“Man is a creature that can get used to anything, and I think that is the best definition of him.”― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The House of the Dead
When I first found out I was coming to Scotland for eight weeks, I was ecstatic. I was so excited for a change, to get out and see a new part of the world. Along with excitement, I felt pangs of nervousness and apprehension. This isn’t my first long term trip abroad. A little less than three years ago I was boarding a plane bound for a five month stay in Cyprus. Being a seasoned traveller, I knew that with the new and exciting surroundings comes new and exciting (not to mention somewhat stressful) challenges and adjustments. There is no way to prepare for these challenges because you always end up finding them in the most unexpected places. The funny thing about humans, though, is that no matter what seems to be thrown our way, we always find a way to adapt to changes big and small.
Ten things I’ve adapted to (and may have even begun to like):
- Driving on the left side of the road while sitting on the right side of the car: I’m sitting in the “passenger” seat, driving into what feels like oncoming traffic, my brain screaming, “You’re going the wrong way! Keep right!” It only took me three weeks of opening the door on the left hand side of the car and realizing the steering wheel wasn’t there to remember the driver’s seat is on the right. I also stopped hitting the curb so much as I grew accustomed to judging how much of my car is to my left. My tires on the left side thank me.
- ‘Round-a-bouts’ or traffic circles if you please: I’ll never fully adapt to these, but any little improvement is a milestone for me. Although I have gotten much better at guessing which lane I need to be in and knowing who goes first, I’ll never understand the traffic signs. A giant circle and little arms coming off in all directions that looks like an alien drawn by a five-year old child doesn’t help me. I can always see where I want to go, but very rarely do I get there on my first try. I’m always driving in circles, but not because I want to be.
- The Scottish accent combined with fast talking, shortening of words, and vocabulary I’ve never heard of: Slagging, snogging, chippies, crisps, the use of “wee” before every noun… at first it was like we weren’t even speaking the same language, but now I find myself using words and phrases I didn’t even know existed four weeks ago. My personal favorite is “Et’s tha dug’s bollocks!” If a word or sentence can be shortened, or even if you think it can’t, the Scots will find a way.
- Rain, darkness, rain and more rain: The first thing you do here when you get into the car is turn on your headlights because no matter what time of day, it’s dark or raining or both. I miss my friend the sun, and I started writing to him daily. I’m hoping to get a response back soon.
- Traffic on the way home from work: We don’t get much “rush hour” traffic in small-town Altoona, PA. The after work commute here has taught me two important things: always pee before leaving work, and dancing in your seat pretending your steering wheel is a percussion instrument truly helps the passage of time. An added bonus is the reaction of others around you.
- Always carrying a pen and teaching people how to swipe a credit card: Magnetic credit cards don’t exist here. They have “chip and pin” cards and have no idea what to do when you ask if they can swipe your card. Although I’ve tried in vain to become a good swipe instructor, I typically end up sliding my own card on their machines because for some reason, it is an extremely complicated task beyond their comprehension. Don’t forget to bring a pen to sign the receipt, because I promise they never have one, even though they’ve used a pen just less than an hour ago to take your food order.
- The food: Some of the food is delightful. Others I just don’t understand. A bacon sandwich with brown sauce? What is brown sauce? Nobody knows really. Chip sandwiches (French fries on bread), crisp sandwiches (potato chips on bread), haggis (Google it), and just about anything you can deep fry including Mar’s candy bars and pizza. I can’t say I hate it… but I can say, it’s sure to be life shortening.
- The five keys and five different locks to get into my flat: Yes, that’s right. Five keys and five locks to get into one building and one flat. Between the number of keys and the fact that three of them look like they’ve come from the princess chambers of a castle (huge brass things that practically look hand-cut), I don’t worry about my security. It is so secure in fact that up until a week ago when I mastered the “turn the key and wiggle it frantically” method of unlocking the door, it took me 10-15 minutes to get into my own place.
- Always looking right, left, right before crossing the street: It’s an easy one to forget when you’ve been conditioned from childhood to look left, right, then left again. It’s also an easy one to remember after the first two or three times you almost walk out in front of a moving vehicle.
- Learning to live with myself, by myself and moments of intense loneliness: The biggest adjustment thus far. At first you feel very alone in this foreign place where you know nobody and soon enough you find you rather like the time you spend alone getting to know yourself. It’s relaxing, refreshing, rejuvenating. It’s not without its moments of intense loneliness, but if you can’t learn to love to live with yourself, who can?