Less than two weeks ago, I was wandering the streets of Glasgow, Scotland.
Already, my five months in Scotland feels unreal, like the wispiest of dreams. Every once in awhile, a “Hi-ya” pops outs of my mouth, I glance at the right side of the road first before crossing the street, I call fries “chips,” I expect to hear “em” instead” of “uh” during lulls in conversation.
Otherwise, though, I feel like whatever Scottishness that may have impressed upon me is fast-fading, like golding leaves in autumn.
Did I really play Ring of Fire with two Scottish boys and an American friend at midnight? Did I really spin around violently during a céilidh?Did I really backpack across Europe (occasionally by myself)? Did I really scale the Storr on the Isle of Skye until I looked queasily down from the base of the Old Man of Storr? Did I really stand on the rocky, shell-studded shores of the Isle of Arran, with the sun shining full upon me and the waves lulling me to peaceful drowsiness?
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again with more elaboration: It took me awhile to fall in love with Glasgow and Scotland. Being a veteran of studying abroad for an extensive amount of time, I’d already fallen for España with all the fiery zeal of first love. When I’d lived, briefly, in Spain, I’d seen everything with new, excited eyes: buildings older than my birth country, soaring mountains, quirky local customs, music in the streets.
Thus, when I first set foot in Scotland, I was already seeing it with jaded eyes (or as jaded as I can possibly be as a sheltered, privileged, American twenty-one-year-old). Castle? Seen a dozen. Museums with masters I’ve only studied in books? Seen them. Mountains? Los picos de Europa already covered that.
Not to mention, I disliked the crotchety grayish weather, the steep high hills, etc., plus the food was kind of bland. Yo prefiero croquetas de jamón y fabada asturiana, por favor.
But living in a country, a city, for five months does something to a body, a mind, a heart, a soul. Certain things, even your most everyday routines imprint upon you, dig deep into your bones. I began to plan my weekends around certain pubs (and the occasional club) with newfound friends (The Lord Todd’s, The Counting House, and The Ark being particular favorites). I quickly learned the aisles of Aldi, Sainsbury’s, and The Co-operative Food. My feet cut a well-worn path to the Buchanan Galleries, Sauchiehall Street, and the West End.
Eventually, I even developed an appreciation for some foods in the Scottish-English-Irish culinary repertoire: I learned to love cullen skink more than clam chowder; I delighted in Irish full fries, especially potato scones and soda bread; I scarfed down Nutella on toast, shortbread, and different shades of tea; I took advantage of a national passion for curry; I frequented certain chippies for my weekly serving of chips, cheese, vinegar, and the occasional glistening hunk of golden-fried fish with brown sauce; I even willingly ordered peppery haggis a couple of times.
What I’ve come to realize is that I learned to love Scotland, the United Kingdom, as deeply as I love Spain, but that it’s more the love of experience (or as much experience as I possess in my relatively few years on this Earth). It’s the love of having been through the process before and having learned a few tricks in the meantime. It’s the love that goes beyond the initial impressions, the overwhelming morass of new experiences, sensations, and feelings, and sees a place, warts and all, and accepts it anyway.
It’s the love that comes from living somewhere for a long time and learning to call it home.
Will I go back to Scotland one day? I hope so, but my chances of living there the way I lived in a cramped flat at the University of Strathclyde for a semester are dim. I have friends who have found practical ways to live there more permanently, finding suitable graduate programs, jobs, but my academic interests (ethnic American literature) are better suited to university programs in my original home. Not to mention, the siren call of the rest of this wide, wondrous world is calling me to step on their shores and open myself to them, too.
But Scotland, the United Kingdom, like all loves, past, present, and future, is and forever will be part of my mental and emotional landscape, a country etched permanently on the map of myself.
A short list of what will be etched, or what I (do not) miss:
1.) Crossing four-way intersections diagonally, because the pedestrian stoplights turn green for both crosswalks at the same time.
2.) Sainsbury’s and The Co-operative for being filled with fresh, cheap food and in Sainsbury’s case, a surprisingly decent international section and truly delicious pre-prepared food
a.) I will not miss the local Aldi except for its prices. I still can’t believe they ran out of garlic powder.
3.) Even though I am now legally able to drink alcohol in the United States, I miss Scottish pubs. I miss the more casual drinking culture. I miss the friends I relaxed with in pubs and flats or partied with in clubs.
a.) I will not miss the noise, mess, etc., that can come with alcohol. As Agnes Scott College preaches, “Party smart, Scotties!”
4.) I miss the Scottish countryside. I never really fell in love with the outside until I met the craggy drama of the Scottish outdoors: the mountains, the lakes, the sea, the cows, the sheep.
a.) I will not miss cow patties or mud.
5.) The ease of transportation. With my railcard and judicious use of buses, EasyJet, and Ryanair, the world seemed to so much closer to my grasping reach.
a.) I hate Ryanair and its constant shilling for money, but its baseline tickets are so cheap that I will grit my teeth and fly with them again.
6.) Free museums, courtesy of the government.
a.) Speaking of “free,” I will not miss the pound and the exchange rate for depleting my bank account.
7.) Right before I left, Scotland was suddenly hit with 70-degrees Fahrenheit weather, and I, a Southerner, realized, to my horror, that I was sweating and bitching as much as the locals. I, who loved sunlight so much that I could barely stand the near-constant grayness for the first week or so!
a.) Despite that, I am relieved to be returning to a place with a May that is actually, consistently, you know, sunny and full of flowers. Also, I won’t miss not having air-conditioning!
8.) I miss hearing children speak in Scottish, English, or Irish accents (especially my cousins). It still awes me that I was the one with the accent there, and that people learn to speak English in those accents.
9.) I miss my haunts, my happy places. The library and café in the Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow Green, the Necropolis, Barnardo’s, Café Pera, Voltaire and Rousseau, Cineworld, Esquires Coffee House, and the teashops (Bibliocafé, Tchai Ovna House of Tea) of the West End.
10.) My friends and family, the people I lived, studied, explored, partied, and talked with, who were not only Scottish, British, and American but hailed from all over the world. Those people, more than anything, made my time abroad what it was.
Many people may not know that the New Year’s Eve staple,”Auld Lang Syne,” was written by Scottish national poet, Robert Burns. “Auld lang syne” can be roughly translated into “old times” or “days gone by.”
Of course, the version we Americans know is not the Scots vernacular one, but nevertheless,
the wistful lyrics of each evoke what it means to part from someone — or someplace — you love.
A few days after I returned to the United States, I was sitting in a car on a road in Indiana, watching the flat Midwestern landscape zoom by when a road sign caught my eye.
Immediately, I was in the capital of the Scottish Highlands, watching the River Ness laze by, in
a restaurant with the best mushroom risotto I’ve ever tasted. I was on a boat on Loch Ness, craning my neck, looking for Nessie. I was laughing with my friends, as we snapped picture after picture.
We, Scotland and I, are physically parted by seas between us braid, perhaps for a long time. Yet, as long as I can remember auld lang syne, Scotland will always stay with me, where it matters the most. And hopefully, someday, I can return with weary fit to the solid, real place, not a land of cloud-like dreams.