XXXII -Scottish slice-of-life
It is 2019. Let's rewind..
Promises were made. People were born. Wishes were granted. Sentiments were hurt. Relationships were established. Thoughts were thought. Times were spent. Life was lived.
"Now that 2017 is over, let's hope next year will be better. Looking back, I just knew that 2017 was going to be an unpleasant year. I just knew it. Now that we're here... Are you with me? Let's make this new one better. Are you with me?
Here's for 2018!"
Now, 2018 came and went, bringing many new joys and sorrows to everyone.
"Here's for 2019!"
Time moved on.
The stressed shell of a human that capes my unbiased and pure soul is now lying on the – just neatly enough made to leave only partially unfolded – bed of a luxury Airbnb apartment in the sub-urban Glasgow. The only sounds occupying my mind are the alternating clacks of backspace and letters, occasional creaks from the bedroom of my traveling companion and the high-pitched tinnitus that nags at the frequency of around 15 hundred. But sound is nothing more than large quantities of airwaves – compressed and expanded bodies of matter traveling in all uninterrupted directions – that upon reaching our eardrums form this phenomenon in our brains that we happen to call sound. Our eardrums are the instrument, like a guitar and airwaves are the musician. You can't produce music without one or the other. But I digress.
What landed me here, around 2 500 kilometers away from home was an exciting possibility to participate in an erasmus study program of four weeks' length. It seems my hard work and studying at school paid off since the school wanted to offer me one of the two seats. To tell you the truth, when I was informed about it I got thrilled. Even moreso when the natives speak English, so I didn't have to burden myself studying another language. Sure, while you'll get by with English pretty much anywhere in the world, having meaningful conversations may prove difficult due to the language barrier. You may also have to talk slowly and casually if they're not fluent. On the other hand, they might have to speak slow and simple if you're not fluent. But that's another issue.
Of course I agreed to go. After figuring out some Brexit-bullshit, some more Brexit-bullshit and hastily booking flights and accommodation a week prior to departure, we got on our way. This had been both of our first independent travel, which got us just a little more nervous. All the way from figuring out airports and AirBnB to getting familiar with living in a new country was all new to us. In retrospect, since I'm writing this right now in such high spirits, everything went smooth sailing. We first flew to Edinburgh via London because of the cheaper flights. There we spent the night just a ten-minutes walk away from Edinburgh Castle in a high-demand AirBnB apartment.
Now, I'm traveling with a person with hugely different values that manifest in our everyday interactions. Yeah, we clashed a couple times over trivial shit regarding the daily chores and activities. It got me realizing how easy it is to judge someone. We do it all the time.
People set different values over different aspects of life. Some focus on one thing while others focus on another thing; but life is not binary and most people shall be positioned somewhere in the middle. We're candles, not lightbulbs. It's easy to fall into gategorizing people based on impressions. You might enjoy spending time at home more than your friend does. It's okay. We just have to be understanding. Remember, there's always a reason why people choose and act like they do. This type of thinking has lead me to discover the concept that I hold dear above all else: Perspective.
When you think closely, perspective might just as well be the most important thing we can learn. Just by being more aware we could fix discrimination, toxic characters, political disputes and perhaps even violent conflicts such as wars. Just stepping out of your bubble could do a world of good. Open-mindedness is wider perspective. By nature, it's illogical to be interested in your foe's needs.
Alas, that's the part where my thesis falls.
Life isn't a fairytale where the bad guy is converted to good by presenting their destructive actions to them. The "bad guys" in the real world mightn't and usually don't change their ways. Life is much more complicated than that. In fact, you might be the bad guy in the eyes of the "bad guy". Maybe Bowser doesn't kidnap the princess to harm her, as his many desperate attempts at marrying her show. Still Mario keeps bullying him. I'm sure no one is truly evil at heart. People hurt people to protect themselves, other people or just things dear to them. It's the exact same thing in the animal kingdom. One needs to take care of their kin and territory in order to survive. Remember how I said there's always a reason why people choose and act like they do? That's why in juridical judging, one must always be assumed a motive. Without one, prosecution might fall flat on its face.
I'm going to sitate a friend: "I think the best type of intelligence is when you're able to question yourself." He told me that you start by learning to question your own perspective and actions, your views and habits: the basic cornerstones of what makes you, you. It's a valuable quality to have and might just make you an overall more content person. No more complaining about what makes your life suck so much, 'cause let's face it, you are most likely doing it yourself. I've talked about this before and will talk about it in the future.
So the next time someone does something that drives your nerves, as yourself whether you are doing anything similar in return. And for fuck's sake, just because you think you're a proud vegan doesn't give you the rights to talk other people down. I'm mostly vegetarian myself, by the way. There are not right or wrong opinions, just yours and mine.
Sorry, * ahem * Back to Scotland.
Buildings often have this really outdated feel to them and repairs are done with that in mind; I’m still reminding you that I'm from a much younger country where we don’t have that kind of stuff. My classmate complained about the water pressure in shower numerous times, so I rest my case.
My first impressions of this proud Gaelic country circulated around the images of medieval streetplan of old Edinburgh – where every building has apartments in the gutter level – and naturally the buildings often have this really outdated feel to them. There were also the positive and outgoing Scottish people whose way of speaking resembled more of a middle-European country than any variety of English I know.
"Sorry, I have a real hard time understanding your accent."
"Ahaha! Would you like to speak English then?"
You'll get scolded if you say Scottish people speak English. As a matter of fact, Scottish people speak English and Scots together. They're taught to use English from a very young age as their primary language since we're in an "English-speaking" country, but Scots is like the old (original) dialect of this area and still runs as a spoken "dialect". Take this with a grain of salt, hence the quotation. It is told that Scots precedes the English you're reading and perhaps speaking right now. Don't even get me started with Gaelic. I was also surprised to discover how Scottish and Welsh despise English people for their supposedly universal arrogance. It might be more of a political issue, too. Dunno.
Small independent stores, old confusing streets, shameless jaywalking, the non-formalities. I love it here. At first glance everything looks so different compared to Finland. There's small businesses in neat rows, every other with their doors shut, indicating either out-of-business or leisure season. It's not that often you see an independent business with opening hours; Owners make their own hours. During our countless miles of walking in Glasgow, around Glasgow, out of Glasgow, in Edinburgh and Inverness we've encountered but a single painted pedestrian crosswalk. I can't find the proper words to explain the feeling, but just looking at how people move and how everything flows, it's as if everyone's got this mutual mindset of "eh.. close enough". You know what I'm saying? Furthermore, unlike in Finland, as a pedestrian you are more or less on your own in Scotland; drivers may not look out for you, people cross the road where they can (just remember to look to the correct direction if you're a foreigner, people drive on the opposite side!) and jaywalking is a part of local culture. You just don't see people in reflecting jackets escorting kids across the street in Finland either; in Glasgow there's one at every intersection alongside the main commuting routes children take to school. But Jesus Christ.. the amount of litter is ridiculous. I would never walk the streets of Glasgow barefoot since you can never be sure about broken glass. Scotland, get your shit together and bin it!
The refectory at school was a bit of a shock to us, too. I've heard about the "American school meal", which is either bring-your-own-lunch, or pay the school for a processed meal. We’re coming from a country where a portion of our taxes go into education, including a free-of-charge school meal for grade and high school students that actually resembles a domestic lunch. Higher education students must pay a few euros for the same meal. A usual school lunch includes bread, salad, the main course and milk. Basically a textbook plate model, straight from the school canteen. Sure, it might not be as good as home, but considering the number of people they have to serve, I find it excusable. I'm aware that how we have it is exceptional internationally, but seeing it first-hand was a culture shock. You had to pay separately for each individual item, be it a drink, fruit, sandwich or the meal. As for the meals, we got served sugary stir fries and other dishes you might consider as junk food. Needless to say, school food and cheap sweets combined, my diet went to crap.
It's not all weird and terrible though. Just a week of living your day-to-day life was enough to get used to everything. I started cooking my own stuff since vegetables and much of the other ingredients were cheaper. When we first walked to school and noticed the grand amount of litter along the way, I assumed the locals were always thinking the same thing as me: "Disgusting, and someone needs to fix it!" But midway through the exchange program I found myself barely even minding anymore. Then how about the locals that's lived there all their lives? Do they look around and think there's a problem? Speaking of school, I never really got any clear indication when anyone is supposed to be in class, because many were absent. We even found out that they don't have classes but only three days a week. What?
There's something charming about the Scottish people though. Small-talk is a big thing – which, unfortunately wasn't as contagious as I'd hoped it to be – and the people were really hospitable. Even our AirBnB host – A lovely mother of two in her sixties – contacted us occassionally to assure everything’s going fine. We also tried hitchhiking a few times during our weekend holidays and discovered some amazing people along the way: A family-man with a heavy Scottish accent, a Welch guy who was visiting Scotland on his day-off, a retired electronics expert and an English couple returning home. There was something that all these people had in common: The thought that strangers are just friends they haven't met yet and there's never a shortage of things to talk about. Mind you, we only had to wait an average of 15 minutes for a ride in Scotland, whereas my experiences in Finland are closer to 45 minutes. As I see it, these folks have a different attitude in life. At the same time, I might just be creating my own delusions based on the little experiences we had. Besides, we all have that tendency to bad-mouth our own countries.
There's a whole lot that could be said about living abroad. However, every aspect of it boils down to the same conclusion: You get perspective. Perhaps Finland isn't as bad as people make it out to be? Perhaps Scotland isn't that bad either? There's a side to everything.
Even though this Erasmus experience was exceptional by normal standards – with all the planning we had to do ourselves – I still think we got more out of it compared to an traditional exchange with a bunch of other students. We rented an apartment from a local, we had to meet up with the locals (because there were only two of us) and we stayed with locals through couchsurfing in beautiful cities like Inverness and Edinburgh.
Back in my hometown, Lahti, Finland, there's a weekly meetup happening every Wednesday evening, where local members of the couchsurfing community (and a few other mischiefs) gather together to tell stories, have fun and knock down a couple pints. I discovered this group when it was just gaining traction at a very early phase. One of the things I missed back home was the group, that had around 7 "common" members every week. At the end of the exchange, that number had already bounced up to ~15 members! And craziest thing happened when I talked to some of the new guys..
"You're exchange students? From where?"
"From Glasgow! You should definitely come visit us once we go back there."
It's destiny, I suppose.