Life is full of lessons to be learnt and living abroad over the years has definitely taught me a thing or two. Like that year when I lived in Denmark and had about five umbrellas destroyed in the wind before I switched over to a proper waterproof jacket… Or that time in Iceland when I realised that if you don’t lock the door to your basement washing room someone’s gotta steal your washing machine. True story…
When I moved to Scotland a few years later I was quite confident with my grown-up skills, had purchased a brand-new waterproof jacket and knew how to draw up a realistic monthly budget to live off my little student income. But of course my learning process did not just end there. Moving to Scotland meant a big change in my life: dealing with an accent I could barely understand to begin with, re-learning common sense in relation to traffic, getting used to ales… it was not always easy! Yet, Scotland is holding a special heart in my place, and that is not at least for the life lessons I’ve learnt here most of which have not just made me a better grown-up, but also a better traveller. Here are four of these life lessons I’ve learnt from life in Scotland that also apply to travel.
Lesson 1) Understanding the Spectrum of Rain
When you spend two and a half years on the West coast of Scotland you learn thing or two about rain. First, it is important to understand rain less as a definite state of weather, but more like a spectrum that starts somewhere with ‘the air is a bit wet today’, goes through various stages of dab, drizzle and spitting, and ends towards straight-forward pouring or beating down. I’ve read somewhere that the Scots have more words for rain than the Inuit have for snow…
After some time in Scotland you will soon learn that a) never to trust a blue sky and b) that rain is not always rain. Everybody kind of defines their own system – for me it’s not ‘rain’ until I can’t walk without my face getting wet. If it’s less than that it’s not rain. your tolerance for bad weather grows immensely and soon you will catch yourself telling your friends and family at home, that it’s actually ‘not that bad’ and it ‘doesn’t rain that often’. In Scotland rain is a matter of definition.
The good thing about this is that a little bit of drizzle or a sudden shower won’t keep you in your hotel room anymore or ruin your holidays. You finally got to the point of knowing no bad weather. You wrap up in your waterproof jacket only to realise it’s not as bad as three weeks of continuous rain in Glasgow… holiday saved!
What I learnt:
Prepare for the worst! For outdoor activities I always bring the right equipment, and when it rains while I’m on holiday I just don’t take it too seriously and head out anyway.
Lesson 2) Overcoming the Language Barrier
One of the first things that I learnt when I moved to Scotland was that after 8 years of English classes in school, a year and a semester abroad, making friends with people from around the world and watching TV shows and films in their original English versions – I did not understand a word of the local language. You see, Scots have a very strong accent and deciphering what a Glaswegian taxi driver says to you through his intercom is close to impossible if you’re not used to it. Jump forward 2.5 years and I still find myself at the stage of ‘smile and nod’ more often than I’d like to admit…
And I’m certainly not the only one struggling with Scottish English…
However, that does not mean that you won’t get by! While you might not understand everything that is being said you couldn’t come across a more welcoming people than the Scots. I’ve raved about how friendly they are in another post already, so I’m not going to do that again.
Instead think about is this way: travelling in Scotland can be a little bit like travelling in a country where you don’t speak the language at all. You slowly get accustomed to the accent, your pick up a few Scottish words for your vocabulary and most of all you learn to understand people through their actions and gestures.
PS: If you think a Glaswegian is shouting at you angrily and you can’t make out what they’re saying, don’t worry too much. I can’t count how often I thought I heard people shouting at each other in front of our house only to realise they were best friends and just talking really loudly. It’s a Glasgow thing I think…
What I learnt:
Think outside the box when you come across a difficult accent or language, and learn to go with the flow. There is always a way to communicate and make friends.
Lesson 3) Eat All You Can
Now, Scottish or more generally British cuisine does not necessarily have the best reputation abroad. Vegetables with too little salt, bland stews, flat ales – those are just some of the stereotypes I had in my mind long before I moved to Glasgow. BUT they could not have been more wrong.
The food scene in Glasgow (and all of Scotland actually) is so much more diverse than you would except. Particularly Glasgow benefits from its multicultural population – whether you fancy yourself a Korean barbecue, a Vietnamese pho soup, a crispy Italian pizza, a tasty West Africa peanut stew or an authentic Indian curry, there is a restaurant for every type of cuisine. Rumour has it that the country’s unofficial national dish, Chicken Tikka Masala, was invented by a Pakistani chef in Glasgow experimenting with yogurt, cream and spices in the 1970s. Whether that’s true or not is wildly disputed, but one thing that is for sure is that you can’t leave the city without having tried the amazing local Indian cuisine at the likes of Mother India, Spice Garden or Ranjit’s Kitchen!
That said Scottish food itself is of course delicious in itself and local produce like Arran cheese must not be missed.
What I learnt:
Don’t stop with the traditional local food but explore the whole variety of restaurants and cuisines to get an idea of the diversity of a new city. Also, try new things you haven’t tasted before!
Lesson 4) Don’t Believe Deceiving Appearances
‘Don’t let people talk you into drugs!’ – Believe it or not this was the first piece of advice an English-Australian friend of mine gave me when I told him I’d move to Glasgow soon. I think he referred to the thriving live music and club scene in Glasgow, where you can even find the longest running underground dance club in the world (Sub Club). But maybe he was also referring to Glasgow’s reputation of a dangerous, murderous city where you have to watch your every step. And yes, some years ago Glasgow topped the rankings of the UK’s most violent city and had a particularly high crime rate, but is that still the case?
In fact the Evening Times reported in January 2016 that Glasgow has lost its pole-position of crime levels, and the popular West End neighbourhood Finnieston has been named the hippest area to live in all over the UK by The Times. So, the stereotype of ‘stabby stabby Glasgow’ has given way to a much more positive environment. With a thriving music and arts scene and the many universities attracting more and more Scottish and international students the city has completely changed it’s image and is among the top cities young creatives in the UK move to (among London or Bristol). There are so many free things to do in Glasgow that it would be a crime not to visit…
What I learnt:
Don’t judge a book by its cover. Give places with a bad reputation a chance to prove the opposite and win over your heart!
There are loads of other things I learnt from life abroad and life in Scotland of course. Like cherishing the little things and being thankful for everything you so easily take for granted – like fresh rye bread from the bakery on the corner, healthy and vegetarian late-night street food or a unified public transport ticket with one ticket for subway, busses, trains and trams…
I’d love to hear about your experiences! Have you ever lived abroad for an extended period of time and learnt a lesson or two? Please share your most cherished travel lessons and the stories how you learnt them the hard or easy way in the comments!
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.