The Scottish Saltire

The Scottish Saltire

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Random Observations

I really should be working on an essay for one of my classes but I haven't blogged in so long! I'm not quite sure where to start so I think I'll just jot down a few things that have been rattling around in my head for a while.

Tomorrow is the two month mark! I arrived on August 7th and school started on September 7th. I am still incredibly happy about my new life in Inverness. I did nothing but play, play, play for the first month. This last month has been very busy, though. Besides attending classes there is an incredible amount of reading to do before each class, not to mention writing papers and doing the necessary research for said papers. The paper that I should be working on right now, instead of blogging, is about the hunter-gatherers of the Mesolithic period for a class called History of Material Culture. We are studying the archaeology of Britain in general and more specifically Scotland. Very interesting subject but some of the academic papers that we have to read are soooo dry and boring! Others are very 'readable', though. I enjoy the latter and trudge through the former.

Another class is called The Atlantic World 1492-1800 The Old World Meets the New. It's about European Exploration. 1492 ring a bell, anyone? So guess what we've been talking about for the last couple of weeks....the settling of North America! I have to laugh at myself. I travel a continent and an ocean to come here and study Scottish History and I'm studying the history of my own country! Columbus, Pilgrims, Native Americans...the whole shebang! I just submitted my first paper for this class. It was about Jamestown and Plymouth! Even though this is a subject that I studied all through school growing up, for just about everyone else in the class this is all new information. They certainly didn't study this in school. Why would they? I believe we are moving on to West Africa next week but we'll be coming back to North America next month...more about the early settlers, the Atlantic slave trade and rum running.

My third class this semester is Scottish History 1066-1603. We started in the 11th century with the impact of the Normans on Scotland and have worked our way up through the wars of independence involving William Wallace and Robert the Bruce (not quite as flashy but a wee bit more in depth than Braveheart!). I was a little nervous about this class. I thought I would be at a real disadvantage here. I assumed that my classmates, all being Scottish, would know this subject from school the way I know American history from school. Not so! As Americans we get fed our national history from the very beginning of our academic sojourn. Everyone remember that play about the pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving in first grade? So I assumed it was the same way in the Scottish educational system. It's not. Scottish history simply isn't taught to Scottish children. That's not to say that my classmates are totally ignorant of the history of their country. But what they know they didn't learn in school. So I'm not really at a disadvantage here. Some know more than I do and some know less. But, given that we are all first year students in the Scottish History program, it's a safe bet to say that we all want to know more!

My fourth class is called Identity and Environment. It is specifically about cultural identity within the Highlands and Islands of Scotland....very different historically from lowland Scotland. When I decided to move to Scotland I knew, without a doubt, that I wanted to live in the Highlands. I have studied enough Scottish history on my own to know that this part of Scotland is special. I have to admit that I was drawn by the stories of wild highlanders, clan life, tartan, the pipes, the Jacobite rebellions and all the other things that have been so romanticized about the Highlands. But I also knew that these things were only part of a much larger and much more complex story. My motive for moving to the Highlands specifically was to learn the whole story of this incredible region, both past and present. If Scottish History 1066-1603 is the entree in my academic smorgasbord then Identity and Environment is the dessert (hmm.....does that make Atlantic World and Material Culture bread and salad or side dishes?).

Speaking of the present...I am pleasantly surprised at how content I am in my current home life. Before I got here I was pretty set on having my own apt. I took this place initially because it was a whole lot cheaper than the bed and breakfast and, as Kenny said, it would at least give me some breathing room while I looked for what I wanted. But after 2 months here I can't imagine living anywhere else.

Kenny is a wonderful landlord besides being a good friend and my 3 housemates and I get along really well. Iain (no I haven't misspelled his name) has been an unexpected treasure. He and I hit it off immediately and we become better and better friends with each passing day. He took a couple of weeks off work not long after I moved in and we hung out together every day. People saw us grocery shopping together, running around town during the daytime together and in the pubs together at night so much that we had to laugh knowing that everyone was just sure that there was something going on between us. All of his friends and mine, and especially our mutual friends, have by now figured it out that we are just really good mates (to use the Scottish term for friends). I adore Iain and count myself very lucky to have drawn him in the housemate lottery. He is a few years younger than me, ex RAF, divorced, father of 3, half Scottish-half English, speaks with an English accent, his father was also in the RAF so they lived all over but Iain was born in Scotland. He is one of the kindest people I know, very unpretentious and very funny. One day Tobi and Chris had just come back from running and they casually invited Iain to go with them the next time. Iain responded with, "I don't panics the troops." I cracked up!

Tobi and Chris are only here until December. I think I mentioned in an earlier post that they are German students studying forestry and are here on a one semester exchange program. I introduced them to the mini series Roots a few nights ago. We've been watching it one installment at a time and we just finished watching the last episode tonight. They really enjoyed it. We are an odd little family and Iain and I will miss the boys when they leave. Haha! That does sound like a family unit thing to say!
Considering our mix of nationalities we have dubbed our house NATO Central. We have the British, the Germans and the Americans!

I opened a bank account a few weeks ago. When my checks came in the mail I was quite puzzled. They didn't look like the checks I'm used to. You know, two lines. First one for the person's name, second one for the amount. Then the signature line below and to the right. These checks had three lines. The sig line was obvious, but three lines? And none of them marked as to what they were for. I was stumped. So the other day I put one in my pocket and when I saw Laura and Sandra I pulled it out and laughingly admitted that I needed someone to show me how to fill it out! The random things that a new culture throws at you!

I'm also getting used to some language differences....

I have to try to remember to say trousers, not pants. Pants are what you wear under your trousers!

Another word that could be quite embarrassing is fanny. To us, a harmless little word that means your butt. Right? Wrong! Same general area of the body but around the front side....of the female body. So no talk of fanny packs, or of patting someone on the fanny. Can't you just picture talking about when my kids were little and when they would misbehave I would pop them on the fanny. "You what?!!" hahaha!

Half past the hour is expressed as half 8 or half 10. This was a bit confusing at first because in German half 8 means 7:30. Here it means 8:30.

The opposite of inside is outside, right? So is the opposite of within without? Of course not, that means something completely different so we say outside. Not here. The opposite of within is outwith.
Are/Is....I would say Schiehallion is playing at The Gellions tonight. Schiehallion is the name of "a" band as in one singular unit. Wrong again! Schiehallion is made of more than one person, therefore, "Schiehallion ARE playing at The Gellions tonight." Just as in "The family are coming for dinner." or "Manchester United are winning 2-1."

The Gellions, a local favorite pub, is pronounced The Gilluns (with a hard g) and the Moray Firth is pronounced the Murry Firth (a firth is a bay along the coast).

"That's me/That's us" is often used in place of "I'm/We're". "That's me ready for bed." or "That's us leaving just now."

I vacuum the carpet. Iain hoovers the carpet.

I have a cell phone, Tobi and Chris each have a handy and everyone else carries a mobile. The stress is still on the first syllable but the second syllable is pronounced with the long 'i' sound.

"Cheers"... As speakers of American English we think of this word as simply a way to make a toast. Silly Americans! It also means "Thanks". Someone holds the door for you, you respond with "Cheers" or "Cheers, mate". When I get off the bus I say "Thank you." to the bus driver on my way past. Everyone else says "Cheers" on their way out.

"Pissed"... "He was really pissed when I saw him the other night" It means he was drunk not mad. He could very well have been in a great mood and still have been pissed!

And, last but certainly not least, is my favorite word of all.......wee. Kenny says it a lot. "Here's a wee song about..." "Here's a wee song written by...." When I picked up my new glasses the man fitting them said "I'll just give them a wee clean." Everything is a wee this or a wee that. And, of course, they really do call it a "wee dram". That's a shot of whisky. My spell check is trying to tell me to put an 'e' between the 'k' and the 'y' but that's not correct. If it is made in Scotland then the word is spelled whisky. Anything made elsewhere, as in the States or Canada, is spelled with an 'ey'.

Oh, that reminds me of one more! Those of you who have traveled outside of the U.S., think about what it is you say when someone asks you where you're from. Chances are you say "The States". That's what we seem to call our country when we are outwith its borders. We might also refer to it as "The U.S" but it is never MY first reaction to call it "America" when I talk about home. If I'm trying to explain something that is different where I come from I would probably say something like, "In the States we would use a blah blah blah..." but not, "In America we would use a blah blah blah..." I would say "I'm going home to the States for Christmas." not "I'm going home to America for Christmas." It's taking some getting used to to say "I'm from America." When I say "I'm from the States" people say, with a puzzled look, "Where?" They hear my accent and expect me to say one of two things, either "Canada" or "America", but not "The States". When they talk about it they always call it America. Never anything else so it kind of trips them up when I call it something else. I try to call it America but it just feels really weird.

So, the long and short of my little language recital is that even though we are all speaking English we are sometimes speaking VERY different English. There are a lot more examples that I can think of but you get my drift. Nothing is right or wrong and I'm sure, in time, I'll pick up some of the words that are not currently in my vocabulary. But, for now, not only am I the one with the accent but, given the fact that I'm the foreigner, I'm the one who talks funny!

I do take a bit of ribbing for being an American (from some more than others!) but it's all done very teasingly. I have made so many friends in the short time that I've been here! I can honestly say that, even though I miss my kids especially, I have not felt a moment of loneliness since I arrived. I am amazed at how I've just been gathered in and made to feel a part of this community.

Thanksgiving is coming up next month and those of you who know me know I've always had a houseful of people for Thanksgiving dinner. Well, this year will be no different. I've invited about a dozen friends. They all accepted my invitation with enthusiasm and are looking forward to experiencing a real American Thanksgiving dinner. The pumpkin pie has aroused the most curiosity. A couple of people have asked if they can bring anything. I said no there really isn't anything anyone can bring except maybe the booze. Hazel wanted to know if she could at least bring a pudding. I'm not exactly sure what "a pudding" is but I AM sure that they are not traditionally part of the Thanksgiving meal! Maybe someone could bring a veggie tray. I slipped and said something about chips and dip. That got a funny look and I had to correct myself. Chips are crisps here and fries are chips. Hahaha! Could you just see us all sitting around dipping french fries before dinner? Maybe we could start a new tradition and dip fries into a pudding!

OK, it's getting late and now I'm just getting slap happy. I think it's time for bed. I'll try not to let so much time pass before my next blog entry. Just because the name of my blog is Journey To The Highlands doesn't mean that it should end just because I got here!


Amy said...

Here, here! Also, I'm pretty sure pudding -> dessert.

It reminds me of John's comment of when he went to Munich, and felt and home and comfortable with the language (even though he didn't have the vocabulary to understand much of what was said), and then got to London, couldn't understand a word half the people said, and thought, "Aah! I'm in a foreign country!" Sho nuf, all these things called English are not mutually intelligible, and Hawaiian Pidgin sounds like just another accented English to me. It's all relative.

Oh, and let me say one more time, I'm so glad you're (still!) having such an excellent time there!

Nikki said...

Don't have much time to comment, but just wanted to say thank you for this DELIGHTFUL post!

And I think "Journey to the Highlands" continues to be a perfectly fitting name for your blog. After all, the real journey has only just begun!