A Chat with Scotland

Once upon a time, starting about a year ago, my best friend was going to move to Utah at the end of August this year.

Through a series of events that began in May and crammed themselves into about six weeks, she and her husband had received a job opportunity for their family in Scotland, decided they were going, sold their house, and left western Washington for a life across the pond.

I miss her like crazy, but am excited for this chance to hear all about her adventures. And what better way to convince myself that a visit to the UK is essential–and soon–than to have my best friend move there? (No offense, Utah, but I don’t think I could have found enough material to fill a blog series about you.)

Without further ado, I happily introduce the beautiful Tami (one of my very favorite people) as the star of “Scotland Chats!”

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(Here she is with her two youngest children, just chilling while exploring castle ruins. Because that’s what they do for fun in Scotland.)

Wendy: Okay. Is Scotland what you expected? What did you expect?

Tami: Yes it’s what I expected so far, except the weather. It’s been the hottest summer in years and that’s been a bonus. Seeing that “hot” here is in the high 70’s. (Make that the mid 20’s). I did expect it to be green and beautiful. The landscape is amazing, the hills that are gently laid out in green with sheep and cattle. (Haven’t been to the highlands yet). The people are friendly and helpful. I do think they are more reserved than Americans, first off, but when I am friendly and relaxed so are they.

They are definitely more reserved in public and when our family goes somewhere and is loud, we get noticed. That is partially the accent though, our accent. I notice myself talking more quietly to see if that decreases the attention. That said, downtown Aberdeen is full of sassy drunk people late in the evening on a weekend.

Wendy: So you fit right in . . . 😉 Is the conversion confusing? Or did you live with that in Canada? How about from miles to kilometers?

Tami: Haha! As to conversions, I don’t get Celsius, I never have. Even the 4 years in Canada I still had to convert it to F for myself to feel satisfied. It is in miles here so no conversion there.

Wendy: Oh, nice! Are the speed limits posted in mph, then?

Tami: Yes, the speed limits are MPH. Except, the gas in is litres, which I am quick to convert. To figure gas mileage uses a calculator because you fill it in litres, convert it to gallons and then get the MPG.

Wendy: Phew. That’s a lot of work. How much does gas cost per litre?

Tami: About 138.9 pence per litre. Which you multiply by 3.86 to get the price per gallon. About $5.36 per gallon. Of course that is without the pound to dollar factor. Which I don’t think about as much since we are paid in pounds.

Wendy: So, basically, I should stop complaining? I think I paid $3.89 a gallon today.

Tami: Haha! It is much more expensive in Europe in general.

Wendy: Where does the factor “3.86” come from? Is it 3.86 litres in a gallon or something?

Tami: Yes, it is. That I memorized from my Canadian days.

Wendy: You were specially equipped for the transition to UK life.

Tami: A bit yes! I think a big change will be schools, and helping my boys adjust. They are going to have more of a culture shock than the rest of us.

Wendy: True. It’s going to be a whole different ball game. We’ll have to chat again once they’ve been in school a bit and see the differences.

Tami: What does surprise me is how hard it is to understand people. They speak quickly and since I don’t look so touristy they think I understand them. There are those with really thick accents and I just smile and stare with a blank expression. They usually laugh and try to talk slower.

Wendy: Awesome! Hahaha! That was actually my next question: are the accents SO incredible? There is such a musical quality to a Scottish accent, but I can see where not understanding could be a bit of a drag.

Tami: YES!! It’s like living in a dreamland! We all love that, and talk with each other about what things they say differently and who we can understand and who we can’t.

[Editor’s note: check out the sidebar on Tami’s blog to find which American phrases are passé and the way a person should say them in Scotland–although I see “Munch and Mingle” is missing, which has been my favorite Scottish phrase so far. Maybe it’s not on the list because there’s no American equivalent?]

Wendy: I think I would walk around with a sappy smile while listening to everyone’s conversations.

Tami: Hahaha!!! It’s hard not to. 🙂

Wendy: 🙂 Do people want to hear you talk? Is an American accent something they like to hear, or do they get it enough from Hollywood that it doesn’t matter?

Tami: I haven’t had anyone say, Oh! I love your accent. Don’t know if they just hear it enough or if they think that’s forward, or they don’t even care.

Oh, and men dress nicely here. Women are about the same or better. But men dress in slacks and button ups and have nicely cut hair, on average. Now, the younger crowd are still teens and somewhat sloppy, but not YA age and up.

Wendy: Hmm. Intriguing. That visit to Scotland is looking better and better. 😉

Tami: I know!!!

Wendy: Have you asked anyone to speak in an American accent for you?

Tami: No! I haven’t thought of that. I will need to try. There is a “Scottish” language that locals speak (I remember my dad telling me about it). I’ll have to look up the name. I have asked people I’ve met to say something in that.

Wendy: Cool! Is it like Celtic or Welsh or something? (Hm. I probably just offended the entire citizenships of Wales and Scotland by saying that . . . sorry, friends! I know you’re different countries!)

Tami: I’ll find out the name and redeem you!
***
Now that, folks, is a real friend. I’m hoping to have chats with Tami regarding the mysteries of living in Scotland on a regular basis. Any questions you want to ask a real-live American living in Scotland can go in the comments, and I’ll do my best to fit it in.
Check out Tami’s blog for more Scotland adventures and gorgeous photos. (Not many UK citizens think to post pictures of the everyday stuff, so it’s like an Anglophile’s dream come true!)
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Making it Stick

My writing is going through a rough patch lately. I’m not sure what it is, exactly, I only know that I’m having a hard time getting anything to stick. The words, they slip through my brain and out of my mind without stopping to greet the paper.

When I was a kid, we would go up to the mountains to a place called West Piney for family reunions. You’re probably thinking, “Piney? That sounds like a made-up word.” Well, it just might be. Still, that’s what we called it. But when we thought about it, we didn’t think of it as “West Piney.” We thought of if as “that place with the gigantic slide.”

Now, there’s gigantic and there’s gigantic. I don’t know if you can fully appreciate this slide without seeing it in person, and seeing it in person when you are under four feet tall is even better. The lodge was built on the side of a mountain, overlooking a small valley and creek below, and then the mountain grew back up out of the opposite creek bed. To get down the mountain you could take the 40-some-odd steps . . . or you could take the slide.

West Piney

Thanks to the magic of the Internet, here’s a picture.

So, when we’d be there for our family reunions, my brothers and cousins and I would do the regular camping-type activities like hiking, wading in the creek, and performing corny skits around the fireplace, but we’d also raid the kitchen for wax paper or used chip bags. The slide is made out of metal. In the July sun, that baby would heat up enough to blister. We’d take the wax paper or chip bag (opened up with the greasy side down, of course) and sit on them at the top of the slide. The slide has high sides, so it was almost like going down a chute. There we’d perch, the drop off looking impossibly steep, with the end yawning into a pile of cedar shavings.

Once we shoved off, the only way to slow down was by pushing our feet into the sides. But, heck–who wanted to slow down?

We’d zip down the mountainside, the wind whipping our hair behind us, feeling as though we were flying. And then we were flying–right off the end, for only a fraction of a second, but it was you, in the air, free as a bird with a chip bag stuck to its bum.

Then we landed, of course, which wasn’t always the best part of the ride. Just ask my Aunt Barbara, who happened to sort of break her ankle at the bottom.

Sometimes when I’m writing I have these thoughts, these bursts of brilliance. It’s more than my normal writing self: it’s adding a greasy chip bag under my tush at the top and flying, flying, flying, sometimes with the slide underneath and supporting me and sometimes completely on my own.

And then I land.

I lose the flight.

I haven’t caught it. It’s over. It’s done.

It didn’t stick.

Apparently more people than Aunt Barbara were injured on the slide, because they extended the bottom in later years. Instead of flying off the end, we rode flat for longer periods to ease some of that momentum. The only problem was when you didn’t even make it to the end in your initial ride. Then you had to scoot along on your bottom to be able to jump off the end.

Awkward.

In my writing I’m working on finding that perfect balance where I can go fast and fun and free but slow down enough to not injure myself. Not too slow, because no one wants to have to push themselves to the edge. The perfect end is where you come to a stop just before stepping off all together. Although it could be argued an even more perfect end is where you don’t stop at all and the momentum carries you through to the last sentence, where you hop off lightly, turn to look back at what you just conquered, and sigh in satisfaction.

The funny thing about this post is that I wrote it a couple of years ago–and it’s still true. Apparently, I am wont to struggle with getting into a routine of writing. Some weeks it’s great, and others it’s more non-existent. But I continue to try, continue to reach for that perfect end.

Also, check back in a few days for my first (of what I hope will be a great many) Scotland Chat.