Category Archives: Daily Life

Parrot Time – Faroese Edition

Norðragøta on the cover of Parrot Time's special Faroe Islands issue.

Norðragøta on the cover of Parrot Time’s special Faroe Islands issue.

This month, my love for the Faroe Islands had an exciting new platform — a special issue of a magazine!

Parrot Time is a linguistic and cultural emagazine published bimonthly by the Parleremo language learning community. The magazine’s editor-in-chief, Erik Zidowecki, contacted me based on our conversations about the Faroe Islands to ask whether I would be interested in helping him put together a special issue focusing on Faroese topics. Naturally, I was very excited to work on the project. With the help of four Faroe Islanders, we published eleven articles on subjects ranging from summer festivals on the islands and the new feature film Ludo to the presence of Danish in Faroese life and the Faroese perspective on the whaling controversy. I’m very happy with the way the magazine came together with such a wide variety of pieces and beautiful photographs.

From my article "Coming Home to Faroese" in Parrot Time's special Faroe Islands issue.

From my article “Coming Home to Faroese” in Parrot Time’s special Faroe Islands issue.

Coming Home to Faroese” was my main feature story for the magazine. By exploring the richness that learning Faroese has brought to my life, I wrote about the challenges and rewards of learning a language with a small number of speakers. Here’s an excerpt:

“I remember how it felt to speak Faroese down in Copenhagen, to navigate through the crowded city and yet feel as if I had never left the islands when I heard the language I had learned to love so well. The Danes and other foreigners that passed were none the wiser that something didn’t add up, that I was an imposter, that I didn’t belong. In a way I did. In that moment, I felt I could just glimpse, just taste, that feeling of being a part of something… smaller. Something more intimate. Of what it meant to know just from a language that you were home.”

The readable PDF version of the magazine can be viewed for free at the following address: http://issuu.com/abavagada/docs/parrottime_issue_011/3?e=6771516/9612833

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180° – Reflections from Half a World Away

My summer in the Faroe Islands is over, but much remains to be done. I left the Faroe Islands a few weeks ago, and after detouring in Denmark, England, Wales, Man, and Ireland on the way home, I’m finally back in Missouri.

There’s still a lot of summer left here — and here, summer means the concrete’s so hot you can watch your footprints disappear in seconds, sweating is natural and welcome, and the lake water’s so still and warm, you can almost fall asleep in it, lying on your back beneath the stars on a sultry dark night.

Summer in Missouri -- what's always been familiar suddenly feels unfamiliar.

Summer in Missouri — what’s always been familiar suddenly feels unfamiliar.

It’s been a strange transition.

I was able to readjust to some aspects of life off the islands (trees, large buildings, busy roads…) along the way, but it still hit me surprisingly hard to look out of the window of my Chicago – St. Louis flight at endless, hazy blue and realize that it wasn’t the billowing sea I was looking at, but land… an unimaginable amount of solid land.

And then there was the moment I stepped out of the airport — still clad in jeans, wool socks, hiking boots and a long-sleeved shirt (though I had taken my heavy sweater off moments earlier) — and into what felt like a solid wall of heat and humidity. I found myself gasping for breath. The heat index on my first day back reached nearly 42 C.

In quiet moments, I’ve felt a strange longing for the cold blue fog of so many summer nights in Gøta.

And this from the girl who, just a few months ago, had a secret fear of falling off the islands — so unused to the lack of a whole continent as a cradle. The girl who once saw a photo of Greenlandic children wearing thick sweaters in July and swore, shivering, that she’d never live in such a terrible place. The girl whose only reference point, the first time she was enveloped by a rush of bright summer mists, was the cinematic white-out that signals entrance into some other, higher dimension.

Summer in the Faroes -- an experience I would never have imagined.

Summer in the Faroes — an experience I would never have imagined.

I guess I’ve come 180 degrees… and back again.

Though I’ve now left the Faroes behind me physically, I doubt I’ll ever get them out of my mind or my heart. I certainly hope to maintain a lifelong connection with the nation and with the wonderful Faroese people who welcomed me into their homes and lives.

More immediately and concretely, I am not yet finished with the project that took me to the Faroes this summer. I had more I wanted to see, do, process and share than I could ever have accomplished during my short stay. So as the summer progressed, I made the executive decision to focus on the first two.

Over the next few months, I will be editing photos, transcribing interviews, thinking, and writing, writing, writing. Rather than being the end of my Land of Maybe blog, my homecoming is closer to a beginning. So please stay tuned — there’s so much I can’t wait to share with you!

Faroese High Summer

High Summer has come to the Faroe Islands. The yellow buttercups and marsh marigolds have been joined by white clover, purple ragged robin and lacy umbels of angelica. The days are at their longest, the hills at their greenest, the weather at its finest — but keep calm, we’re still talking Faroese standards.

The Faroese version of a "Beach Day" at the G! Festival -- not exactly for the Miami crowd!

The Faroese version of a “Beach Day” at the G! Festival — not exactly for the Miami crowd!

Yesterday the G! Festival began in earnest, my lovely host family finished painting the upstairs and the outside furniture, and Norðragøta was loud with the sounds of seagulls and drunk festival-goers, our house full of guests stuffing themselves on bollar and home-made rhubarb jam, and hundreds of sheep baaaa-ing as they were herded down off of the mountain Tyril to be sheared.

House Painting in the Faroes

Painting houses in the summer weather.

As Jonhedin Herason Trondheim told me at a G! Festival planning meeting, “Yes, our summer is great. And it’s long. But it’s short and we have to fit in festivals, painting our houses, everything!”

Summer Fun at the G! Festival

Summer Fun at the G! Festival

Is it any wonder I’m struggling to find time to update my blog?

The Missing “Missing” Women of the Faroe Islands

Faroese Population: 48,228

Of Which Male: 24,937

Of Which Female: 23,291

Difference: 1,646

A quick look at current Fareose demographics reveals an oddity — the country is short on women. Though the gender imbalance has fallen from a 2012 high (when there were over 2,000 more men than women in the country), there’s still a striking and problematic discrepancy, especially when you consider that the missing women are mostly in their twenties and thirties, prime ages for dating and having children.

Media coverage and common sense would have you believe that the Faroe Islands is facing an enormous problem in the near future, as fewer women means fewer babies. Population growth could stagnate or reverse if no incentives are made for the women to come home, or if new women aren’t found elsewhere, such as from Thailand or the Philippines. In other places, gender imbalances are also known for leading to all sorts of sociological ills, such as increased violence against women.

A young Thai-Faroese woman attends the Joansøka festival in Vágur, Suðuroy, with her boyfriend and another friend.

A young Thai-Faroese woman attends the Joansøka festival in Vágur, Suðuroy, with her boyfriend and another friend.

But since coming to the Faroes a month ago, I’ve seen none of that. Okay, so I’ve seen a few ethnically Asian women here and there. Mostly beautiful, with very cute children. And maybe they’re the reason that I can buy coconut milk and curry paste in even the smallest Faroese grocery store. If that’s the case, I’m grateful to them. I have a hard time living on meat and potatoes alone, even smothered in tasty Faroese gravy.

Otherwise, though, the country seems to be missing its ‘missing’ women. Everyone knows where they women have gone — Denmark, mostly — but where are the holes they’ve left behind?

I’m just not seeing many schools shuttering for lack of children, restless single men, women left behind by all their friends and desperate to get away. Yes, everyone knows someone who has “gone down” to Denmark to study or work, and most families have at least one member away across the water, but it’s young men they’re missing, too. And most are hoping to come home to the Faroes in due time.

Graduates of the Studentaskúlin (junior college) in Eysturoy gather on the beach in Gøtu as part of their graduation ceremony. This year's graduating class was more than two-thirds female.

Graduates of the Studentaskúlin (junior college) in Eysturoy gather on the beach in Gøtu as part of their graduation ceremony. This year’s graduating class was more than two-thirds female.

Most people I’ve asked about the lack of women know that the issue exists, but in an almost abstract sense. They all know women who have gone abroad, and they understand why — to get certain types of educations, pursue certain careers, to marry foreign men with whom they’ve fallen in love —  but they’re not seeing dramatic effects, and they don’t seem too worried about the future. They don’t believe they’re in a society on the verge of collapse, instead they are optimistic that, despite some problems, things are moving in the right direction.

Take this all “with a grain of salt,” because I still need to do some actual background reporting on this issue, gather statistics and hard facts and talk to the experts. So far, I just have my own observations and those of the many women who have so far made time to talk to me.

“No, no, I don’t see it,” says Bára Joensen, a mother of three who lives in Norðragøta. “The only thing is that some are getting foreign women. But I haven’t really noticed that there are more men.”

Jóna Venned walks with a friend outside of the SMS shopping center in Tórshavn. Jóna has been abroad to work in Switzerland and travel and visit friends in several other countries. She will leave next year to study in Denmark, but plans to move back home to the Faroe Islands afterward.

Jóna Venned walks with a friend outside of the SMS shopping center in Tórshavn. Jóna has been abroad to work in Switzerland and travel and visit friends in several other countries. She will leave next year to study in Denmark, but plans to move back home to the Faroe Islands afterward.

“I think the circumstances have changed and it is a lot easier to be a woman in the Faroe Islands compared to what it has been. It is kind of conservative, it has always been conservative,” says Jóna Venned, a 24-year-old from Tórshavn. She says the society is continuing to move towards greater equality in homes and workplaces, and that there is also an effort underway to make it easier for single parents to live in the Faroes.

The Halfway Point / By the Numbers

Time for just a quick update:

I’m about halfway through my Faroese summer, and nowhere near ready to leave. Right now, I’m wandering around in a bit of a midsummer haze. My days and nights are flipped almost completely upside down. I can’t remember the last time I went to bed before 4 am or got up before noon… I think it’s been a week. Mostly to break the cycle, I’ve planned a trip to Tórshavn and Nólsoy tomorrow, so I have to get up in time to take the 8 am bus.

I think it’s time to say I’ve learned what I’ve needed to learn and met the people I’ve needed to meet in order to really do the bulk of my work here. Of course I could still keep learning and practicing and preparing forever, but the halfway point is a good time to wake up and realize that I need to really get started on serious formal interviews, writing, and such.

In three weeks, things are going to start getting really crazy here. My last few weeks in the Faroe Islands are going to see the G! Festival in my home village, the Ólavsøka national day and festival in Tórshavn, and my best friend here taking off work for a few weeks so that we can travel around and see as much of the country as possible. So I’m going to try to get some of the work done now, before the summer really lights on fire…

Foggy Sunrise

Here’s what my halfway point looks like, by the numbers:

Days spent in the Faroes: 34
Days left in the Faroes: 39

Photos taken: 8,814

Faroese words I know: 2,000+ (ability to speak badly, unlocked!)
Manual gears acquainted with: 5 (ability to drive badly, unlocked!)

Faroe Islands Visited: 9
Vágar, Streymoy, Eysturoy, Borðoy, Viðoy, Kunoy, Kalsoy, Suðuroy, Koltur

Faroe Islands Unvisited: 9
Nólsoy, Hestur, Sandoy, Svínoy, Fugloy, Mykines (plan to visit)
Skúvoy, Stóra og Lítla Dímun (maybe not this time)

Blog posts published: 12
Blog drafts sitting in the edit queue: 8 (!)

Formal interviews conducted and recorded: 4
Formal interviews planned for the coming week: 4

Cups of tea consumed: 69+
Containers of garlic cheese consumed: 7
Bags of “chokoflager” cookies consumed: 4

Potatoes peeled in the correct Faroese style: < 2
Potatoes peeled in Miranda’s roughshod redneck style:  > 15
Potatoes eaten unpeeled: > 15

Hours spent watching Dagur og Vika, reading Portal.fo and listening to Útvarp Føroya: 20+
Words in the “Comprehensive Faroese Vocabulary” Memrise course I’m helping create: 1,107

Faroese (and fellow Faroe-phile) Facebook friends: 58
Times mistaken for a Sea Shepherd Spy: 3+

New Definition of “Good Weather”: 10°C/50°F (and not rainy or foggy)
New Definition of “Hot Summer Weather”: 15.5°C/60°F (and maybe some sun)
New Definition of “Grass Green”: #00FF00
New Definition of “Large”: 500-inhabitant villages
New Definition of “Busy”: 8 cars in a parking lot

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Imagining the Faroes, Part I

Now that I have been in the Faroe Islands for a few weeks, I have gotten started with my research interviews. I plan to talk to several Faroe Islanders of varying ages, genders, and places of residence about how the Faroe Islands are represented to foreigners through various media channels, and how they feel about those representations.

So far, I have conducted three formal interviews and more than a dozen informal conversations on this topic. One trend that has started to suggest itself is that the older interviewees have been more positive about representations of the Faroe Islands than the younger interviewees, even suggesting that the tourism imagery shows the islands in an unrealistically good light, while the younger interviewees seemed more bitter about anti-whaling sentiment and outdated representations.

A two-page spread from Visit Faroe Islands' new tourism booklets. This is one of the images I ask respondents to consider during the last part of the interview.

A two-page spread from Visit Faroe Islands’ new tourism booklets. This is one of the images I ask respondents to consider in the final part of the interview.

One amusing wrinkle in the interviews has been that many respondents have recognized people they know in the example media I’m presenting to them. In my very first interview, I showed part of a video, and my interviewee asked me if I would like him to introduce me to the people speaking in the video. In another interview, when I showed the above photo of the Faroese ring dance, the interviewee told me that she recognized “almost everyone” in the photograph, as they were all from Klaksvík!

When I was planning the interviews, the possible frames I felt that I had seen in representations of the Faroe Islands were exotification (through emphasis on the traditional ways of life or the remote, wild natural conditions), trivialization (due to the nation’s small size), and conflict (presenting the Faroe Islands as backwards, especially in regards to the controversial grindadráp).

So far, no one has mentioned the trivialization frame, except to say that many people are not aware of the Faroe Islands at all. One man told me an anecdote in which he was travelling and tried to explain where he was from to some people who had never heard of the Faroes. He said that it was in between Scotland and Iceland, and they insisted that no such country existed. He looked around for a map of Europe, and when he found one, the map itself was missing the Faroe Islands! He had to find a second map to prove that he was, indeed, from a real place.

Here are the main points I’ve heard so far about depictions of the Faroe Islands:

A screenshot and description of the Danish tv documentary, "Kvindeflugt fra Færoerne," which is about the gender disparity in the Faroe Islands.

A screenshot and description of the Danish tv documentary, “Kvindeflugt fra Færoerne,” which is about the gender disparity in the Faroe Islands. This is one of the images I ask respondents to consider in the final part of the interview.

– They focus more on old traditions, such as the ring dance, and less on growing, current trends like modern music and cuisine.
– They are antiquated, and haven’t caught up with the changes of the last 10-30 years.
– They imply that everyone in the Faroes is a sheep farmer or a fisherman.
– They play down or ignore the existence of modern institutions like hospitals, shops, and the University.

– Information about the Grindadráp is filled with inaccurate claims, such as that the pilot whales are endangered or killed for fun.

– They have beautiful photos and descriptions of the unique Faroese nature.
– However, they could be painting an unrealistic picture of good weather and endlessly clear skies, conditions which are rare in the Faroes though they do occur.
– They ignore the winter almost completely in favor of coverage of the brief tourism season (June-August).

– They are concerned that tourists might not understand that the Faroese weather is uncertain and changeable, and that everything in the Faroes is expensive.

A sheep walking on the road leading to the village of Múli.

A sheep walking on the road leading to the village of Múli. This is one of the images I ask respondents to consider in the final part of the interview.

So far, one of the most intriguing things to come up in an interview was one woman’s suggestion that many of the problems she saw in representations of the Faroe Islands had the same problematic root — that foreigners almost never travel to the islands in the winter. Not only does that ignore more than half of the year in the Faroes, she thinks the long, dark, stormy winter has a huge effect on the Faroese culture, and that, without understanding that, it’s impossible to explain the Faroese mentality or perspective on a wide range of issues.