My relatives live in Selfoss and run an engineering firm, but the other half of their life is at Grund, a dairy farm near Akureyri, that they fortuitously bought as an investment in 2007. When I first arrived at their Selfoss home, the tour curiously included many notable cow memorabilia tucked throughout the house. “We get so many cow gifts ever since we bought the farm,” Gudrun explained when I noticed the cow cookie jar in the kitchen.
One evening, shortly after I had arrived, the daughters were wrapping their mother’s birthday gift. “What did you get her?” I asked. “A shirt and one of those,” they responded, pointing vaguely to a shelf containing a collection of random vases, ceramic birds, and books. When Gudrun opened her gift, she proudly held up her t-shirt and reached into the gift bag again to pull out a small rooster statue.
“Ekki kýr?” I chimed in, and pointed to the bird. Everyone burst out laughing. Unsophisticated as it was, the words meaning “not cow” were a turning point for me. Between the language barrier and cultural differences, it can be hard to communicate even the most basic things on a daily basis. Sticking with the simplest thing I could have possibly said ensured that I knew they were laughing with me and not at me. I consider that a cross-cultural win.