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9 June, 2000

9 June 2000

Cultural Shift

Many people talk of ďculture shockĒ when traveling from one culture to another. Over the past 72 hours I havenít been in one place long enough to feel shocked, but the culture Iím experiencing has definitely shifted. I started in Portland, Oregon on the morning of the 7th and left behind that community of rivers, bridges, trees, and 1500 different ways to order coffee. I spent a few hours in the Denver airport amidst western motifs, stores filled with Denver Broncos merchandise and a backdrop of snow-capped mountains in the distance. A quick change of planes in historic Boston left me no time to see all the wonderful sites associated with the revolutionary war so abundant throughout Beantown.

Leaving the United States behind I headed toward Iceland on an overnight flight. I met up with Todd Hindman in Boston and met the rest of the group for the next leg of the HEALYís Ice Trials at Icelandís Keflavik airport. The culture there had a distinctly European flavor to it but the European languages most people are familiar with were replaced with the almost singsong Icelandic language. The Scandinavian derived language of this island nation contains many letters not found in the English alphabet and makes simply pronouncing words quite a challenge. Fortunately for me, most Icelandic people also have a good understanding of English (far more I am sure than U.S. citizens who understand Icelandic!). After six hours at Keflavik, we boarded a Greenland Air flight to our next destination, Nuuk. Greenland is a sparsely populated country with towns and villages existing around the edges of the Greenland ice sheet. We made an initial stop in Kulusuk on the eastern side of the island and then flew over the ice sheet to the capital city of Nuuk. This independent member of the Kingdom of Denmark has its own language and although many people speak Danish and some English, the voices you hear are primarily speaking their native tongue. Greenlandic is dominated by qís and kís, nís and lís, uís and aís and reminds me of native languages I would hear in villages of Alaska. Restaurant menu items also indicate that Iíve made another cultural shift. Along with items like salmon and steak, more unique menu choices such as reindeer, musk ox, and whale show up as offerings in restaurants. A tour of local shops today turned up the typical things people need, but you can also shop for seal skins, carvings from walrus ivory and whale baleen, and even polar bear skulls. The colorful buildings these shops are found in combined with barren tundra are also indicative of some place much different from home.

Tomorrow, June 10th, I will shift to yet another culture - that of the U.S. Coast Guard. The HEALY arrives at Nuuk tomorrow and I will then spend the next 19 days aboard this icebreaker operated by the Coast Guardís branch of the U.S. military. From all Iíve heard from Sandi, Susan, and Janice, it should be a wonderful new cultural (and scientific) experience. Join me tomorrow onboard the HEALY.

(Sorry no pictures - I havenít gotten hold of the digital camera yet!)


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