There are things to be said for living in the north — winter, snow, getting to enjoy the seasons, etc. — but one of the perks is not the sun playing hard to get. Fall came and went here in about two weeks, leaving the barren month that is November. No longer autumn, not yet winter and not much to look forward to, except Thanksgiving, which is always to be looked forward to. But the time between Halloween and Thanksgiving feels like an eternity. And here, Thanksgiving isn’t even celebrated, so I’m not sure how the Scots survive the long emptiness of November. Probably whisky — Scotch, that is — although, Jack Daniels, lovingly called JD, is also very weirdly popular here.
It’s been a busy month here in the Athens of the North. Papers and presentations galore, plus the joys of Halloween. It’s a big deal among the university crowd, which envelopes the whole city. There are deals and events and parties the whole week before and the two weekends on either side of Halloween. Walking around on the night itself, you’d have thought it was a different planet. I couldn’t help but wonder what an alien would think if they happened to land on Earth on that very night. They’d probably declare it a lost cause of insanity and pack up and head home. Either way, it’s a good time. Here in Scotland they celebrate something called Samhuinn which is a Fire Festival on the night of Halloween. Basically, a bunch of people playing with fire and dressed up with blue paint on their faces walk down the High Street trying not to catch spectators on fire. It’s a good time and is always exciting.
What’s even better is Guy Fawkes Day, which is one of the biggest holidays in the UK, or at least Scotland. Fireworks went off for hours all over the city, effigies were set on fire, bonfires were lit in the Meadows, and it was general chaos. I’m not sure if the government officially condones the merriment, but the definitely don’t try to stop it. I think the Scots just really like their fire.
Experiencing new holidays, and old holidays in new ways, is something that I think slips under the radar most of the time when people are telling you about how your study abroad experience will be. Sometimes they’ll mention Christmas, but since most JYA experiences don’t include Christmas, the other holidays just fall by the wayside. But holidays are important cultural experiences, and they’re a lot of fun too. Some, like Halloween, have become very Americanized, but they still have the things that make them unique to the place you are, like the Fire Festival here in Edinburgh. And soon Christmas markets will be opening all over Europe, and they are definitely a tradition that the United States should adopt. Wandering around an open-air market with snow falling, drinking hot chocolate? Oh yeah, there’s something to be said for that. (On the other hand, November feels way too early for anything to do with Christmas. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet!)
But I think the most transcendent experience that really teaches you about the culture is going grocery shopping. When I first got here, I was not thrilled with the idea of going out into the cold at least once a week to feed myself. And I still occasionally indulge in the pastime of staring into the refrigerator hoping that food will magically appear. It never does, but I haven’t given up hope yet. I’m still not thrilled about the going out into the cold part, especially now that it is actually cold outside and I have to bundle up in order to walk the roughly one hundred meters to the store, but I’ve realized how much “fun” grocery shopping can be.
First off, I can choose what to feed myself. This is a vast improvement over the repetitive options of the Deece. But it’s also interesting to see all the different foods that are available in Scottish grocery stores. You can buy haggis, for instance. If you’re into that sort of thing. But the tea section takes up half an aisle shelf, and there’s also a special section for pre-made fresh lunches (think sandwiches and fruit cups). If you’re into fish, that’s not problem. You can find curry pretty easily too, even though it’s more common in England. The Scots prefer their food a little plainer. Mashed potatoes and turnips everywhere! And fish and chips shops, obviously. Scots will never turn up their nose at fried food.
It’s feels good to finally feel settled, and now that classes are calming down until finals, it seems easier to appreciate the fact that I’m actually living abroad. Sometimes I almost forget because I’m so used to my routine of classes by now, but then it’ll hit me as I’m walking by a cool building, or as I go through one of the small side streets in Old Town. Or even as I take a bus through the highlands and soak in the amazing colors of fall in the mountains. It’s easy to forget, but it’s even easier to remember.