Monday, September 27, 2010

Stereotyping the Scots

I've been in Edinburgh for over two weeks now, so I think I can safely affirm some stereotypes for you:

1. In the UK the umbrella becomes a third arm. The daily weather forecast is indecisive at best, schizophrenic at worst. It may start out sunny, then rain, then the gale force winds will pick up, then it will be sunny again. So it is best to always have your trench coat on you at all times. The one time I didn't, the twenty minute walk to class made me look like a drowned rat.
[Yes, I'm aware not all of my photos correlate to the text, but at least they're pretty!]

2. To cope with being perpetually damp, the Scots seek comfort in tea and toast. While the Gaelic for whisky means “water of life,” I’m pretty sure tea translates to the same thing over here. Like most quintessentially British things, it isn’t actually British, but I’ll get to that later. And regardless of what the weather or politics (the Pope was causing havoc here two weeks ago) might throw at you, toast is determinedly consistent. My toast literally smacks some sense into me, since it shoots out of our toaster and lands nearby, ready for the day even if I'm not.

3. When they are not drinking tea, they are drinking pints. I thought the martini lunch was something left in the "Mad Men" era, but you can walk by any pub or cafe at lunch and find someone downing a pint with their sandwich. If you aren't getting "pissed" (drunk) in the middle of the day, don't worry there's plenty of time for you to at night. Every student society here is basically an excuse for drinking. If your society does not start or end at a pub, then you're in the wrong one. Although I joined the wine society, which is obviously meant for drinking, you wouldn't expect the literature society to be just as fervent. However our first official meeting was a pub crawl, with some extra dorkiness thrown in (everyone wore nametags with either an author or character on them and we had to try and match up throughout the night. To really confuse people I picked Tess of the Dubervilles. Unfortunately I never found Thomas Hardy, but I did get a lot of double takes when I introduced myself. "My name is Tess. No, it really is.") Equally dorky, my inability to order drinks. I've never been able to order what I wanted before, but now that I'm legal I find one of the most stressful parts of the pub nights is finding a cheap drink I'll actually like. So far I've been sticking to cider, but I'm still looking so if you have any good cocktail suggestions, let me know in the comments section!

4. We may all speak the same language, but translation is still needed. Living with an Australian, a Scottish Highlander, and a Brit from Manchester means I frequently need to consult the dictionary. Here's a glossary to make it easier for you:

US: countertop
UK: worktable
Australia: bench (the most confusing by far)

US/Australia: stove
UK: Hob (well, it does sound rather quaint)

US: pregame
UK/Australia: predrinks (this is more logical actually)

US: Bathroom (whatever you say, never say "bathroom," its as American as wearing a fanny pack abroad)
UK: Loo (toilet paper is "looroll")
Australia: Toilets

US: French Fries
UK: Chips
Australia: Fries are like frites, Chips are like Belgian fries and/or potato chips (potato chips in the UK are called crisps and come in disconcerting flavors like steak and onion)

US: Redhead
UK: Ginger (there are so many natural "gingers" here that it's like I have my own Weasley family wherever I go)
Australia: Ranger (perhaps the least PC of the terms, it is a shortening of the word orangutan)

US/Australia: Soccer
UK: Football
(However in Australia football is similar to American football without padding, which is comparable to a Scottish sport called shinty)

And yes, they really do say "bloody hell!"

Confused? So am I, but what makes it even harder for me is deciding how much American slang to keep (after all, I will never be British or Scottish. I still can't figure out which direction traffic is coming from so why bother throwing around local slang.) and how much just makes me sound like a "prat" (idiot).
[FYI: There are some diehard Scots who wear kilts sincerely, but mostly guys wear them to pick up foreign chicks.]

Still looking forward to stalking (sorry, I mean "running into") J.K. Rowling and meeting my namesake, the Loch Ness monster.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cheers from Edinburgh

When I walked through Edinburgh for the first time, I was inevitably serenaded with bagpipes. But these weren't bagpipes played by any old man in a kilt (although there are plenty of those too), but by a rock band. As if this wasn't paradoxical enough, I found myself bobbing along to the music like I would at any other show. How did one of the world's most cringe worthy instruments turn into something not only publicly acceptable, but cool?
Because I'm in Scotland of course, the birthplace of the bagpipe. When a cultural staple is put in its own environment it goes from garish to glorious and ceases to be just a quirky piece of culture, but a symbol. Edinburgh, like the bagpipe, may not be pretty in the traditional sense, but once you see past its off kilter nature or come to love it, you realize a hidden beauty. If you're on the right streets or hearing the right notes, what once seemed worn down, now looks well worn, like a city that's broken in for you already.

However I'm having no problem falling in love with this city. Edinburgh has been through a lot: black plagues, monarchy shifts, Sean Connery. Basically it’s a city covered in history, literally since some of the dirt is still on the buildings (during the Industrial Revolution, Edinburgh earned the nickname “Auld Reekie” or old smoky). This is a place that has been lived in, even though today the castle makes a nice backdrop for the weekend farmer's market and not a fortress against invasion. That's the awesome (in all true sense of the word) thing about Scotland, you cannot even go to the pub without getting some story, sinister or sensational, with your stout. Sometimes the pub itself is the story, like the Last Drop Pub where they used to execute people back in the day, but today makes for a low key place to enjoy your cider on a Saturday night like I did.

And if everyone stone you step on doesn't have a story then someone will write one about it. This city is wallpapered in words figuratively speaking. With monuments to poets, not presidents you can see who Edinburgh really values. Whether its reading up on Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, or Robert Louis Stevenson at the charming little Writer's Museum or stopping in one of the many secondhand bookshops, this is the ideal place to get lost in a fictional world. Finally a city and a university that not only appreciates my English literature degree, but raves about it.
Of course there's plenty of pubs to drink at, museums to wander through, societies to join, people to meet, and stores to avoid if I don't want to go broke still. However after only a week, I can tell I am meant to be in this city and that study abroad will be one of the highlights of my twenties.