunlight and sea foam, beat itself relentlessly against the craggy rocks at the mountain’s base, sparkling with offending brightness, but I could have stared at it until I went blind — and for a moment, I thought I was going blind. My vision was getting blurry. Was I crying? I touched my face, confused, but my cheeks were dry. And that’s when I realized that I was getting dizzy because I hadn’t been breathing; subconsciously, I had been trying to avoid inhaling the essence of the smelly third-year behind me. I groped around for the edge of my jacket so I could hold it up to my face and hopefully prevent my imminent asphyxiation, and when I glanced up again, the sun was gone, and so was my personal Mars.
“Juliana,” I’ve just pretended you’ve said, “you always seem so happy about everything that’s happening on your exchange. Aren’t there ANY times when you feel down?” Wow, thanks, you hypothetical personification of my desire to complain. But in all honesty, yes, there are. It’s a difficult feeling to explain, because it’s not as acute as outright sadness, anger, loneliness, or fear, it’s just . . . nothing. It’s not the kind of nothing where it’s just the absence of a something, but the kind of nothing where the nothing IS the something. There are just some days when I feel a nothing stuck in my heart like a splinter. I get up and think nothing, go to school and do nothing, and get home and feel nothing. Sometimes the feeling of the nothing digging into my heart and rubbing the surface of my soul is so chafing that I feel like crying, or else just dropping everything and falling into a coma for a few days. The nothing is hard to get rid of, and it’s exhausting to have. It pulls my heart down and makes it hard to walk with my head held high. Exactly what gets rid of it is unclear, but taking a nap, chatting aimlessly with someone, or even just encountering a random friendly animal chisels away at the nothing, bit by bit, until it crumbles away. I don’t know where it comes from, where it goes, or how it comes back, but when I wake up in the morning and feel it in my chest, I don’t let it stay there. I vow to make my heart full of something by the end of the day.
One of my fondest memories of this year was the first English class we had after Halloween. A few people, including myself, had brought in some pumpkins, and we were planning to carve them after we were done watching the movie we were “studying,” Inglourious Basterds. For those of you unfamiliar with this movie, Inglourious Basterds is a World War II movie that's idea of subtlety is showing a two-meter-tall Jewish man beat Nazi officers to death with a baseball bat on screen. Other precious moments free of discretion shots are fresh corpses being scalped, swastikas being carved into very-much-alive people’s foreheads, and Hitler being shot in the face repeatedly, amongst other things. You get the idea.
Why did we watch this movie in English class? Because it was set during the time when the Nazis were occupying France, and our class is going to Paris in the spring (sans me, because, unfortunately, money laundering for fun and profit is illegal). That’s the best connection I could make, and I’m like the fourth-best English-speaker in that class.
Anyway, as I’m sitting there trying to pretend I can’t hear the sounds of some poor woman being tortured on screen, I’m looking around at my classmates. They’re sprawled on the floor, or playing Candy Crush on their laptops, or asleep; they’re not even phased by the cinematographic masterpiece of splattered blood and human giblets in front of their eyes. I’m mildly impressed by their grit, wishing I, too, could not squeal in horror as people are blown to smithereens before my very eyes, no detail spared in editing, but alas, I guess I’ve always been more partial to psychological torture.
Aaaaanyway, once the movie was over, class was almost done, and Sharon (the teacher) asked me to demonstrate quickly how to carve a pumpkin for the class. So I took up a carving knife and chunked it into the pumpkin’s flesh, and as I started sawing away, I heard small gasps and groans from the people nearby. When I pried off the pumpkin’s lid, I even heard an, “Eww!” And this is why this is my favorite memory so far.
My classmates — those same boys and girls who were either laughing at the ludicrous violence of the movie, or else sleeping blissfully through it — were pulling faces and telling me how they couldn’t even believe I was TOUCHING the inside of a pumpkin — because pumpkin guts are GROSS.
The Faroe Islands. Home of the grindadráp. Home of the everyone-owns-sheep-and-slaughters-them-every-autumn. Home of seeds-are-gross, apparently.
I love my class. I couldn’t have asked for better people to spend my year with.
A few days after its premiere, Katrin (my classmate) and I went to see the third Hunger Games movie at the movie theatre. It was my first time watching a movie in this theatre, and I was very excited to see what a different culture’s movie-going experience was like. I love going to the theatre, and the prospect of getting to see how other people from across the globe enjoy the same thing as I do made me extremely happy.
Katrin got the tickets ahead of time so we could head in without delay.
First things first: ASSIGNED SEATS. Second thing: INTERMISSION IN THE MIDDLE OF THE MOVIE SO YOU CAN GO BUY MORE JUNK FOOD. Okay, moving on.
Upon entering the cinema, I already could see the biggest difference between Faroese and American theaters; there were kids everywhere, most of them probably no older than twelve or thirteen, and they weren’t accompanied by adults. They were running around everywhere, talking loudly and screeching randomly. Seeing their unbridled behavior sent a wave of foreboding sweeping over me.
We bought our candy and stood around waiting for the doors to open. I people-watched as we did, spying some young girls huddled in a corner, kicking the door to the shop repeatedly and laughing when it hit someone, apologizing with gleeful expressions on their wicked little faces. I felt my heart sink. What dimension of cosmic horror had I wandered into?
We entered the cinema. All of the seats were taken in a matter of moments. The previews came on, some of them in Faroese, some of them in English with Faroese subtitles. I watched them in rapture. Just as I was forgetting about the little beasts in the snack shop, Katrin whispered to me, “My hair smells like popcorn.”
I turned to her. “What? Why?”
“Someone behind us is throwing popcorn and some landed in my hair.”
I twisted around in my seat. Three rows back and slightly to our left were two young girls, maybe ten or eleven years old, tossing popcorn into the crowd below for no other reason than, I expect, to be annoying. I felt something in the pit of my stomach come to a boil. Where was their etiquette? In an American theater, if a child was throwing popcorn and their supervisor wasn’t doing anything to stop it, you could rest assured that SOMEBODY was going to get up and either chew them out or throw them bodily from the theatre. No one seemed to be filling this role now. I was suddenly depressed.
The cinema was no longer the sacred Hollywood-viewing ground I recalled it to be.
Fine. If that was the way it was going to be, then I’d just have to be the necessary evil. I was too far away to scold them, so I had to come up with some other method to get them to stop. Katrin saw the look in my eye and said warningly, “Juliana, no,” but I ignored her. I was just about to throw a Lion bar at one of the little twerps, not into her face but maybe her jugular or pancreas, when Katrin put her hand on my arm and said, “Juliana, you’re a grown woman. She’s like eleven. Are you really going to stoop to her level?”
In an instant, my head cooled. I immediately understood what she was trying to tell me. The theater-defiler was just a child, and I was a fully-fledged adult. I felt ashamed that I was about to retaliate and be just as bad as her.
So I vowed to bring some Anthon Berg chocolates with me next time, so I could pelt any unholy little brat that crossed my path with chocolate-coated retribution like a proper, sophisticated young lady.
My new host dad, Egon, came and picked me up from tutoring one night. My new host parents always speak to me in Faroese unless I ask for a translation, and I always try to speak Faroese in response. I almost always get it completely wrong, and the rest of the time I still get it wrong only slightly less so, but still, I was improving. As we drove home, we passed by SMS (the mall), and I noticed they had their Christmas lights up. I decided to point them out in Faroese.
Egon looked confused. “Jólaljós?”
“Ja, jólaljós!” I pointed toward SMS, and in a moment he understood. He laughed and said, “Oh, you mean, ‘jólaljós!’” Turns out I was pronouncing it wrong.
(How you’re supposed to pronounce it: Yo-lah-l’yo-ss. How I was pronouncing it: Yule-ay-l’yo-ss.)
“Yes, that’s what I meant,” I said, with great dignity in my voice. Egon laughed again and the car went silent for a moment. Then he said suddenly, “Rannvá ger døgurða,” which means, “Rannvá is making dinner.”
I contemplated his words, then said hesitantly, “Døgurða?”
Egon nodded. “Ja. Døgurða.”
I asked him what that meant: “Hvat merkir hatta?”
Egon stared at me blankly. “Døgurða means ‘dinner’.”
I stared right back. “What? Really?”
“Yes. You knew the word for ‘Christmas lights’ but not for ‘dinner’?” I shrugged, and he continued, “But dinner is every day!”
When I told my host mom a little later, she also said, “But dinner is every day!” This turned out to be prophetic of my future endeavors in Faroese.
Eg havi málkunnleiki!
—The Old Woman
I actually forgot about this woman until Katrin came into class one day and started relating the events of her morning to Guðrun. She spoke Faroese the whole time, but concluded her story by spitting the words, “Crazy elders,” in English with a contemptuous voice.
Interested, I asked her who she was talking about. She told me that there was an old woman who frequently rode the same bus as her in the morning. This old woman had the habit of staring at any person under the age of twenty-five like she was trying to set them on fire with her mind. She wouldn’t even try to hide it, either. On this morning, Katrin and Anja had the distinct displeasure of having to sit next to her — like, literally right next to her — and she still openly glared at them for almost the entire bus ride.
As Katrin was telling me all this, a memory suddenly stirred in the back of my mind. I had the very strong impression that I had also had an encounter with this woman. I asked Katrin what she looked like, and as she described her, the memory returned to me.
It was about a month ago. I got on Bus #1 to go to tutoring as I always did, noticing that the bus was unusually full. The only seat that wouldn’t require sitting next to a complete stranger (an act abhorred by most Faroese people, as well as myself) was in a row that faced the front, with a row that faced the rear right in front of it, so that the people sitting in these seats would have to look at each other. I sat down facing the front, and in the rear-facing seat diagonal from me sat an elderly woman.
I wondered immediately if I had accidentally stepped on her foot or smacked her with my bag or something on the way to my seat, because she wouldn’t stop stealing unsubtle, prolonged glances at me with eyes full of unmasked loathing. She didn’t say a word, but I wished she would; listening to her yell Faroese obscenities at me would have been preferable to the feeling of her eyes attempting to telekinetically bore a hole into my skull. Half of the ride went by with me wondering desperately if I had somehow wronged this old woman in some horrid fashion when I suddenly got a call from my host mom. I picked it up.
“Hey, I’m on the bus. Can I call you back in a few minutes?”
She agreed, and I hung up. I noticed, out of the very corner of my eye, that the old woman had shifted to lean back in her seat, so I decided to take a quick glance at her just in case this meant she had decided to stop having a one-way staring contest with the side of my head.
Oh, no, she wasn’t quite done yet, though the expression on her face had changed dramatically. Judging by the look on her face, the devil himself had just burst from the floor of the bus and taken the seat diagonal to her — a look as if she was totally mortified, but also couldn’t quite believe what she was looking at. I was completely bewildered. What was wrong with this woman? Curious as to what she would do next, I stared right back at her, keeping my face blank. She didn’t look away, but her expression slowly and smoothly changed from some form of abstract horror to something more neutral. Catalepsy, maybe?
The bus shuddered to a halt and opened the doors for the new passengers. The woman briskly gathered up her belongings from the seat next to her, but instead of getting off the bus, she simply moved to another seat, her back to me. I stared at the back of her head in disbelief. Was she really, seriously afraid of me ….. because I was speaking English?
……I had “American Woman” by The Guess Who stuck in my head for the rest of the day.
Halloween isn’t quite a thing in the Faroe Islands, though apparently it’s been becoming more popular amongst the young people over the years. There is no trick-or-treating, but a few bold young adults might put on a costume, or at least some kind of special effect, just for the occasion.
Faroese children actually do something akin to trick-or-treating on Føstulávint, known in English as Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday, the day before the start of lent. They go door-to-door and ask for candy, though sometimes they get money or fruit, which they condemn. That has nothing to do with what I’m talking about, though.
So on Halloween, I dressed the same as I always did (because rain), but I tied up my hair so people could see the design I drew on my face with an eyebrow pencil. It was simple, just some curlicues and little flecks and dots, but it was enough to make people gawk on the bus and in the school hallways. Sure, some Faroese people dress up for Halloween, but apparently they do not do so to go to school.
Only one other person, as far as I could see, put on any sort of effect for Halloween. (Hi, Katrin.) Everyone else asked why I had drawn on my face, and when I told them it was Halloween, they replied, “Was that today?”
I was feeling a little bit put out — Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, even more important to me than Christmas or my own birthday — until Katrin (who was dressed as a goth) told me that the nightclub Rex was letting people who were dressed up into the club for free the next day. Clubbing is a quintessential activity in the lifestyle of a Faroese teen, so I was eager to participate. I told my friend Nadine, an au pair from Germany, about it, and we went shopping for more complex costumes the next morning.
Nadine and I decided to go as a pair with an angel/devil theme. You can probably already guess which one I was, but I’ll tell you anyway that I got some nice, cheap black horns and black wings from a small costume shop hidden away in a back alley. Nadine embellished her own costume a bit by painting her face like a candy skull, and I drew some cracks on my face like a shattered porcelain doll (they turned out looking more like tear tracks, but oh well), and Katrin added some vampire fangs and cat ears to her goth ensemble, so when the three of us showed up at Rex, there was debate on what we were supposed to be, but no one doubted we were in costume. Nadine was worried that we would be the only ones dressed up, but we were pleasantly surprised to come upon a whole club full of people in well-done and clever costumes, from Trojan soldiers to zombies to superheroes to scantily-clad policewomen to some random guy in a Pikachu pajama onesie.
You had to be eighteen years old to get inside. I was quite amused when the security guard stared at the date on my ID for a good three minutes before letting me in. I tried helping him along by saying, “Just a hint, there is no 23rd month,” but he ignored me.
Once inside, we danced for nearly four hours. The DJ played such timeless classics as Anaconda, Talk Dirty to Me, Wiggle, and Blurred Lines while an old (and bad) horror movie I’d never seen before played on the overhead screens. It was a bizarre experience, but it was fun. I’ve never been to a club in the U.S. — I’d had only two weeks of being eighteen before leaving on my exchange, after all — so I can’t compare any experiences, but even so… well, again, it was fun. I don’t have much more to say about it.
After dancing until we almost collapsed, we ate some pizza and went home. It was probably the best Halloween I’ve ever had.
SOMEONE WANNA EXPLAIN TO ME HOW FAROESE PEOPLE CAN EAT THE FLESH OFF A BOILED SHEEP'S FACE BUT REFUSE TO EAT THE SKIN OF A POTATO.
Faroese high-schoolers get a grade report three times a year. Their grading scale goes from 12 to -2, with 12 being “awesome,” 7 being “average,” 4 being, “you put in the minimal effort,” 2 being, “you’re an idiot and you don’t care,” and 00 and -2 being, “I personally hate you.” Getting a 00 or -2 is like getting an F- — a simple F (a 2) would have sufficed, but the negative is there just to make you feel really, REALLY dumb.
Seeing how I rarely do anything pertaining to regular classwork in class, I already had a feeling I wasn’t the model Faroese student. Still, I show up to class, participate in group projects, and write essays, so I expected to get at least a 4 in everything. My expectations were not met.
See, I actually did get at least a 4 in everything — except math. In math, I got a 00. I stared at the mark, puzzled. Since the “minimal effort” required to get a 4 means “at least showing up to class,” I really didn’t understand how I could have gotten less than that unless I had said something immensely dumb that had somehow brought down the class’ collective IQ, which I didn’t think I’d had. I showed the mark to my classmate, who shrugged and said, “I guess the teacher just hates you.”
WELL THAT’S COMFORTING.
Anyway, each subject gets two grades, one for written assignments and one for presentations. I somehow got two 7’s in Faroese, even though my Faroese teacher told me (several times) that my essays written in my new language were mind-numbingly terrible due to non-conjugated verbs and repeatedly referring to female and neuter objects with male adjectives. (Please keep in mind that this was my Faroese teacher, not my Faroese TUTOR, who said this. My tutor is awesome.) Religion and History only had grades for written, and they were 4 and 7, respectively. I got a 4 for written and a 10 for presentation in Political Science, a N/A in Spanish, and two 7’s in art. I was perplexed as to how a teacher could grade someone’s artwork as “average,” but then I supposed she perceived my misunderstanding of the directions as lack of attention or effort.
English. I love English class. Of course, English is the only class I can use to prove that I’m only half as stupid as I look, so I always put in some extra effort when doing English assignments. After I got got my first essay back with a 12 scribbled in the corner, I felt pretty confident that that effort was going to pay off.
I did indeed get a 12 in written English. But I got a 10 in presentation.
I knew it wasn’t because the teacher was being mean — Sharon is one of the nicest people on this planet. Sure, she’s tough, but she’s fair, and she cares a lot about us. Just a few days ago, she noticed that one of her students wasn’t eating lunch, and when he told her he hadn’t brought anything and had no money to buy something, she tried to force her own meal ticket on him. She cares that much.
So I sat there for a few minutes, putting my brain through the wringer to try to figure out what I could have done wrong on a presentation to dock me two whole grades. Katrin, who has perfect English, was sitting next to me, so I asked to see her grades, and she too got a 12 and a 10. It was quite the ponderous situation, but in the end, I forgot to ask Sharon why and it quickly escaped my mind altogether.
And so, on a scale of -2 to 12, my total average was 6.3. I’m lucky my grades here won’t count for anything back home.
— The Homeless Men [Subtitle: In Which I’m Too Polite for My Own Good (Sub-subtitle: I’m Thankful That I Can Say the Worst Experience of My Exchange Was Something Only as Bad as This)]
The downtown bus stop, called Steinatún, is near a homeless shelter of sorts. It provides a place to sleep for the night, and during the day, its inhabitants walk to Steinatún and take a seat on the benches, where they smoke, drink, and chat merrily with the people waiting for their buses. They’re harmless — most of the time, though of the times they’re not, I’ve only heard stories — but they can get rather loud and… intrusive.
One day, some time ago, Katrin and I were standing at the bus stop and speaking in English when a man approached us. His clothes were noticeably clean, if only because his face and hair were exceptionally dirty. He had very long, curly, grizzled hair on his head and face, and his eyes were crinkled with a permanent smile. He looked positively jolly, like some kind of trailer park Santa Claus.
I was examining the bus schedule, remarking to Katrin when I supposed I would be going (at this point, I still couldn’t read the schedule very well), when I turned slightly and noticed this man standing next to me, looking at me. I quickly backed up, and his smile widened in a friendly way. He spoke to us in surprisingly good, if somewhat alcohol-slurred, English.
“Where are you from?” he asked us. Katrin’s English is absolutely flawless, so he definitely thought she was a foreigner as well.
“I’m from the U.S.,” I told him. “She’s from here.”
“I see,” he said, looking very interested. “Why are you here?”
“I’m an exchange student.”
“How long have you been here?”
I told him. If I’m recalling correctly, it was around two months or so, at the time.
“I see!” he said again. “Welcome to the Faroe Islands!” He offered me his hand, which was covered in dry dirt, and I shook it warily.
Then, he began to talk — or, more accurately, ramble. It was hard to follow his train of thought as he jumped from one thing to another: from U.S. politics to American talk shows, from American tourists he’d met to Faroese social issues. He told me a joke about Florida that he’d heard on The Daily Show — which I won’t repeat since it’s kind of inappropriate, but sort of funny — and at this point I realized he was a nice enough guy. He was just… weird. Really weird.
About a month passed. I had just gotten off the bus at Steinatún and was waiting for the one for Argir when I noticed this same man walking nearby, a plastic cup of beer in his hand. I quickly put my head down; while I wasn’t threatened by him, I still didn’t particularly want to listen to him babble for twenty minutes before my bus came. As I was flipping through the apps on my phone with my head still down, my eyes caught a pair of shoes walk near me and then stop. I kept scrolling, pretending to be distracted, but they still stood there, facing my direction. I didn’t want him tapping me on the shoulder — the dirty hand I had to shake last time floated into my mind — so I glanced up for a half-second.
A half-second was all it took; he caught my gaze and widened his smile. I noticed he was wearing the exact same clothes he had been wearing before: a leather jacket over a navy blue t-shirt, plus blue jeans and sandals. His curly hair clung to his face from the rain. I decided to brush him off, but I realized too late that there was space next to me on the bench, which he quickly occupied.
“I recognize you!” he said cheerfully. “You’re from England, yes?”
“No.” I was trying to sound rude so that me might be put off and go away, but he was not deterred.
“So you must be from America, then! Welcome to the Faroe Islands!” By the way he was talking, it was obvious that he didn’t remember me from before — possibly because of the drink in his hand.
“Yeah,” I said. I turned my attention back to my phone, praying he would take a hint, but instead I heard him continue on, saying happily, “You have the most beautiful hair!”
“Oh, thank you,” I said offhandedly, though I was honestly flattered. I quite like my hair, and I like when other people like it too. But what he said next threw that emotion out the window.
“You and I,” he said, gesturing to himself and then me, and then to his own curly hair, “could be father and daughter!”
I felt the smile I was maintaining twitch at the corners. “I already have quite a few fathers now, so I don’t need another one,” I prevented myself from saying. Instead, I just laughed vaguely and said, “Ah.”
“Because of the hair!” he clarified unnecessarily, laughing. My smile shrunk into a grimace. “Right.”
Another drunken man suddenly shuffled over, his clothes spattered with mud, and the first man took to introducing me to him, speaking Faroese as he did. He got up to let the other man sit down, and after he had sat next to me, he turned to me and held out his hand in greeting. His fingers were bleeding.
My mind focusing meditatively on the hand sanitizer in my backpack, I shook his hand. “Hi. Nice to meet you.”
The man mumbled in Faroese. I cocked my head to the side to try to convey my confusion better as I said, “Sorry? I don’t speak Faroese well.”
He mumbled again, looking disappointed. Wondering if it would be socially acceptable to flee from the scene, I looked up at the first man and saw he was already deeply engaged in conversation with another young woman, whose smile was not doing a good job of hiding her uneasiness. I wasn’t sure whether I should feel bad about feeling the same way as her — it wasn’t like these two men had done anything wrong, exactly — but I quickly decided I’d had enough. I got up, said a quick goodbye to the man sitting next to me, and moved to hide behind the wall on the other side of the Steinatún bus stop, where I poured a liberal amount of Purell on my hands.
My last experience was not too long ago, maybe a few weeks or so. I was standing at Steinatún again with Katrin (why are you always there when these things happen, Katrin?) when I saw, out of the corner of my eye, an older man stumbling along the sidewalk. He was quite obviously inebriated, his eyes wandering around, looking over the people standing and waiting for their bus, their pale faces sticking out like moons in the dark of the night. I noticed him pause briefly while looking at me, so I turned my back to him and tried to start up a conversation with Katrin to distract myself. Not a moment later, he was standing next to me, his shoulder pressed against mine, looking into my face. I was just about to back away, but before I could, his hand shot out to shake mine. As it did, it brushed, not quite briefly, against my bosom.
Two strong urges immediately dominated my mind, causing me to freeze. One was to grab Katrin and run. The other was to beat this man, who was easily a foot shorter than me, into a bloody pulp.
I shot a look at Katrin. She hadn’t noticed what his hand did, focusing instead on the face of the swaying, blotto man standing beside me, an exasperated expression on her face. Once again, I found myself marveling at the Faroese’s grit.
He told me his name, which I don’t remember because I was still deciding on whether to let him live. His gloved hand was still stretched awkwardly in front of my body, so I took hold of it briefly while looking into his eyes, my face unsmiling. I decided that getting into an altercation with a homeless man would be unpleasant for everybody in the vicinity, so I ignored what had happened, reasoning it could have just been because he was unsteady from his drunkenness. But I kept my guard up, just in case.
“Hello,” I said quietly, still unsmiling. His eyes immediately narrowed at the sound of my English.
“Where are you from?” he asked, his accent thick.
“The United States,” I replied.
“What’s your name?”
I allowed my suspicion to show on my face. “Juliana.”
I didn’t intend to tell him any more than that, but he didn’t ask for anything more… in English, anyway, because then he started speaking Faroese.
“I’m sorry?” I said, bemused. “What are you saying?”
He repeated himself. I looked to Katrin for help, and she replied to him in Faroese. Then she said to me, “He asked what you were doing here, so I told him you were a student.”
I didn’t see any harm in that, so I just said, “Oh, okay,” and turned back to him. He said something else.
“I’m sorry, are you speaking English?” I asked the man, though I knew he wasn’t. At this question, he became visibly frustrated. He asked me once more, in English, “Where are you from?”
“The United States,” I said again, confused. He then started speaking a different language — Danish, it sounded like.
“I still can’t understand you,” I told him. I felt my own irritation growing. “Please speak English.”
“Yes, English!” he said. Agitation was written all over his face, exuding from his body language. He demanded of me, yet again, “Where are you from!?” His voice was just below a shout.
“The United States,” I reiterated coldly, my voice low.
“Yes, I know that!” he said. His face was blotchy with anger. He stared into my eyes, as if trying to figure out if I was lying. I stared back, keeping my face stony to hide the anxiety bubbling in my stomach. I offered a silent prayer up to God, hoping that this man wasn’t about to punch me, or worse.
He spoke again, this time in neither Faroese or Danish. What was that, German? I raised my eyebrows at him and said blankly, “What?”
“Juliana,” said Katrin suddenly. I turned to look at her. She had evidently formulated our escape. “There’s still time to go to that shop you wanted to visit.”
“Ah, okay,” I said, and as I did, the man left in a huff. Barely sparing a backward glance, I followed after Katrin, the both of us moving as fast as we could without running. We made it to the stop up the hill in enough time to catch our bus.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t think of something to say earlier,” said Katrin, taking me aback with her apology. “I was trying to think of a place we could get away to while also letting us catch the bus.”
“Don’t be sorry,” I said. My anger and anxiety had died down, and I could feel myself shaking from the adrenaline rush. “I’m just glad you were able to get us away. Thanks for saying something.” I told her what he had done before shaking my hand; her reaction was just as horrified as mine.
The bus slowly crested the hill, and as we prepared to board, I asked, “What was he saying when he wasn’t speaking English?”
“Oh.” Katrin frowned a little. “He was asking you different things in Faroese, Danish, and German, like he was testing to see if you could understand him. At least, I think so; it was kind of hard to tell, since his words were so slurred…. But when you didn’t understand him even when he tried German, he said, ‘Then why the HELL are you in the Faroe Islands?’”
…I know what you’re thinking: Why didn’t I just brush them off or tell them to get away from me at the very start? Because drunk people can easily become violent people, and I didn’t want myself or anyone around me getting hurt. I feel like I did a good job of handling these situations because everyone involved emerged unscathed, and that’s all I was thinking about. Again, I’ll say that these men were (probably) perfectly harmless — but alcohol changes people. I didn’t want to provoke them into doing something they’d regret.
—The Language (Part Deux)
Lots of people have been asking me how my Faroese has been going.
Today, I was struggling to understand the IPA printed in my copy of ‘An Introduction to Modern Faroese’ until I noticed I was holding the book upside down. Turning it right side up did not improve anything.
Yeah. That’s how it’s been going.
On some days, searching for happiness just doesn’t work out. No matter where you look, the world isn’t smiling at you. That’s why you have to become your own happiness, so that no matter what you do, you’re making yourself happy by knowing that you’re doing something. Once you learn how to do that, you don’t need happiness from anything else.