Posts Tagged ‘scotland’

I’m back in Scotland for a holiday before making the move to Melbourne; my first trip to the motherland since moving to Australia in 2009. I’ve been excited about going ‘home’ for months. But now I am here, I’m not sure ‘home’ is the right word for it.

Everything is so familiar – yet so strange at the same time.

I smiled as I stepped off the plane onto Scottish soil – only to feel intense pain from my suddenly-sensitive front teeth as the cold air hit them. The fleece I had worn to travel in (I’ve given up any hope of ever being upgraded so dress for in-flight comfort, not style) wasn’t enough to keep me warm as I walked to the terminal.

And I haven’t really been warm since. I have been told that had I arrived a week earlier, I would have experienced a heatwave – a 10 day period of warm weather that one friend said would be recorded as the famous ‘long hot summer’ of 2012.

But except for – literally – a couple of hours when it was warm and dry enough to sit outside, all I’ve experienced is miserable weather – in June! The rain has been relentless; the skies grim and grey and the temperatures positively Baltic. A former manager of mine used to complain that all Scots were dour and lugubrious. Well, I would tell him now, you try being anything else in these conditions.

The weather has not been the only surprise.

Everywhere I look I’m overwhelmed by the choice available to consumers, and the low prices. I had what was pretty close to a panic attack as I tried to choose a pair of shoes in a Glasgow department store, so numerous were the options available. I got so distracted by the cheap food and household items in a supermarket that I forgot to buy the milk I went in for. Ayr, the home town of my inlaws, has only 46,000 residents – yet its two main supermarkets are open 24 hours a day. British retail rules mean you need never shop anywhere else – you can get anything you might require, from food and clothes to foreign currency and insurance.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of such a system, it’s the system I’ve been used to for nearly 40 years. But a few years in one of the world’s most isolated cities, with incredibly restrictive trading regulations and a population that’s not big enough for firms to take advantage of the economies of scale, and I’ve simply forgotten what it is like.

The Scots accent is far stronger than I remember too. ‘Do I sound like that?’ I asked my husband, suddenly anxious that my Australian friends might struggle to understand me. More than once I’ve had to ask shop assistants to repeat themselves.

The whole experience has left me unsettled. I didn’t feel at home in Perth, but nor do I feel at home in Scotland. Is this normal for emigrants? And if home is where the heart is, will I be able to give mine to Melbourne?

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I’ve been fortunate enough to have travelled quite widely, which means I’ve probably been asked ‘where are you from?’ more often than most people.

On my first few trips, the answer was easy: Scotland (cue discussion about how it was north of England but not in England).

Then version 2 was needed: Scotland, but I live in England (cue discussion about how no, they’re not the same place).

Now, living in Australia, I need a version 3 – but I find myself struggling to work out what it should be.

When I lived in Scotland, I was a proud Scottish Nationalist. Unlike many nationalists at the time, I never had any issue with the English, but I wanted to see an independent Scotland as part of Europe. If Lithuania could do it, why couldn’t we? And Europeans were glamorous and cultured – wouldn’t it be better to be associated with that than the evil Tories ‘down south’?

Then I moved to England, and began to see my home nation in a different light. Great country and great people, for sure, but often insular and narrow-minded too. On trips home the accent sounded ridiculously broad (although I have never lost mine, it has softened, largely because I had to slow down to make myself understood) and the suspicious looks when I told people I lived south of the border began to irritate.

It probably had as much to do with leaving a small town and going to a big city as anything else, but I would spend holidays at home wishing that more people would accept that England was actually quite a nice place; that the English weren’t all Conservatives; and that London was an amazing world city and the fact the politicians who stole our oil lived there shouldn’t detract from that.

Ten years in Lancashire and four in Bristol, combined with the creation of the Scottish Parliament and the disappearance of my home country from the UK news agenda, further widened the gap.

I had the accent, the country dancing skills and the ability to spell learned through a fine Scots education. But I’d crossed a line as well as a border.

Am I proud to be Scottish? Undoubtedly. It’s a small nation that punches above its weight in many ways. It has some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet, some of the most tenacious beasties ever to bite your bum and a dialect that is pure (dead brilliant) poetry. Its people have been responsible for some of civilisation’s greatest achievements in science and the arts.

But the truth is, I’ve been away too long. I don’t feel Scottish any more. I could never consider myself English, and I’m not yet Australian – nor do I think I ever will be, whatever passport I hold.

European is probably as narrow a definition as I am comfortable with; citizen of the world is probably more accurate (but does sound a tad pompous). So with that in mind, I have taken my friend Renee’s advice on whether I should vote or not in the forthcoming UK election – as a citizen of the world, it’s my duty, as UK policy has an impact around the globe.

And perhaps I should relax and stop worrying about where I’m from, knowing I have landed in a country which seems to have as much difficulty defining its identity as I do.

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