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Before coming to Scotland for my post-graduate studies I had been outside the US a grand total of two times and never once outside of North America. So, while I eagerly anticipated the journey and the experiences awaiting me 4000 miles from home, some of the challenges I faced on arrival genuinely surprised me. Now, to be fair, I grew up in rural USA, in a town that consisted of about 14,000 people so some culture shock was to be expected, although I’m not certain it was culture shock so much as preconceived-ideas shock.
Being the uncultured “yank” that I am I knew that British accents varied. I’d seen Braveheart and Harry Potter, I knew there was a difference between Scottish and English accents. What I didn’t know was that listening to an authentic Scottish accent would make me feel like I was being introduced to a new language. I’ve been here for nearly a year and while I can say that I have progressed significantly in my understanding of the Scottish brogue, my very recently acquired position working at a horse yard with some Glaswegians had shown me that I still have much to learn.
Another language-related surprise is the number of variations for names of things (again, very much in evidence at my new job). As oblivious as I apparently am to the world, it took me a few weeks to realise that “pants” does not mean trousers over here, that “tea” is dinnertime, and that adding the suffix –nae to words somehow makes them both negative and infinitely more difficult to understand.
I think, though, that one of the single most surprising facts of life in Edinburgh is how genuinely helpful and friendly the people. When I arrived on my first day, three giant suitcases and two duffle bags in tow, jet-lagged, hungry, and generally clueless, a series of bus drivers and cabbies got me to where I needed to be refusing tips and to let me help them with my gargantuan bags as they gave me directions and made sure I understood them well enough to follow them. I was overwhelmed with how welcomed I felt by complete strangers. It is remarkable to me how much that initial experience has affected my view of this city and its people. Had my bus driver been a little less patient, had my cabbie been a little less helpful, that first day would have been a completely different experience and could have coloured every day since a little darker. As it is, Edinburgh is one of the least sunny yet somehow brightest places I’ve ever been to.