From America to Scotland with Confusion

We are thrilled that some friends of ours are coming to visit us here in Dunoon, Scotland. Some things may confuse them, so I decided to dedicate my blog this week to my confusion as an American first arriving in Scotland.

Light switches are on the outside of bathrooms. This might not seem a biggie—and folks who have lived in the UK all their lives will probably say, “Well, duh,” but trust me—this is a biggie when you are desperate to get to the toilet and it is buried in a bathroom as dark as a cave and you can barely see the toilet even with the door open…and you can’t find the light switch because in your country—it lives inside the bathroom with the light.

Perhaps it’s my age, but bathrooms pay a predominate role in my everyday existence. So a few more things about Scottish bathrooms. Most of the sinks have separate hot and cold water faucets, so the temperature of the water can’t be adjusted like most U.S. sinks which have one lever that adjusts the temperature. Public restrooms in northern Scotland are scarce making long distance traveling a nightmare.

Bathroom stalls go from the floor to ceiling, so there is no way to climb out over the top, or crawl out under the bottom if the door gets jammed. Furthermore, the metal hardware on the doors has often been painted over so thickly that locks stick—so I never lock a bathroom I don’t know.

WC means public bathroom. Usually it also means very old which translates into weird plumbing like water tanks up on the wall with pull chains—and stall doors that once closed may be difficult to open.

Other confusing things. Gaelic writing shares road signs with English writing which crams so much lettering on sign faces that it is virtually impossible to read them. There are missing or faded road signs everywhere—cities, villages, the country—which make navigating difficult. And roundabouts—those dreaded roundabouts. With the impossibility of sifting through the Gaelic quickly enough to read the English and figure out where to turn…I have roundabouted the roundabouts repeatedly—much to the confusion of other drivers who already know where they want to go.

Restaurants serve small portions and don’t give free refills on beverages. And if a person orders lasagna, for example—that’s what they get—lasagna. Just lasagna. No breadsticks or salad—everything except the main course is an added order and an added charge. And what is served with macaroni and cheese? “Chips” which Americans know as fries. Starch on top of starch. My mother wouldn’t believe me if I told her that. She insisted every meal must have meat, starch, and veggie. We seldom had desserts.

Speaking of meals, in Scotland, “tea” means hot tea and it also means the evening meal. So it’s confusing if someone invites you to tea. You don’t know if you’re going to be eating or drinking. Also, all desserts are “puddings,” and yet, there is no actual dessert that is pudding.

Cooking is equally confusing. Forget cups, ounces, teaspoons, and tablespoons as units of measure. Things here are grams, kilograms, and liters. And you don’t set your oven on 350F, a normal cooking temperature for many things in the U.S., because everything is centigrade. I have to look up weights, measures, and temperatures on the computer every time I use my American cookbook.

After ten years in Scotland I finally found dill pickles. They aren’t really dill pickles and they’re called gherkins.

But this is where God has planted me, so this is where I need to bloom. The scenery is stunning. The people are friendly and fabulous. And isn’t that what’s most important anywhere? Stephanie Parker McKean: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle

9 thoughts on “From America to Scotland with Confusion

  1. As you have , at last , told that people are friendly and fabulous , virtually that matters . Way of living may be different . Way of thinking may be different . Eating materials may also be different . Even bathroom’s switch may be out or in the bedroom itself . That hardly matters . What matters is people . How are they , how is their behavior , whether they behave humanly or not— these are the things are counted in the cross-cultural existence after such cross-cultural marriage as such . I enjoyed reading your blog . Thanks!

  2. You forgot to mention that it rains every day there, but people from Washington (state) or Hawaii probably wouldn’t notice. I would suggest that anyone planning to make a visit to Scotland read your novel, Body from the Scottish Castle Murder, first to get accustomed to how very confused they could get. That being said, I sure wish I could visit you in Scotland. It’s one of my dream places to visit, which I probably never will at this point in life. The Scots are such delightful people. At least the ones I’ve met have been.

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