Over There (in the UK)

June 6, 2005 at 9 AM

Adventures in the Corner of the Continent, Part I

The last month has seen me gallivanting around my little corner of Europe thanks to cheap airplane tickets and the hospitality of friends. Perhaps, if I am only capable of a limited amount of technological exploitation per day, I expended my quota on taking photos rather than blogging.

One of the marvels of the United Kingdom is that, despite being a fairly small collection of islands whose total area is, as the CIA puts it, “slightly smaller than Oregon,” it contains an astonishing variety of places and people. I spent five days in Scotland recently and came back with a sense of surprise about just how un-English the place feels compared to the parts of England I’ve explored. I suppose making such an observation to Scottish people is a bit like observing that tea is remarkably unlike coffee, or that blue is not at all like red, but still, for two places that have shared a common flag since 1606, I find this remarkable.

As a slightly defensive British Columbian, I think I’ve always been among the first to point out how regional differences make national stereotypes totally inaccurate, but it’s fair to say that I’ve still been guilty of using the term “British” recklessly — British food, British accents, British teeth — you name it. Really, when people talk about these things, they are almost always talking about the English, since as we all know, the Scottish have their own, unique set of ways of preparing food to be deep fried. Even then, Scotland itself is hardly a uniform place. The rugged mountains and wee seaside villages seem to bear little in common with the packed streets of the cities.

One thing, though, that they share in Scotland and England alike, is the habit of driving on the left (in cars configured with the driver on the right). I had the fortune to practice this feat for the first time, and it’s not for the faint of heart. Nearly all the driver’s controls are on the same side of the wheel except the gear shift, a fact my brain had trouble with: my hand often tried to shift gears when what I wanted to do was signal a turn. Also, the thing they don’t tell you is that the secret to driving on the left isn’t so much to “keep left” (and the UK is filled with arrows telling you just that anyway in case you forget), but rather to avoid keeping too far to the left. It is actually a battle of wits not to gradually plough the car into the left bank of the road — in the case of rural Scotland, this usually being a fence with many cows leaning over to watch the curious passers-by. (Can one “gradually plough” into something? Perhaps not.) It’s hard to erase many years of habit, and no, drinking single malt Scotch whisky does not help.



Previously: Take This Liberal

Subsequently: Chance

June 2005
the Archives

In Earshot

In Frame