Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Paintings, Bagpipes, & Tourists. Oh My!

Last Saturday I found myself elbowing my way through crowds just to catch a glimpse of a painting I probably could've appreciated more on Google. But isn't that the point of being a tourist-being jostled through an art museum so much that they almost end up with Van Gogh's paint on your nose? Wait a minute, did I just use the word "tourist?" Didn't I move to a foreign country for a year so I would have time NOT to be a tourist?

[Thank you to this toddler for looking appropriately alarmed when I snapped this photo]

This is the point of living in a city for the year. You have time to scope out cute cafes, not go to one of the 400 places J.K. Rowling supposedly wrote Harry Potter in, but is now known for coffee tasting like jet fuel. You can go to museums after class on a weekday, not a weekend when all of the tourists looking for their clan's tartan invade. Unless you're the idiot who thought the Impressionist Gardens exhibition at the Scottish National Galleries lasted for another month, only to find out it ended that very weekend. Yes, weekend. You would have to push (or punch) your way through the crowds just to see the corner of a Klimt painting. Yes, that idiot was me last weekend.
I knew it would hell and bagpipes to pay to go on a Saturday, but Mom and Dad you've instilled a love of impressionism in me, so I had to go. I must admit the exhibition was impressive (five rooms of international impressionists and not just the work they left in their coat closet, but famous paintings) and gave me faith in the National Gallery to fulfill my aesthetic needs in Edinburgh when I'm not behind on my reading (clearly I won't be going that often ;). But the crowd was the claustrophobia-inducing type that couldn't move on to the next painting without demonstrating their knowledge of the artist. I couldn't handle more than 45 minutes in that environment, who knew gardens could be so stressful?

So I left the museum where I could breathe air not choked with perfume and see the subtle color change, oh and more tourists. Now I know why I avoid the Royal Mile (more like Royal headache of tartan and shortbread shops that sell the same Walkers Shortbread you could get in the US) and Princes Street (the shopping street, not so bad on a normal day. It has Topshopafter all) on a weekend. I should've known better, but in DC at least the tourists are confined to the National Mall for the most part and why would I ever go there on a weekend? [To the left is the Sir Walter Scott monument and the Balmoral Hotel is on the right. Yes, that's a hotel. The very one where J.K. Rowling finished the seventh Harry Potter book to be exact.]

I guess I'm starting to feel part of this city if the tourists are now annoying me. At heart, I still feel like a tourist (just a subtler one ;).
[The Grecian building is the National Gallery and behind it, that prestigious looking building with the spires? Well, that's where I go to class 4x a week.]

Monday, October 11, 2010

Scotland: More than Just Stereotypes of Shortbread

I hate to break it to everyone, but Scotland and England are not the same country. Yes, technically they are both part of the United Kingdom, but the unity stops there. As I've learned in past few weeks Gerard Butler's accent is only scratching the surface of the loch (lake) when it comes to distinguishing the two countries.

Here's a basic cultural breakdown:

The British are: Scots, English, and Welsh. In an international sense, you can call a Scottish person British. If you are already in the UK its best to refer to people as Scottish or English respectively. And even though Northern Ireland is part of the UK, they are not referred to as Brits.

What this means when you are actually in Scotland is a few significant cultural distinctions:

-The Scots have their own money, although it's still the sterling pound and can be used all over the UK, its specifically issued from the Royal Bank of Scotland, Clydesdale Bank, or Bank of Scotland (which I can confidently proclaim is the most annoying bank in the world, I may be a bit biased considering it took a month for my American money to transfer to my bank account there.)

-The Christian Protestant denomination in Scotland is Presbyterian. However only 12% of the population here practices it.

-Fun fact: the quintessential British name Alistair is spelled differently depending on which country you're in. In England its Alistair. In Scotland its Alasdair (like one of their most famous postmodernist authors, Alasdair Gray).

-Or as my Scottish flatmate put it, Scotland and England have different football (soccer) teams. This is probably the most important cultural distinction to the Scots themselves haha.

If this entire post has been a revelation to you, don't worry you're not alone. My Scottish flatmate explained that when a Scot becomes famous (whether it be an actor or athlete) they are suddenly called "English" by the international media. Take the tennis player Andy Murray for example. Murray was born in Glasgow, but if you were to ask anyone not from Scotland where he was from they'd respond England. However if an athlete or an actor loses their good reputation they are demoted from honorary "English" to "Scottish" again.

Turns out learning what haggis consists of is not the only important thing to know about Scotland. Now that you can tell the difference between England and Scotland, here's a way to show your Scottish pride other than eating shortbread (although I highly recommend that too.)

Scottish Films: "Braveheart," "Trainspotting" (I still have yet to see this despite how its set near Edinburgh), "Local Hero" (a favorite in the Malone household)

Scottish Actors: James McAvoy, Ewan McGregor, Gerard Butler, Sean Connery, Isla Fisher, or David Tennant (famous for cult classic "Dr. Who," if you want to understand conversation here, don't worry about the accent, worry about what time period the Doctor is in this week's episode.)

[James McAvoy]

Scottish Authors: I'm sure you've already heard of Robert Burns (they have a whole day dedicated to him here where his poem about haggis is recited and then ridiculous amounts of haggis and alcohol are consumed), Sir Walter Scott (his monument is one of the largest in the city), Robert Louis Stevenson, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. However there are more Scottish authors lurking on your bookshelf: Ian Rankin, Alexander McCall Smith, J.M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan), and Irvine Welsh (who wrote the book that "Trainspotting" the film is based off of among others) just to name a few. J.K. Rowling may be English, but she's adopted Edinburgh. Cafes throughout Edinburgh have signs that say "J.K. Rowling wrote here" and people spot her around town sometimes.
[Irvine Welsh]

Scottish Bands: Music tastes are variant to say the least, but here are some of my favorite Scottish bands (click on the link of their name and you'll hear my favorite songs by each band). Belle & Sebastian, one of the most famous indie bands from Glasgow. Glasvegas, fittingly also from Glasgow the lead singer is a real crooner. Franz Ferdinand, their love for new wave and tight pants is echoed all over Scotland. Camera Obscura, very girly and relaxing. Paolo Nutini, a singer songwriter whose song "New Shoes" is popular in the US.
[Belle & Sebastian]

Of course the list above isn't definitive and I'm sure I'll add to it throughout the year.