Oh, you thought moving from the U.S. to Scotland meant you didn’t have to worry about learning a new language? That’s cute. Because the truth is, you speak American, just like me. American is not English, and neither is Scottish.
Having visited Scotland twice before moving here, of course I realized there were certain little phrases or words that were unique to the area.
But living here now has given me an entirely new perspective on the English language.
I find myself straining to understand some people, while others I have no trouble at all.
And then, of course, there are some I simply smile and nod because I have absolutely zero idea what words are tumbling from their lips.
A Scottish-American Miscommunication
When the engineer came out to install our cable TV, we had quite the run around trying to communicate with each other.
It may not have helped that I had a terrible head cold that day (a lovely by-product of encountering winter for the first time in years), but I needed him to repeat himself every single time he said something. EVERY time.
Our phone conversation went something like this…
Groggy me: “Hello?”
Unknown caller: “[gobbledygook] Sky TV [gobbledygookitygook].”
Confused me: “Um, yes, Sky TV is coming today.”
Undecipherable man: “[gobbledygook] Main Street [gobbledygookitygook]…(awkward long pause during which I’m sure I’m supposed to say something but haven’t the slightest idea what it would be)…[gobbledygook] parking?”
Proud me: “Yes! You should park on Main Street!”
Perturbed man: “[gobbledygook] traffic [gobbledygook] no parking [gobbledygook].” (Abrupt hang-up, at which point I realize I think he was asking for an alternative location to park because Main Street was busy.)
By now, I have no idea whether or not to still expect this man at my
first-floor apartment ground-floor flat. Until a knock at the door. And when I open it and begin effusively apologizing for the telephone confusion, a look of understanding washes over his face.
Amused Sky TV guy: “Yer not local are ye? Ye cannae understand me.”
And then we proceed to slowly and deliberately talk to each other, repetitively, for the next 40 minutes or so while he installs our cable.
Hypothetically, we’re speaking the same language.
Realistically, he’s speaking Scottish while I’m speaking American. And we need an interpreter.
Thankfully, this guy was beyond kind and very patient with me, so we had a few laughs at ourselves.
Trying to Understand Scottish Lingo
Another time, when I was at the gym, a lovely older woman walked by and said something to me with a smile, so I simply smiled, too.
Clearly, my smile was insufficient because she doubled back and leaned close to try again.
Turns out, she’s 70 years old and wanted to know how old I was so she could compare our ab sessions.
Spoiler alert: She did a harder workout than I did.
And then there was that time at the grocery store check-out line…
The two women in front of me were laughing and having a great time chatting with the staff. I laughed along when I made eye contact with one of them, to which she directed a question at me.
Well, I can only assume it was a question as her eyebrows raised and she stared at me expectantly.
I have zero idea what she asked, and after asking her to repeat it twice, she and her friend tired of my inability to communicate and mercifully motioned not to worry about it.
Then, one of them loudly – as if I were deaf – told me to have a nice day as they both smiled and waved.
Deaf? No. But obviously I need to take Scottish lessons immediately.
How to Speak Scottish as an American
In an effort to avoid these moments of confusion, I’ve taken to making the preemptive strike. If I start the conversation, at least I know what topic we’re discussing so I might be able to say something intelligent.
I stick to the weather mainly; it’s an astoundingly popular topic of discussion in the UK.
Actually, I’m fairly certain talking about the weather is mandatory in the UK.
If you have a conversation without mentioning recent meteorological conditions, I’m guessing lightning strikes you down (oh, the irony!).
So, now, I talk about the weather.
Of course, once I throw out my first line, who knows where it can go from there! But I try to follow along as best I can.
And from that, I’ve learned my new favorite Scottish phrase.
If you don’t like profanity, first of all, you are definitely American. Secondly, my apologies, but this phrase is just too good, especially when it comes out of the mouth of an elderly gentleman…
“It’s blowy as f*ck, pal.”
Yes, kind sir, it is indeed quite windy today.
And with that favorite phrase now in the books, I intend to add to my learning so perhaps I can create a Scottish-American dictionary someday.
Though, frankly, the only solution is whisky. That’s always the solution here.
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