Tidbits, Vol. II — The Scottish Issue

“Monty Python’s Flying Circus” is a British sketch comedy show.  “Chewing the Fat” is a Scottish sketch comedy show.  Just because you have no trouble understanding the former does not mean that you will be able to understand the latter with any degree of ease.  And that’s understanding the words that come out of their mouths.  Let’s not get started on the phrases, or the different vocabulary, let alone the actual brand of humor presented in the show.

Scottish Parliament is confusing as heck.  It doesn’t help that it started as a Parliament, morphed into a Privy Council, went back to being a Parliament, was completely dissolved in 1707 in the Treaty of Union with England, and was only created again in a devolved state in 1999.  And let’s not talk about the number of buildings in which it has met.  And please don’t mention the 2010 referendum that’s proposing independence from the UK.  At least don’t mention it to any Scottish person if you’re expecting a bit of peace and quiet over the following couple of hours.

In the same vein, I realized when I got to Scotland that I wasn’t quite sure of how the UK and Great Britain were actually defined.  That, combined with the fact that I knew nothing of Scottish government, led to almost an hour being spent on Wikipedia and other websites trying to figure it out.  I now know that the UK is officially the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  (It was Great Britain and the whole of Ireland until most of that island decided it wanted independence a few decades ago…and I haven’t started looking into that.  Yet.)  Great Britain is the kingdom that formed in 1707 when the parliaments of England (which included Wales at that time) and Scotland signed the Treaty of Union, dissolved both of their parliaments, and created a new parliament for Great Britain.  So now, today, there’s the UK Parliament, as well as devolved parliaments for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.  England doesn’t have its own, which causes some issues in the UK Parliament, and Cornwall wants its own.  I didn’t even know Cornwall still existed as an entity.  Last I heard of it, one of King Lear’s daughters married the Duke of Cornwall in the Shakespearean tragedy.

Scotland doesn’t go all out for Halloween in the same way Americans do because the country has enough ghost stories to last it the whole year round.  Every other house and passageway is haunted in Edinburgh.  Or so they say.

Edinburgh as a city has a fascinating history.  The most surprising part for me was finding out about the vaults underneath the city.  And that some roads leading off of the Royal Mile that I thought were roads are actually bridges.  These bridges have been completely built up and around, so that the ground has practically risen to meet them.  Foundations of buildings were poured against the side of the bridges, and vaults were created.  People lived down there in conditions worse than tenements, and sometimes died by suffocation or boiling alive if fires from aboveground buildings trapped them in.  And up until about twenty years ago, everyone had forgotten about them.  Even for someone who doesn’t really believe in ghost stories…ahhh, creepy.

Also regarding the city: the New Town area was designed and built in the mid to late 18th century, practically boasting wide boulevards, rectangular blocks, and open squares.  I almost wonder if the city’s design was an inspiration to the wide Haussmanian boulevards of Paris, built in Napoleon’s time to prevent the mobs from fighting in barricades in the narrow twisting streets.  Is the Champs-Elysées actually Scottish?  At least in idea?

I learn French when I live in France, adopting new vocabulary and better pronunciation.  But apparently, I learn British and/or Scottish when I live one week in Edinburgh.  By the time last night rolled around, college had become “uni,” pounds had become “quid,” “brilliant” was rolling off my tongue as easily as cool or awesome, and the word “foosty” (or “firsty,” I’m still not entirely sure) had entered my vocabulary.  And I had started adopting the musical lilt of non-American English.  It always amazes me how musical the English language can sound, but until this week, I always felt I was putting on airs if I tried to copy the British melody.  This time, I just felt like I was fitting in.

I’m about ready to get back to work.  I’m refreshed, I’m rested, and I’m a little behind on lesson planning.  Maybe I should get on that.  But I need to get home first.  Not quite so challenging as before — one flight down; a flight, a train ride, a bus, and a car ride to go.  And I’ll be home by tonight, if all goes well.  Hmm…maybe I should start thinking in French again, too.  At least once I get back to my little village, I can easily assume that no one’s speaking English.


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