Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Family Reunion

I spent the weekend at my home away from home - Irvine, Scotland.
Irvine is perched on the western coast of Scotland, halfway between Glasgow and Ayr. For those unfamiliar with Scotland, the west has the very broad (for many, unintelligible) accent - and it is one of my favorite parts of visiting. I usually adjust to the dialect quickly (only after many years of visits), but here's a snippet of one of the first conversations I had upon arriving.

Scottish dad: "Hae are ye, hen?"
Me: "I'm great."
Scottish dad: "That's smashin. Hae ye seen the cart?"
Me (frowns and glances in the back garden): "The cart?"
Scottish dad: "Aye, the cart."
Me (still looking for said cart): "The cart?"
Scottish dad: "Aye, the cart, she should be around."
Me (finally figures it out): Oh, the cat. (winces when I hear the how horrible the nasal aaaaaaa sound is when I pronounce the word). Yes, I've seen the cat. (winces again)

I was visiting some folks who I always refer to as "my Scottish family." To be technical, this family are not my blood relatives, but for all the love and kinship I share with them, they might as well be.

I first met John and Sandra Davidson when my father did a work exchange in the summer of '92. I was thirteen years old and John and Sandra quickly took our family under their wing, and became my Scottish mum and dad, as they have been ever since.

Over the years I've spent enough time in Irvine that after being there no more than an hour, I find myself slipping into Scottish patterns of speech and even thinking with a Scots accent.

One of the best courses I took in college was "The History of English;" I love learning about words and their origins. Going to Scotland is a wonderful way to learn about the diversity of language. There are Old Scots words that are brilliant. Here are just a few of my favorites:

skint - having no money: "I canna go up the road fer a pint, I'm dead skint."
drich - dreary, rainy day "Och, I'll nae go down the shore, it's an awffa drich day."
greet - cry. "Stop yer greetin, it's nae tha bad."
steamin - very drunk. "How's yer head? You were steamin las night."

And this is a hairy coo (Highland cow)...

and a wee hairy coo (Highland calf): I'm seriously not making these words up. My Scottish family and friends all use them constantly. I love these words, they have such a wonderful onomatopoetic (i.e. their sound evokes their meaning) quality. When I'm in Scotland every conversation becomes something of an adventure.

Unfortunately it wasn't all good news from the North. Ayrshire has recently been shocked by the announcement that Diageo (the corporation that owns the Johnnie Walker label) will be closing their factory in Kilmarnock, cutting 700 jobs.

Scotland has already been hard hit by recession, and this loss will devastate Ayrshire's economy. Local politicians, who were given no warning of the closure, are in talks with the company now to try to find an alternative solution to the job losses. Since Johnnie Walker is a major export, particularly to America, I'd encourage anyone in the U.S. who consumes this whisky or cares about Scotland to let Diageo know that you support any concessions they can make to save jobs in Kilmarnock.

Lang mae yer lum reek.


  1. Andrea,
    This is absolutely delightful (although bittersweet at the end) to read. I love the cadence of language, even the slight differences in the U.S. I long to visit Scotland. Someday I will. I've been to Ireland a number of times and love to listen to people speak. It's musical to me. Thanks for this.

  2. Thanks, Tricia. Scotland is full of amazing people, you'd love it and I hope you're able to make the trip in the not too distant future!

  3. The cafe at Aberdeen airport (Scotland, not South Dakota ;-) has a sign claiming that it is the place to "Meet, Greet, and Eat"... I always wonder if the double meaning is intentional.

  4. Hey Andrea. I'm loving Reading your blog about my wonderful town and country-the photos make the place look better!!!! It was fantastic catching up after 17years. As we spoke about, it feels like just yesterday we were playing badminton at the Magnum! Keep in touch and I plan to come over and visit for definite.

  5. Lyn, I tried to facebook you and wasn't able but I believe it may have been because I'd added another "n" to your name (oops!)

    I'll try again. I spoke to Garth (he sends his love) and he was still lamenting his losses to you at badminton...