In my experience everyone says, “Oh, I want to visit Scotland (or Japan, India, Australia etc.) someday.” At 22 I said the same thing, but in the same breath I asked the crucial question, “Why not now?” Young, adventurous, and ambitious, I couldn’t think of a single reason why not. Yes, there are all the obstacles like money, fear, and insecurity, but in reality, I have found that once you decide to do something and commit in some way, you find a way to conquer everything in between. In light of this realization, I applied for a year at University of Glasgow, was accepted, and found myself living in Scotland about 9 months later.
The world is my oyster…or so they keep telling me.
Then I was there, reporting back. Greeting and Salutations from the land of the not entirely wet, turns out every now and then the sun shows up here and I have to admit its no longer quite so color coordinated…gray of stone with gray of sky. The blue kind of offsets the whole décor. There are so many interesting and new things happening to me daily that the mad writer in me would have a coronary if I didn’t get it down somewhere. With that in mind, here we go….
Most recently I’m noticing language differences and the smaller stranger culture differences. I had to have this explained to me in no uncertain terms the definition of dearer, its commonly used here in fiscal terms, basically saying more expensive, I just thought that was odd. Not to mention around here you are never hit by a car, rather you get knocked down. I would have to say if you get hit (and you might as they speed up and aim if you are against the light) around here getting knocked down is the least of your problems. It’s the getting back up part that would concern me.
The pubs, as I’m sure you are aware are the social spot of the hour and Glasgow is in no way shy in that aspect. You can’t go a half a block without finding one. Shawn and I spent last Sunday night soaking up the local social life in the pub down the street. It instituted a dress code on the weekends of no colors, not gang colors…football (aka soccer to us Americans). Man they take that sport seriously here! It’s not just picking a team in Glasgow it’s picking a religion, literally! One team, the Rangers, is passionately British and Protestant, the other, the Celtics, is proud of their Catholic and Irish heritage.. If you cheer for the wrong side in the wrong pub it gets ugly.
Back to the pub, they print the labels on the larger bottles upside down so that they can be turned upside down onto a dispenser behind the bar. I want to buy one that way, send it home and confuse someone! Not to mention Jim Beam whiskey is top shelf here and Johnny Walker is not. Unfortunately the pubs close at a pathetic 11 pm. On the bright side they sell cider in two liter bottles in the stores for only 3 pounds!
The alcohol factor is quite different here, in fact, at the freshers fayre, which is a place to find clubs and sell products to students, they had two crazy scots well into there cups by 11 am. They sat Shannon and I down and demanded we take a shot from the little statue that, errr, relived itself into your glass .This is of course on campus, which is completely illegal in the states. After our little alcohol, umm, demonstration we discovered what club they were advocating…football. Oh no, they don’t play it; they just watch it and get drunk. In fact, every single club had a pub-crawl organized in the near future. This must be a national past time! Is it me or does an organized pub-crawl an oxy moron?
Speaking of school, sort of, orientation was this week. That was an experience. I would have to describe the whole thing as culture stew, because the different cultures travel in chunks and all of the accents are thick and chewy. I sat next to some Germans today that had the nerve to tell me that I had a “thick American accent!” Now that’s a line I never expected to hear, I though we were the anti-accent! Think about it, their accent can be unintelligible, but they start singing and everyone sounds like us.
During orientation we were introduced to the chief of police that said in no uncertain terms that drugs are illegal in Glasgow, but he didn’t really care what we did, “just don’t get caught.” I’m sure the DARE program would be tickled with this guy. Their presentation was actually quite amusing, you see, the chief was in a suit and tie looking all respectable give or take the thick accent that rivaled the cabbies and, dare I say it, the bus drivers. With him was his Lieutenant or some such title in the uniform, hat on, hands held neatly in front of him, staring straight ahead, with a stone cold expression. The chief introduced himself; I didn’t understand it, and his colleague. He went on to say about his friend, “and this is his happy face.” Still the same lifeless expression, “and this is his angry face.” Not a movement, the man didn’t blink. “If you are really nice to him perhaps he’ll smile.” No change. “But if you really want to see him smile you’ll buy him a drink.” The man absolutely lit up, showed an entire mouth of teeth, and bobbed his head up and down like a five year old agreeing to chocolate ice cream. This year is going to be interesting, as in the Chinese curse/blessing “May you live in interesting times.”
There was a social last night where they fed us their version of food and of course alcohol and the point,of course, was to socialize. As I said the cultures stick together, we ended up at a table with a bunch of Americans, New Yorkers no less. This one guy, Lenny, has this little patch of facial hair growing solely from a half-inch strip right under his lip. That little s trip has been grown out to the bottom of his chin. He was actually a very personable fellow;however, he played with that little patch like someone would a lip piercing and every time he bit his lower lip the damn thing pointed at me. It’s very hard to have a conversation when someone’s facial hair is pointing at you, accusingly! You keep trying to maintain eye contact, but you can see that thing pointing and you can’t help but wonder what exactly it discovered and is about to dramatically reveal!
I’m working very hard to understand their school system, but its just baffling me. You see, there are three terms and you only take classes on the first two, the third is for finals and what not. Makes sense until you realize you take a test in May or June on something you were taught in October or November. Kind of painful. Now the day of matriculation is the third, that’s the day you give them your money, after that everything starts, until then we are kind of at a stand still. Nothing happens till you hand over your life savings, I guess some cultural values are universal. Then you register for classes, and no, this does not involve a web page or a telephone! You
have to motivate your little tooshy out of the house and go find the professor of whatever class you are interested in and get your name on the list and get a schedule. Walk fast or you won’t get into the classes you want. I guess that’s one way to encourage exercise! I’ve met the deans of almost every department already and I’ve only been here for a week, I’ve been at UNR for three years never saw one. I thought they were something along the lines of a Sasquatch until now. Quite the change!
We also went to Perth, which is a quaint little town where we walked from one edge of town to the other in about twenty minutes. Did you notice this walking verb keeps popping up everywhere, apparently its what people do when they don’t own a car, I think I have a vague recollection of such a thing from childhood. Anyway, the legs are now the magic and they require no key, but boy are they cranky. I think it will take a little while to get used to walking everywhere, but hey! I’m gonna come back with some great legs.
While we were there we wandered into the old church (this is going to be a common occurrence here) it was incredible; all stone and stained glass, smelling of earth and age. The first foundation set in 1242 and of course it was damaged during a war here and there, and the reformation, but the last time it was altered was 1542. It’s still being used as a church by a small congregation within the very small town of Perth. How different is our world view when Americans get excited when a building is over 50 years old and the Scots go to church in a building around 800 years old and think nothing of it?
We also had the opportunity to explore the Black Watch museum; they had pictures and paintings dating back to the 1200s. The entire history of the black watch and all kinds of mementos, newspaper articles and what I really appreciated is the fact that in mentioning that so and so died in the war, they say how. Like one doctor was killed because he covered a patient with his body (don’t know if the patient lived) and one general was severely wounded in the very beginning of a battle, but fought the entire day and was finally killed in the last raid. All the gory details of their lives and deaths and every one of them in a kilt. Woohoo, what a country!
I can live with this!