They are the little things that make the difference

IMG_4207Back to the wonders of life in Scotland. So, there are things I like, such as the accent, and things I don’t like so much, such as the rainy-always-autumn weather. It is pretty easy to get used to that kind of big differences whether I like them or not. The little differences are the ones that make Scotland still feel strange. They are the differences that make every country and culture feel different from each other.

Scotland has left hand side traffic. Okay. It took a while to get used to look to the right first before crossing a road, but that is okay. Down in London it reads “look to the right” on the pavement at the crossing, but here we do not have that luxury. Here they do not seem to be interested in making pedestrians life easy anyway. Cars do not have to stop for pedestrians at the crossings if there are no white stripes painted on the ground. And there usually are no stripes of any kind, just a little dent in the curb so that you know that this is where you should try to cross.

Also the traffic signs are different from Finnish traffic signs and for example give a way -triangles are often painted on the pavement. It took me half a year to realize that. I never knew who should go first because I didn’t see the triangles and I didn’t know if the left hand side traffic reversed all the rules as well! Luckily I didn’t drive or bike among the traffic before that enlightenment. Now that I do bike everywhere I have noticed that cars do not use lights during the day. It makes it difficult to know wether they are moving or not. To make it even more difficult to know which cars are moving, cars can park on both sides of the road which ever way they want to.

The traffic is not the only thing that is upside down here. Why do the doors open inwards? I have understood that this is the case in most of the countries, but it is strange to me. Should we not be able to get out of the house easily in an emergency situation? I also think it is more logical to have doors to open to open space (hallway, yard, street…) instead of to the room.

Why do the light goes on when I turn the switch down? My logic says that down is off and up is on, it just makes much more sense. Why don’t they have double windows here? It would prevent the wind and damp coming into the house and reduce heating costs a lot. Why is everything carpeted? Why is grass always super green? Why are dirty outdoor trainers allowed at the indoor gym? Who do they not have simple old fashioned can openers? Or cheese cutters? Why do they not have grounded cardamom in Tesco? Why is skinny milk red and whole milk blue?…

There are little things that I ran into my everyday life. Some are obvious, some are not. They might make me feel out of place but not every strangness is negative. I really love the mountains in the horizon, and being able to go to the mountains for a day is something I can not do in the Southern Finland. People are also welcoming and warm. It is really nice how strangers open and hold the doors open for others and how older people call me “dear” or “hen”. I am quite willing to pay £2.40 for a latte if the lady at the counter says “Tha’s two forty darlin”

Winter on Beinn Ghlas

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I found winter from Beinn Ghlas.

White mountains look peaceful against the pink soft morning sky. Gradually the sky turns blue and the mountain peaks tint to pink and orange as the sun climbs higher. I have woken up well before the sunrise to bike to the campus where I met my fellow mountaineers for the day. Now, when we are driving towards the southern highlands, the day lightens up promising bright and chilly weather.

It is Valentine’s Day but I am not planning to fill the day with roses and pink hearts. Instead, I have pair of crampons and an ice axe in my pack back and I am going to learn how to use them properly. A St John Scotland Mountaineering instructor will take us up to a Munro, Beinn Galas, and teach us to use the winter gear in practice. I have done Beinn Ghlas before, but never in winter conditions. I am excited.

After sorting out all the gear, putting on extra layers and going through the plan for the day, the five of us heads to the hill. The clock says 9.40. Other hill walkers are enjoying the day as well: Red, balck and blue dots move up and down the snowy slope. There is plenty of room for all of us and we pass people nodding and smiling. “Grand day, huh?”  Closer to the top two men greet us on their way down. They have red cheeks, puffs pulled up to the chin and snowflakes on the eye browns. “It’s a fine day. The view on the top is not the best, though”. The footprints on the snow indicate the path but we keep our maps near just in case. After all, one of the rules on the hill is that you should never trust blindly on the weather or other people’s decisions.

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Before continuing to the steeper slope we stop to practice some ice axe techniques. Soon the small patch of the slope next to the path is filled with footprints, axe holes and sliding marks. We shake snow from our clothes and I replace my wet mittens with my spare pair. Now I know how to lean on an ice axe when the slope is very steep and I also know how to stop or at least slow down my fall is I slip. “Remember that this is a skill you should not need to use” our instructor says, “the goal is not to slip”.

We strap our crampons on before the icy climb to the top and continue our way. 10 spikes chew the snow and ice underneath each of my steps. The path is not very difficult and it would be manageable without crampons, but we are here to practise how to use them and I rather enjoy having inch long spikes attached to my feet.

After walking for a while we dive into a cloud that covers the top of Beinn Ghlas. That is where the map and the compass prove to be handy. Because of them we know that the pile of stones on a seemingly highest point of the hill is not actually the peak. Whiteout makes it impossible to see the real peak to this stone pile but we study the map carefully. One lady nearby overhears our conversation and lingers around as she obviously does not have a clue where to go. She secretly follows us when we make our way to the top. There where we smile, notice that the guys we met were right: the view is really not the best today. Everything is white as milk.

We are back to the cars around 3.30pm. Tired drive back to the university feels like forever. The sun is already setting and the mountains wear their orange suit again. One day of winter on Beinn Ghlas ends up with rain falling on me while I bike back home through green fields.

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Never-ending autumn

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Oh, where is the winter?

The other day I walked to the campus for a morning lecture. It had been raining all night heavily and the sky was still leaking. I have to cross railway tracks on my way so there are only few routes I can take to Uni. Soon after crossing the tracks I ran into a nasty surprise. My way was blocked by a water obstacle. There was no opposite shore to be seen, the brown liquid had invaded the whole road. I had no time to go back and take a longer route via another crossing. So I tried to go around the ocean. After getting stuck to a hawthorn bushes that guarded the other side of it I had to change my approach. So I started waddling through the muddy ocean, carefully so that my thirsty ankle high rubber boots would not drink the water. It was a struggle as there were unexpected holes on the poorly paved road. Finally I made it to the Uni, and when I walked home leaning to drizzling headwind I chose the long way home.

Even though Scotland and Finland have similar weather, winter in Scotland is no winter. The summer is similar to Finnish summer, some sunshine, some warm days, few hot days, some rain, green vegetation… The autumn follows the familiar pattern as well. Lots of rain, grey sky, colourful leaves that drop down after a little storm, short days… The difference however is that autumn in Scotland lasts until spring and spring in Scotland comes early.

But the winter. Where did the winter disappear? The temperature does not drop below zero more than few times during the winter months. The water comes down as rain and occasionally as sleet. There is no nice snow cover on the ground, just mud and puddles. No cold freezing days, just cold and damp weeks. Okay I have to admit that these past few days have been gorgeous. I have seen some blue sky and even spotted the sun few times.

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It is so green
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I saw little leaf buds already!

One day when I checked the forecast and saw that it was going to rain the following six days my flatmate said: “better rain than snow”. No, no! People do not know what snow is if they think that it is that wet slush on the ditch. I didn’t used to like winter that much when I was a kid, because it meant that I had to wear several layers of clothing and wool shirts, had to ski and cope with short days. However, now I enjoy winter a lot. I need the snow, the light that it brings and the beautiful landscape it creates. I even like cross-country skiing nowadays. That is why I was so happy to spent six weeks in Finland over the Christmas. There was proper winter with real snow. +4C feels like summer after -30C.

Of course norther parts of Scotland experience a little more wintery winter than we here in the middle of the country. Here it can’t be a real winter as long as the swans stay at the loch and the fields are green and grassy. I thought it better to buy pair of wellies for my winter boots. Waterproof is what we need here in Scotland during the winter months.

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We had a little snow in Scotland
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There was a little more in Finland

Hiya y’all!

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Every now and then people ask me: How do you like Scotland? What is Scotland like?

Those are a difficult questions. I have now lived a year and a half in Scotland but I am no where near local here. I like it here, usually at least, but I do not yet feel like I belong to here. Scotland is not dramatically different from Finland, there are lots of similarities since both are Northern European countries. But then there are also lots of little differences.

One of the biggest differences if of course the language. We are taught english at school in Finland, but we speak Finnish everywhere (expect in some parts where people speak Swedish or Sami). English is a convenient language but the cool thing with it is that there are so many different english accents. Unfortunately at school we are mostly taught British english and from media Finns pick up american standard english. Scottish accent is quite different from those with its rolling R’s and own vocabulary.

Scots greet by saying “Hiya!” That sounds so very cheerful, but indeed Scots are quite cheerful. When you open a door to someone they thank you by saying “Cheers”. That nice “Cheers” replaces “Thank you” also when locals exit the bus or order a drink at the pub. When you bump into someone on the street purring “Soory” apologises the accident. Everything small is “wee”. “Wee lassie”, “wee drink”, “wee wee”… “Dina cash yersel” means don’t get annoyed and when you do not know what on earth the other is talking about you can say: “I dinne ken whit ye mean”. Or just say “Ehm?”

I like Scottish accent a lot. I find it hilarious. At first it was difficult to understand people when they were talking with a thick Scottish accent, but I got used to it quite quickly. People here claim that Glaswegian accent is the worst one, but I have no opinion on that. People I have talked to in Glasgow have been no more confusing than all the other Scots and their accents. Also, some Northern England accents are just as or even more difficult to understand than Scottish ones. My previous english flatmate had an accent that I could not understand at all at first.

Here is an extract imitating the way locals in Edinburgh speak. This is from Irvine Welsh’s novel Train spotting (1993).

-No, ah sais.

-Aye, Spud sais at the same time. We turn aroond n look at each other.  Aw the time we spent gitting oor story right n it takes the doss cunt two minutes tae blow it.

In my ear Scottish accent sounds friendly and even a little innocent. It might be difficult to take it seriously even when the issue is serious. How about news in Scottish? No matter what, it just sounds funny and informal next to traditional so called Oxford English. That is obviously a terrible thing to say. Accent racism. There are many regional accents in Great Britain but only few are considered as high-prestige accents. Why are some types of accents still related to educated people and serious businesses and others to working class dummies?

I shouldn’t categorise accents into serious and ridiculous ones, after all I have my own messed up accent. My English is a mix of Finnish, British, Scottish, and American accents. How it sounds depends on the day and who I’m talking with as I pick up the accent from the others during the conversation. At the university the lectures are taught by Scottish, Irish, British, French, Portuguese, Afghans… After being exposed to variety of accents I’ve got used to them. My world is no longer limited to British and American English. Despite my now so experienced ear, Scottish accent still makes me smile.

Here is a wee video clip demonstrating wonderful Scottish accent. This is a scene from Outlander, a fine TV- and book series that takes place in Scotland. At least the first part of it.

Youtube video by Television Fanatic (Footage: Outlander (STARZ), Copyright: All rights go to Sony Pictures).