Ad: [ ? ]

Monday, July 6

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr

« Sex Tape, The Purge: Anarchy, Boyhood, Wish I Was Here, Dormant Beauty Chicago Tree Project Turns Dead Wood into Sculpture »

Chicago Speaks Mon Jul 21 2014

Chicago Speaks: Icelandic, as Spoken by Recruiter Lena Hallgrimsdottir

Chicago SpeaksAs a global city, Chicago is home to many languages besides English. Chicago Speaks profiles speakers of these languages, and shares some of their personal stories along the way.

When I met Lena Hallgrimsdottir at the Whole Foods in Lincoln Park, I asked her what it was like to have a native language shared by some 300,000 of the world's inhabitants -- fewer people, perhaps, than would visit that Whole Foods location over the next couple of months.

"We always look at it almost as our secret language," she says. "We're very careless. If we were walking around here, we would just be speaking about whatever, without ever worrying that anyone understands."

On a handful of occasions since she and her husband moved to Chicago from Iceland in 1996, they have run into someone who understands. But they're generally safe in assuming they won't: In an estimate based on surveys done between 2006 and 2008, the U.S. Census Bureau put at 110 the number of Illinois residents who speak Icelandic at home.

chicago speaks icelandic
Lena Hallgrimsdottir. Photo by Einar Steinsson

A Theory About People Who Want to Study Icelandic

A few more, at least, are trying to learn -- some of them from Hallgrimsdottir, who occasionally gives lessons in addition to working as a recruiter for a translation and interpretation services company.

"I have my theory about people who want to study Icelandic," she says. "And I of course don't know how it was before, but now it's really because of the Icelandic music scene. People who love Bjork or Sigur Ros or, lately, Of Monsters and Men . . . . They're all dreamers [who] just want to learn the language, think it sounds beautiful."

Does she ever get sick of the inevitable Bjork references that follow questions about where she's from? "Sometimes maybe you do a little bit," she says. "But immediately you remind yourself you should just be proud and happy."

How Chicago is Like Saint Petersburg

Hallgrimsdottir grew up in Akureyri, a town whose website points out that, in Iceland, it is "the second largest urban area after the capital area of Reykjavik, with a population of about 18,000."

"It's a beautiful little town," Hallgrimsdottir says. "It's at the bottom of one of the big fjords up north... We have very beautiful winters, a lot of snow, cold weather, no wind. And the summers get really warm... But of course warm in Iceland is, what, maybe about 60 degrees?"

Hallgrimsdottir left when her husband decided he wanted to pursue an MBA in the United States. Before then, she'd never considered moving here. She was more interested in Russian language and culture, which she had studied in college.

But she quickly took to Chicago, which at first reminded her of Saint Petersburg, where she'd spent a year abroad. Both are big cities, she explains, on a scale you wouldn't find in Iceland. "The trains... and just all these people everywhere -- I had experienced that in Saint Petersburg. So to me, coming here to Chicago, it was the same. I was always comparing: Oh, this is just like in Russia. Going on the el: just like in Russia."

Icelandic in Chicago

Nearly two decades later, she and her husband are still here, members of a small but long-lived Icelandic community. They both hold leadership positions in the Icelandic Association of Chicago, a 91-year-old group of Icelanders and people of Icelandic descent. Hallgrimsdottir estimates that about 40 percent of the members speak Icelandic.

When we spoke, the association was in the midst of planning its Þorrablót celebration, a traditional feast for which members were importing food from Iceland.

But Icelandic products don't always have to be ordered directly from their place of origin. You can find some, for example, at Whole Foods. "We're always very happy when that happens," Hallgrimsdottir says.


Add a Comment

Please enter the letter b in the field below:

Live Comment Preview

Notes & Tags

Items marked with a * are required fields. Please respect each other. We reserve the right to delete any comments borne out of douchebaggery or that deal in asshattery.

Permitted tags and how to use them:

To link: <a href="">Link text</a>
To italicize: <em>Your text</em>
To bold: <strong>Your text</strong>

Feature Thu Apr 16 2015

From Chicago to Senegal by Way of the Drum: Interview with Local Filmmaker Mallory Sohmer

By Ana Sekler

Mallory Sohmer is a freelance documentary filmmaker from Chicago and a Columbia College alumna. She co-directed the new film, Drum Beat Journey, the story of four inner-city youth who travel to Petit Mbao, Senegal, to participate in a drumming workshop. The program used music as a vehicle to capture and connect with the young men in an engaging and original way. But this is not just a film about drumming; it's about stepping into another culture to learn about oneself.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Wed Jul 01 2015

Terminator Genisys, Magic Mike XXL, The Little Death & Closer to God

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


An Angry White Guy
AREA Chicago
ArchitectureChicago Plus
Arts Engagement Exchange
The Art Letter
Art or Idiocy?
Art Slant Chicago
Art Talk Chicago
Bad at Sports
Bite and Smile
Brian Dickie of COT
Bridgeport International
Carrie Secrist Gallery
Chainsaw Calligraphy
Chicago Art Blog
Chicago Art Department
Chicago Art Examiner
Chicago Art Journal
Chicago Artists Resource
Chicago Art Map
Chicago Art Review
Chicago Classical Music
Chicago Comedy Examiner
Chicago Cultural Center
Chicago Daily Views
Chicago Film Examiner
Chicago Film Archives
Chicago Gallery News
Chicago Uncommon
Contemporary Art Space
Co-op Image Group
Co-Prosperity Sphere
Chicago Urban Art Society
Creative Control
Devening Projects
DIY Film
The Exhibition Agency
The Flatiron Project
F newsmagazine
The Gallery Crawl...
Galerie F
The Gaudy God
Happy Dog Gallery
Homeroom Chicago
I, Homunculus
Hyde Park Artcenter Blog
Joyce Owens: Artist on Art
Julius Caesar
Kasia Kay Gallery
Kavi Gupta Gallery
Rob Kozlowski
Lookingglass Theatre Blog
Lumpen Blog
Mess Hall
Neoteric Art
Not If But When
Noun and Verb
On Film
On the Make
Peanut Gallery
Peregrine Program
The Poor Choices Show
Pop Up Art Loop
The Post Family
The Recycled Film
Reversible Eye
Rhona Hoffman Gallery
Roots & Culture Gallery
The Seen
Sisterman Vintage
Site of Big Shoulders
Sixty Inches From Center
Soleil's To-Do's
Sometimes Store
Stop Go Stop
Storefront Rebellion
TOC Blog
Theater for the Future
Theatre in Chicago
The Franklin
The Mission
The Theater Loop
Thomas Robertello Gallery
Time Tells Tony Wight Gallery
Uncommon Photographers
The Unscene Chicago
The Visualist
Western Exhibitions
What's Going On?
What to Wear During an Orange Alert?
You, Me, Them, Everybody
Zg Gallery



Tue Jul 7 2015
Tell it to the Birds @ Millennium Park

Thu Jul 9 2015
Heather McAdams @ Sulzer Regional Library

Thu Jul 9 2015
TCC Digital Buffet

Fri Jul 10 2015
Vaudeo Motion II @ High Concept Labs

Fri Jul 10 2015
A Murder in the Park @ Film Center

Fri Jul 10 2015
Square Roots Festival

Sat Jul 11 2015
havoc and tumbled @ Roman Susan Rogers Park Art Space

Sat Jul 11 2015
Mortified! @ Lincoln Hall

A/C on Flickr

Join the A/C Flickr Pool.

About A/C

A/C is the arts and culture section of Gapers Block, covering the many forms of expression on display in Chicago. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: LaShawn Williams,
A/C staff inbox:



A/C Flickr Pool
 Subscribe in a reader.

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15


Sign up for our free email newsletter I Star Chi and get a weekly round-up of the best of Gapers Block, plus our picks for must-do events each weekend!


Preferred format    Preferred format