When interacting with anyone in the service industry, or when your friend has invited you over for dinner, you should add in as many tiny “thanks” as you can. The phrases that matter are:
Já takk. = Yes please. (“Yes thanks.”)
Nei takk. = No thank you.
Takk fyrir. = Thank you. (“Thanks for [...]”)
You should never reply with just “Já” when you are offered something, as it comes off as rude. You must always use “Já takk”.
While using “takk” (thanks) by itself is fine, it’s much better to say “takk fyrir” (thank you)[a] as it is more sincere.
Asking for coffee
To ask for coffee, you say:A few important things:
Get ég fengið kaffi? = Can I get coffee?
- “Ég get” means “I can”. The G makes the sound of a hard G in the roof of the mouth . It’s not pronounced in the throat like a normal G, instead the most backwards part of your tongue has to touch the roof of your mouth. It is very similar to the English sound skew. It can be helpful to imagine a small English “Y” coming after the G: [gyet]
- “Ég hef fengið” means “I have gotten”.[b]The letter cluster “NG” causes the vowel that comes before it to change, changing “e” into an “ei” (which itself is pronounced [eí]). The N in NG is pronounced (like in English) with back of the tongue in the roof of the mouth but not with the tip of the tongue. Additionally, the G sound is pronounced in the roof of the mouth like above. The pronunciation is thus [feíngyið].
Here you go
“Gjörðu svo vel” is used to mean “here you go” (said when handing an item to somebody) and sometimes by store clerks to say “Next, please” (“Næsti, gjörðu svo vel”). You should study this as a phrase but you shouldn’t try to learn the words in it, as it uses a word form that doesn’t exist in modern Icelandic.[c] The phrase means “Do so well”.
The pronunciation of this phrase is quite slurred, it’s pronounced [gjössovel].
How good do you have to be to order in Icelandic?
It may seem like a great opportunity to practice your Icelandic skills when at a restaurant, but that’s not the case. Ordering food requires considerable fluency and near-perfect listening skills.
To temper your expectations: You should really not attempt to order in Icelandic until you’ve more or less reached a B2 level, which takes at least two years of study.
This can be quite disappointing to learners, but you do have to limit your expectations when it comes to real-life interactions with strangers. Very few people have experience listening to people who are at an A1–A2 level. Even those who are trying their best to be patient will eventually choose the path of least resistance and switch to English if it’s unclear how well you’ve understood them. Waiters are under significant pressure at work and simply don’t have the time to be patient. If you hesitate for even a second or if your pronunciation isn’t crystal clear, people will to switch to English and will keep on responding to you in English even if you continue to speak Icelandic to them.