I survived week 2 in Scotland, yay! I am still temporarily renting a room, but accommodation has been (mostly) taken care of and I will be moving into my new place in December. Work has sort of commenced as I had begun working at the lab – or mostly at the office for now, haven’t done any lab work yet. Other than that, life is good…I think?
Well, not everything went as smoothly as it sounds, truth be told. The search for housing has been disastrous and painful and I will probably write about it after I actually move into my new flat. Moving to a new city is difficult, and whichever city it is, it takes quite a bit of time to become familiar with the ways of the city and blend in with the people who live there. I had done it before when I first arrived in Bordeaux, and whenever I am suffering from fear or panic here in Glasgow, I always tell myself, “I did it in Bordeaux, so I can do it again.”
And alas I am doing well, after two weeks in Glasgow. Better than I had anticipated, actually, mostly because of the help and support I’ve received from the overwhelmingly friendly people in the city. That’s gotta be a good sign! However, there were just a few things that I needed to get used to upon first settling down in Glasgow. Some were more expected than others, but each of them gotta be confronted with head-on, one way or the other. Here goes.
The Glaswegian accent
I don’t know how this managed to be the single most difficult obstacle to overcome, and it is ironic because they speak ENGLISH here. I thought, if I could get through three years in France and Belgium, then I will have NO PROBLEMO in Glasgow! 😀 WRONG. I had been “warned” about the Glaswegian accent before I came, being told that the Scottish accent is more difficult to understand than the British accent, and the Glaswegian accent is even MORE difficult than the common Scottish accent. Uh. How is that possible? I dismissed that claim and happily hopped onto a taxi on my first day in Glasgow and realized that I didn’t understand a single word the taxi driver said. I am not exaggerating.
Then all hell broke loose. The cashier at the grocery store. The HR guy. The agent that opened my bank account for me. The waitress at the burger restaurant. I felt so ashamed that 50% of the time (maybe more) I couldn’t catch what they were saying. And you see, if this happened in any country where the main language is not English, I would not hesitate asking them to repeat. But this is English here (it is…right???) and I feel really rude for asking them to repeat when I should be able to speak English perfectly. Come to think of it, I am the foreigner with the funny Canadian/American accent. How dare I ask them to repeat! Hah, that was and still is my mindset when speaking with Glaswegians with that thick accent that I cannot comprehend. I am sorry, I truly am. Please be patient with me and I promise I will try my hardest to get accustomed to it!
On a side note, it has been exponentially easier to communicate with my colleagues as we are a very international group. One of my supervisor is Spanish and the other is English (so much more comprehensible than Scottish… 😛 ), and my colleagues come from places like Italy, Nigeria, Czech Republic, Finland, and Chile. They’ve reassured me that I am not losing my English language abilities. Phew!
The never-ending RAIN
I’ve also been warned about the gray and rainy weather that constantly enshrouds Glasgow and the UK in general, so I was prepared. Or so I thought. Yeah, I had an umbrella, alright, but I didn’t expect it to rain THAT much. I think out of the 15 days I’ve been in Glasgow, there have been two full days with no rain. On all the other days, it either rained all day or intermittently here and there. The good thing is that the rain isn’t heavy or violent most of the time. In most cases it’s in the form of a light drizzle, the kind that probably doesn’t require an umbrella if you’re walking a short distance. My colleague told me that I will forget what the sun looks like, and it seems like that might be true 😦 I’ve already begun to appreciate the sun so much more! At least it reminds me of Belgium…?
Driving in the UK
Driving probably won’t affect me much directly as it is unlikely that I will do a lot of driving, but as a pedestrian, I had to get used to the way traffic worked here. First, let me get this out of the way…why are the signs in MILES and not KM??? Everything else is in the metric system, so why not the speed limits too? As I said, this won’t affect me too much unless I rent the occasional car to go to the countryside, but if I were driving, I would have to convert everything to km/h from mph and I would become an expert at dividing by 1.6. Also what is up with these speed limits that won’t make up their minds? 20 or 30 mph…please don’t make it so ambiguous!
The thing that directly affects me is left-hand traffic, which means that cars drive on the left side of the road as opposed to on the right side like in Canada, France, the US, China…etc. I named these countries because I’ve stayed in each for a relatively long period of time and have gotten used to the traffic rules, and Scotland is the first country of long-term stay where cars run on the left side. I knew this, and while I was expecting it to be difficult to adapt, it had been easier than I anticipated. I usually cross at the crosswalks anyway, and if I have any doubt (which is often), I will look left and right and left and right and rinse and repeat until I am absolutely sure no car is going to come and hit me. Still alive, so it’s all good.
Other than the fact that one British pound is equal to approximately 1.8 Canadian dollars right now (ouch for the first week for having to convert from Canadian money to the pound!) I have to get used to new coins. I still don’t know what’s what in my wallet and sometimes I spend way too much time looking at the tiny print on the coin to figure out if it is a 10p coin or 20p coin. British coins also have the head of Queen Elizabeth II on it, just like Canadian coins, so it becomes nostalgic and a bit confusing at the same time. All of the coins in the photo above are British coins except for one – can you find the impostor? 😛
Going back to school
Yes, I am going back to school AGAIN, this time as a postdoc. I think I am going to be stuck in academia forever, woot? Every time I tell someone I am a postdoc researcher, I inevitably feel old. I mean, even when I was doing my PhD, I could still say I was a student, but I am not even a student anymore! I am working, and it is a rather different feeling than being a student. Yet, I do admit that I love the school environment – why else would I still be in school after all these years?
As for the University of Glasgow itself, the campus is extraordinary. I once said that the University of Toronto must be Hogwarts, I believe. Wellllllllll, I take that back. After having seen the University of Glasgow, I am now convinced that Hogwarts is actually here. Or maybe it has two campuses and one is in Toronto while the other one is in Glasgow, I’ll give you that. Anyway, the campus is so classy and beautiful, and trust me, this one photo that I have here does not sufficiently showcase the atmosphere that I am fortunate enough to be immersed in every day for the next three years. I must write more about the campus in a later post.
The Scottish culture
There is so much that I need to learn about the people of Scotland, their culture, and their customs. All I know about Scotland now can be summed up in two terms – bagpipes and Irn-Bru. Well, haggis too, and I have had a small sample of it but will enlighten you another day when (if) I take the risk and try the full thing. As for the bagpipes, I’ve had two encounters so far. One way in the city centre, where street musicians were performing with the bagpipes. The other, pictured above, happened as I was walking through the campus of the university. I heard bagpipes, very distinct sounds coming from somewhere nearby. So I followed my ears. I turned a corner and arrived at Wellington Church, where a bagpiper was performing at the door, presumably for a wedding as I saw people dressed in wedding attire. Random encounter, I enjoyed it.
And what is Irn-Bru? In a nutshell, it is a soft drink that the Scottish people really like, I was told. When I told my friend Geoff that I’d be going to Scotland, he told me to try Irn-Bru. So I did. I got the sugar-free one by mistake though, bah. Let’s see…it tasted like generic brand soda that you can get at the vending machine at Price Choppers, does that about sum it up? I’m curious to see how popular it really is in Scotland though…
Of course there is Scotch, if you prefer something more challenging 😛 I’m not promising that I will become an expert in Scotch whisky (spelled without the “e” in Scotland), just as I didn’t say anything about becoming a wine connoisseur in France, though everyone assumed I would. Again, when and if I do have some of that famous alcoholic beverage, I will surely share my experiences with you in writing…if I am not too drunk to remember 😉