Saturday, 31 January 2015

Learning to live with Scottish mannerisms...

I apologise in advance if this post isn't deemed to be primarily about harness racing, as the title of the blog itself would suggest. It is however about the other element of the title - Scotland, and the little things that I have noticed and grown used to since moving here.

I've been thinking about the following for some time; particularly since meeting a lovely lady in Wales by the name of Sara Arthur whose other half has done my reverse journey. When I went to stay with Rachel at Wellfield Stud, I was tasked with sourcing a dozen 'well-fired' rolls and some square sausage to take down for this gentleman whom I'd never met; he was taking the opportunity to get hold of some home comforts. Now I don't do that whenever I go back to Wales, or when someone from Wales visits me. There aren't really Welsh 'things' that I can't get up here. Ok, so I'm partial to the odd welshcake but I'm not overly fussed if I go a few months without one. Wales doesn't seem to have speciality foods that aren't available outside of the country (I'm not sure where the rest of the UK stands on lava bread, but seeing as I've never had a full Welsh breakfast then I can't say whether I like lava bread or not. And I'm still not sure if it's classed as a Welsh food. In fact, I'm still not sure what it is - which doesn't say much for the four years I worked as a waitress in an independent restaurant that served it as part of the Welsh breakfast...).

The other reason that prompted me to write tonight is the book that I'm currently reading - Let's Talk About...Kevin Bridges. It's Kevin Bridges' autobiography. For those of you unaware of the work of Kevin Bridges, he's a young Glaswegian comedian who has not only introduced my other half to the brilliant world of stand-up comedy, but has helped me start to understand the man I'm living with. Obviously I understand Smarty; the accent was the first hurdle to be cleared, and quite early on in the relationship. Once I've tuned in to someone's accent I can generally get to grips with most of what they're saying. It's a skill that definitely helped me whilst working for STAGBI, especially when I didn't know where the next call would be coming from, and trying to decipher what somebody's query is when they don't really know themselves...well it helps to be able to at least understand what they're saying, even if I didn't understand what they wanted. The only accent I have yet to truly master is the Cork accent. It doesn't help that the people I know from Cork and the surrounding area speak incredibly quickly, but I can't quite put my finger on what else prevents me from understanding it fully. I once told Smarty of a gentleman I'm friendly with who claims to live in the Western-most point of Ireland, and the 'closest parish to America', who is fond of a drink or two when he visits Aberystwyth or Tregaron for the racing. I told him that when this man speaks to me, it's just noises: noises with inflection and intonation, but no clear words. The only words I have ever understood from him have been swear words, with which he invariably ends his stories. When I introduced Smarty to my friend, in a bar in Aberystwyth, after a few too many on both our parts (and a conversation that only he understood), he shook his hand and began one of his sentences of gibberish. When he came to the end of his story, he laughed, said 'fook it', and walked off. Up until that point, Smarty hadn't believed me, but we laughed about it a lot that night.

So no, the accent hasn't been a sticking point. The vocabulary...yes, that has. Sara and I briefly discussed this on my visit down south, but we only scratched the surface. For example, 'how?' means 'why?'. If I were to say to Smarty, 'we need to leave early tomorrow to get to Musselburgh', he would say 'how?' instead of 'why?'. For the first few months I tried to correct this. I tried to explain to him that the two words had different meanings, and that 'how' wasn't the appropriate word for what he meant. I find myself now, after over four years with him, answering the question 'how?' as if he'd said 'why?'. Is this an admission of defeat? Or am I simply adapting to a different culture? It's not only Smarty that does this, by the way. All of my Scottish friends are guilty of the same mistake. And I call it a mistake, which is insulting. I'm sure they would say the same of me if they knew that instead of using the word 'cuddle', I use 'cwtch'. Although in my defence, 'cwtch' is an actual Welsh word meaning 'cuddle', and not the incorrect use of a word.

Here's a short list of other words which have different meanings in my new country of residence:

Orange juice: I drink orange juice with my breakfast. It is the juice from an orange. Except orange juice doesn't exist in Scotland. If Iorder orange juice in a bar, the bartender looks at me in a funny way (not because it is an alien concept not for me to order an alcoholic beverage, thank you). Orange juice in Scotland is known as 'fresh orange'. Orange squash, is known as 'diluting orange'. So when I order my orange juice at a bar, they ask me if I want 'fresh orange' or 'diluting orange'. If I wanted 'diluting orange', I would ask for ORANGE SQUASH. Also, I find 'fresh orange' to be deceiving, in that it suggests that somebody is going to freshly squeeze the juice from an orange for me, not pull a small bottle of orange juice out of a fridge and unscrew the cap.

Ken: Ken is a guy I know who lives in the village down the road from my parents farm. Or is he? Turns out he's not. It actually transpires that ken means 'know', as in 'do you ken where that is?'. For the first few months of dealing with Smarty's accent and the fact he spoke too fast, when he asked me things such as 'do you ken what I mean?', I mistook him for saying 'do you care what I mean?', because that was the closest English word I could liken 'ken' to. This resulted in a lot of nodding on my part, when internally I hadn't a clue what I was agreeing to or with.

Long lie: This one has been particularly prompted by Kevin Bridges, as he uses the term in an early chapter of his book. Smarty often uses the excuse when I'm away to my work that he's due a 'long lie', which is the equivalent of a 'lie-in'. As a farmer's daughter, a lie-in, long lie, or whatever you want to call it, is an alien concept to me but something I have been grateful to be introduced to nonetheless. I will always refer to it as a lie-in though.

Mind: To me, the one part of the trinity known as 'mind, body and soul'. To Scottish people, the word used instead of 'remember'. For example, 'I must mind to do that'. I can explain this one in part, as I believe it's a shortened version of the word 'remind', and it is used in place of the word 'remind' more frequently. It still grates on me all the same.

There are so many more examples I have come across over the years, however those are the most frequent.

Then there's the food. I've touched upon the 'well-fired' rolls (bread rolls which have basically been over-cooked and are an alarmingly dark shade of brown and appear burnt) and square sausage (which arguably isn't even sausage - it's a block of beef steak meat, allegedly, cut into slices which aren't technically square, and when cooked turn into hard blocks which could be used to take out someone at close range with the correct aim). Haggis, in comparison, seems relatively normal. Irn Bru, which tastes like a liquid version of Turkish Delight, is actually quite nice. Cold meats...this one may be just an older generation thing. Cold meats for me would be cooked chicken, or ham. When I go into Smarty's gran's fridge, I often find tongue. That's right, tongue. I can't tell if it's been cooked or not, but I'm not eating it either way. It doesn't even specify from which animal it originates, which in light of the not-so-recent horsemeat scandal, must breach numerous food labelling laws (whilst on this subject, I bought some meatballs the other week, which were labelled as 'Scottish spicy meatballs'. I studied the packaging closer, and was unable to determine which animal these meatballs were sourced from).

This next one takes the biscuit. I like Scotland by the way, I really do, and none of the above should be taken as a slur against the country I have chosen to live in. I like the people, I like where I live, I'm hoping I'll like where I'm starting my new job on Monday...that said, and the statistics are there to support this, Scotland is faced with an obesity problem. Before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, so is Wales. In fact I believe Wales is the most obese country in Europe according to the most recent EU study on obesity levels. Anyway, Scotland can't be far behind. I see it with my own eyes on a daily basis. With this in mind, I was amused at best, and slightly concerned at worst, to discover that in Scotland when you enter a fish and chip shop and order a single fish supper, you get two battered fish and chips. Obesity problems aside, the word single does not denote two of anything. That would be a double fish supper. You can literally get anything battered too. I had a pizza crunch one night, which is a pizza which has been battered. I'd never heard of that before.

Finally, and this probably only applies if you move to an area in or around Glasgow, there's the whole Celtic/Rangers thing. When I was a child, my brother used to collect these football shirts that were pencil toppers, plastic things you shoved on top of your pens or pencils. He had one for every team in the Premier League, as well as Celtic, Rangers, Hearts and Hibs. We used to lay them out on the kitchen table and take turns to pick one each. Obviously I always picked Liverpool first, and he picked Manchester United, but after that I simply went on the colours I liked. He explained to me that I could either have Celtic OR Rangers, Hearts OR Hibs; green was my favourite colour so I would pick Celtic over Rangers. As I grew up I read stories here and there about the rivalry between the two teams, and put it down to football hooliganism at its worst (as a rugby fan, where when you attend a match, club level or international, you can be seated anywhere and next to anyone, even a supporter of the other team, I always looked down on this behaviour somewhat). It wasn't until meeting Smarty that I began to understand the background behind it all. It's not something I'm going to comment on, but I've learnt to say little and not get involved in any arguments between friends. Suffice it to say, it's a minefield, more so than the independence referendum was (although I came under fire for that without saying anything purely for being a non-Scottish person with a vote).

Learning to adapt to a new culture is difficult; learning to adapt to a new culture when you didn't expect there to be one is even harder. There aren't any language books or guides on how to get to grips with Scottish culture, and why would there be when the national language is English and the country is part of the United Kingdom? Except the national language is something I call 'Scottish English', a language I can now add to my repertoire as a translator, and despite being part of the United Kingdom, Scotland is still Scotland.

My last word on this topic is this - adapting to life in Scotland has been made easier by the people I have met. People who I may have met briefly before moving, but mainly people I've met since. Had it not been for the vibrant harness racing scene in Scotland, I wouldn't have made many friends. My life is so consumed by the sport, and the horses, that I think I almost find it difficult now to find common ground with people outside of harness racing. Or it could be that there are so many characters within the game that people outside of it seem a bit...'normal'. And for me, normal doesn't quite cut it anymore.

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