One thing that I am always asked when I tell anyone in Oregon that I Am From Scotland is to explain the biggest differences between the two places. Funnily enough, the things that make here and there seem the most dissimilar are not necessarily the accents or the side of the road that you drive on, but just some of the subtle everyday things. So, from someone who has spent a lot of time in both places, here are seven things that set apart Oregon from Scotland.
One of the things that alarmed my Scottish friends last year was the fact that smoking cigarettes is incredibly socially frowned upon over here in Oregon. In Scotland, smoking is quite common. The smell of cigarettes holds for me a strange kind of comfort, and it’s because the smell of the smoke was always around in Glasgow. You couldn’t passive aggressively hold your breath as you walked past a smoker (as people do here in Oregon), because doing so would mean that you’d be without air for stretches and stretches of streets in the city. Cigarettes aren’t a trend reserved for cynical hipsters; everybody does it, and although people still are aware of the fact that smoking is a Bad Thing, the habit doesn’t have even close to the amount of taboo it has over here in Oregon.
2. Going to Concerts
Generally speaking, night life begins at a much later time in Scotland. Here in Oregon, nine o’clockish is a reasonable time to call for the start of an event. In Scotland, soirees don’t get going until much later; I can happily be tucked into my bed at midnight after a night on the town in Oregon, but in Glasgow, I sometimes found that I wouldn’t even leave my flat until eleven, and I wouldn’t get home until the wee hours of the morning – three o’clock, four o’clock… Later nights are had in Scotland.
The one exception to this general rule is with concerts. In Oregon, going to a concert means that you’re probably in for a long, late night. Doors will open at seven or eight, the opener doesn’t start until eight or nine, the headliner won’t start playing until around ten, and before you know it, it’s almost midnight, and you’re just now leaving the venue.
In Scotland, it isn’t like that. A gig will start at seven o’clock, and by the time everything is over and done with, it’s only ten, and you have ample time to go out and hit the toon afterwards. I don’t think that there was a single concert I went to in Glasgow that didn’t end before ten. Gigs are early nights (it’s probably planned that way so that people can hit the town afterwards, but that doesn’t mean that the difference isn’t sort of wild).
Also to note: concerts are far cheaper in Scotland. I never had to break the bank to go see a show; the most that I ever paid to see a gig was twenty-three pounds when I saw The Tallest Man on Earth (holy cannoli, folks. He is so good), which is lovely for someone who loves watching music so much.
Social life! Music! Little differences.
3. Casual Swearing
There’s a stereotype among Americans that Scottish people swear an awful lot, and, unlike the idea that all Scottish people jig about in kilts on the daily, eat haggis every night for dinner, and all play the bagpipes, this one actually has some merit. Scottish people have much more flowery language.
An interesting thing as well is that the floweriness is much more so. In Oregon, the words that are considered foul are on a very short list. However, there are a million and six obscene things that can be said in Scotland. It’s hard to talk about these extra curse words to an American audience because they don’t hold the same gravity when you don’t recognize them, but there are hunners and hunners.
Americans, you can consult the google for some of the colourful words that often grace Scottish casual conversation. They’re pretty funny. And absolutely obscene.
4. Crossing the Road
You’d think that a task as mundane as crossing the road wouldn’t be too strikingly dissimilar, but it’s actually a remarkably different experience in Scotland than it is over here.
In Oregon, (particularly in the Willamette Valley), drivers have to yield to pedestrians all the time every day in every situation. Pedestrians have the right of way. If a car is cruising along at forty miles an hour down an open road, and a person decides to cross right there in the middle of it, the car is obligated to slam on their breaks and stop. This whole thing makes drivers here insane. There is so much anxiety surrounding pedestrians.
That is not the case in Scotland. In Scotland, drivers don’t really care about pedestrians. Drivers trust that pedestrians are not going to walk out into the middle of the road and get themselves squished. There is a faith in pedestrians and their decision making process – one that Oregonian drivers do not have in their own pedestrians (that and drivers don't really feel the need to fuss over people crossing the road).
So, here’s a situation. You, a pedestrian crossing a road in Scotland, see that there is a single car driving towards you. The car is going fairly quickly, so you step off of the pavement and out onto the road in preparation to cross immediately after the car passes by you. The driver sees that you have stepped out onto the road, acknowledges that you are planning on crossing after they drive by, proceeds without changing their speed, and then you stroll across the road upon their passing. No stress. No harm. All good in the hood.
Meanwhile, the same situation plays out in Oregon in an entirely different way. You, the pedestrian, see that there is a single car driving towards you. Again, the car is going at a decent speed, so, in preparation to cross the street as soon as the car passes, you step off of the sidewalk. The driver, knowing that they must yield to you, slams on their breaks in a sudden anxious fury. Both of you are alarmed. Both of you are slightly pissed off. Both of you are going to end up feeling a bit stressed for the rest of the day.
Transcontinental pedestrians would both be very confused if they were plopped in the others’ country: Scottish people would be confused that drivers take so much heed with them, and Oregonians would be confused that drivers take almost none at all.
An odd phenomenon in the UK is the trend of wearing running shoes (ie. sneakers, runners, trainers) with everything. There are a few differences in fashion trends between Oregon and Scotland (for example, button up denim skirts are hella in in Scotland, makeup is much more, and shiny sweatpants are much more present), but wearing running shoes with everything was by far the oddest one for me to wrap my head around.
Boys who were dressed up very smartly in nice a wool jumper (sweaters, for the yanks), good trousers, and a trendy jacket would top of their whole look with a pair of beat up nikes (instead of good quality desert boots – my favourite type of shoes that gents wear… a true travesty), and girls wearing dresses and tights would opt for colourful laced up runners as well.
It’s interesting how arbitrary fashion is.
6. Tough Love
One of the things that my parents and I have found the most amusement in over the course of my time singing in American choirs is the fact that an audience could listen to someone singing, absolutely cringe at the tone deafness of the performer, have to try fruitlessly to calm their weeping children, and perhaps even have to attend to their own bleeding ears, YET still, after the concert, they’d go up to the performer and tell them that they did a good job. What!?
American children are truly plagued with being told that they are beautiful and good at everything that they do. This is not a luxury that Scottish children experience. Scottish people employ a policy of tough love, and folks will only be praised for doing something well if they actually did it well.
That may sound brutal, but it also means that kids who should focus their talents elsewhere will be told so early on. Perhaps this is a better way to go about things? I dunno. You can decide for yourselves.
7. The Oldness of Things
A thing with European cities that American cities just cannot touch it the oldness. You strut about an American city, and everything is tall and shiny and grey and silver and blue. In the UK, you strut about a city and sure, there are some new shiny buildings, but you also walk down cobbled streets and stroll between edifices of gold & red sandstone. Everything is just so much older. It’s a remarkably different vibe. Old buildings are inspiring in a different way than new buildings are. People who have lived in the UK their whole lives take that for granted; likewise, people who have lived in the states their whole lives (particularly over here on the west coast where things have been around for barely a century) take the shininess for granted. Part of the American Dream is folded deeply between the cracks of the glass windows on the skyscrapers which graze the clouds with a towering façade of sophistication.
Buildings mean a lot to cities. And the buildings are a lot different here and there.
Of course there are a whole slew of things that are different between the two places, but those were just a few of them that stand out to me when I think about it. Now you know, if you’re hopping from here to there, what sorts of things to look out for.