When I go for my massage, and afterwards when I go soak in the hot pot at the Laugardalslaug pool, I like to be quiet. I don’t like to talk. And normally I can get away with it, speaking just the bare minimum.
Not today. In fact it was kind of odd that, on both occasions, I encountered people who just would not stop talking. Odd in particular because Nicelanders tend to be fairly reticent people, not particularly keen on eliciting details about others’ private lives or volunteering details about their own, at least not on the first meeting.
So I’m lying on the massage table and the massage therapist comes in – a new massage therapist, one I’d never had before. She proceeds to ask me what she can do for me today. [Had I known I probably would have asked her to kindly be quiet but, hey, I didn’t know.] So I give a brief rundown of my main ailments, areas she could please focus on, etc. and was about to settle in for an hour of nonverbal bliss.
MASSAGE THERAPIST: So, you’ve been here before?
YT: Yes, I’ve been coming here for a few years.
MT: Ah. [pause.] Do you exercise?
YT: Yes. I run.
MT: Oh. Your calves are surprisingly soft for someone who runs. [pause.] Have any children?
YT: Yes, one daughter and three stepdaughters.
MT: Oh, a house full of girls, huh? Plan to have any more?
MT: I just had to ask because you look like you’re pregnant.
YT: Not that I know of.
MT: You just have that glow.
YT: It’s not likely. I’m 44, so kind of past that age.
MT: Oh, I thought you were much younger.
[A bit later, YT asks her if she has any kids.]
MT: No, just a cat. [a lengthy story follows about a friend of hers who came to visit with a baby and the MT borrowed a travel bed and the cat slept in the travel bed with the baby the entire time.]
MT: People underestimate the value of not having children.
As I’ve explained before, I like to soak in the hot pot at the Laugardalslaug pool after my massage. So I go to the pool and run out in my bikini through the stinging cold wind to the hot pot, only to find it full, except for one seat at the end of the bench, which has a pretty poor water jet. All the good ones are taken.
A few minutes later a lady gets up and leaves, and YT moves to take her spot. Next to it is a man lounging happily, probably in his early sixties. I’ve never seen him before.
LOUNGING MAN [to YT]: That’s right, come over here to where I am.
YT: [Gives brief noncommittal smile.]
LM: You Icelandic?
LM: For a minute there I thought you didn’t understand. I thought … you look a little bit Swedish.
LM: Yeeess … a little bit.
YT: Nope. Icelandic, through and through.
LM: Oh. Come here often?
YT: No. Not very often.
LM: Swim a lot?
YT: No. [pause. LM waits for more.] I’m a runner.
LM: Oh! A runner! That’s where I know you from! Didn’t you take part in [some marathon]?
YT: No. No, that must have been someone else.
[LM launches into a story of how he ran a marathon but arrived 15 minutes late and everyone had already left so he got lost on the way, turned a corner, and was already at the finish line and everyone applauded.]
YT: Sort of like the hare and the tortoise.
[LM roars with laughter. pause. YT closes eyes.]
LM: So what do you do for a living?
YT: [Opens eyes. Looks for easy escape route. Decides there isn’t one, unless willing to forfeit delicious water spout. Isn’t. Contemplates saying she’s social anthropologist sent to study lounging men in Icelandic hot pots. Decides this is not a good idea. Tells the briefest possible version of the truth.]
LM: Oh! What language do you work in?
LM: [Launches into a long diatribe on Shakespeare, occasionally quoting from Hamlet – in English – “The play’s the thing/Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King!” – and enlightening YT as to Shakespeare’s wordplay using the word ‘lie’.]
LM: How many languages you speak?
LM: Three! Which ones?
YT: [tells him.]
LM: Oh, German too! My high school German teacher told me always to speak to Germans, whenever I could, for practice. That’s why I always speak to German tourists in the hot pot. [Dips his head into the water] Ich versüche immer ein bißchen zu üben. Es tut gut.
[By now another man is sitting on the other side of YT. Out of the blue, the man on the left addresses the lounging man.]
MOL: I’m getting a bit worried about you. The last time I was here, you were speaking German when I left. And now that I’m back you come up out of the water and you’re still speaking German.
LM: [Triumphant, to YT] See! I always speak German, whenever I can.
MOL and LM now launch into a conversation about different nationalities and their characteristics.
LM: There are two nationalities that can make fun of themselves: the Brits, and the Finns. They’re not self-conscious about it at all. Not like us Icelanders – we get all offended if people make fun of us. But not the Brits or the Finns. I knew this Finn and you know what he asked me? He asked me: ‘Do you know why we Finns use two-ply toilet paper?’ – this was right near the end of the cold war, you know – and I said ‘No’. And he said, ‘Because in this country we have to make a copy of every paper we use, to send to Moscow’.
MOL: So now that the cold war’s over, do they use single-ply?
LM: Probably! – But those cold war jokes, they were good some of them. There’s this other one that an East German guy told me once: An American guy is in East Germany – this is before the wall came down – and he’s standing there looking at two cars parked side by side. One car is a Mercedes Benz, the other one’s a Trabant. So this East German guy walks by, and sees the American looking at the two cars, and the American decides to try a little experiment, and says, ‘Tell me – which one of these do you think is the better car?’ And the East German stands there for a minute and then says, ‘The Trabant’. And the American laughs, and says, ‘Well, you clearly don’t know very much about cars, my friend.’ And the East German replies, ‘Oh, I know a lot about cars. I just don’t know a lot about you.’
So I told him to go to the video store this evening and rent the film Das Leben der Anderen because he’d really enjoy it. Then I thanked him for the conversation and left.
IT WAS MILD TODAY, BUT THE WIND WHIPPED UP THIS AFTERNOON
We had a few showers this morning, it was calm at first but then the wind picked up and it was kind of cold and damp. I’m really getting tired of this wind, there’s been so much of it lately and honestly it is the worst part about living in this country. The weather here is always beautiful – except when there’s wind. Right now 3°C [39F] and the sun came up at 9.13 am, went down at 5.08.