• Edinburgh, Week 8

    Time to be a bit scholar and to give some cultural details...

    Social Rituals in Scotland

    Edinburgh, Week 8

    Customs & Symbols

    As I said earlier, I am following Scottish Culture & Society lectures at uni, allowing me to discover the history and what makes the country proud. The Scottish flag is the St Andrew’s Cross, the blue and white cross we can see as well in the union jack flag. The official languages in Scotland are English and Scottish Gaelic, even if some people seriously consider that the Scottish English is a separate language! 

    - Clans: Scotland highlanders used to be divided in hundreds of Clans, who all had distinctive identities, flags, lands, tartans, etc. It’s basically the equivalent of French Middle-Ages lords and their people, but giving a strong sense of belonging to Scots even nowadays, as the names keep being transmitted. The most important and famous clans of Scotland are the McDonald and the Campbell: incidentally, those two are enemies and hold long-term grudges! 

    - Scots are really proud of their Tartans, a woollen tissue - mostly used to make kilts and scarves – with distinctive patterns of lines and colours for each clan. Buying a tartan scarf is the most usual souvenir tourists bring back. 

    - Kilts. Yes, they really wear them, it is not a legend. It’s the equivalent to the tuxedo here! Scots wear them for weddings/funerals, any formal events, sport games, graduation ceremony, etc… Not to mention the Bagpipers everywhere in Edinburgh who are always always wearing the entire attire – kilt, socks, moccasins, specific shirts and jackets and purses... The whole thing costs the price of a small car, by the way.

    - Bagpipes: You can hear them in most of ceremonies, in the streets of Edinburgh and St Andrew, and even in the army. Another Scottish symbol! Did I mention that the unicorn is the national animal?

    - A bit of history: We only studied the 17th and 18th century. To sum it up, Scotland has been a very poor country until the 18th century, regularly uprising against the English and failing miserably each time, until they finally resigned to sign a treaty of Union in 1707, allowing the English to use the Scottish Army in their battles and giving substantial funds to Scotland in return. Cruel truth the Scottish people are not so proud about. The Glencoe Massacre and failed Darien colony in Panama are also two key historical markers.

    National celebrations & Events

    - Highland games: where big men throw huge trees as a game. I don’t know much about them, but I have my tickets booked for those when they begin in the whole country – in May.

    - St Andrew’s Day (30th November), is the National day. 

    - Hogmanay: The New year celebrations  

    - Burns Night (jan 25th): Robert Burns was a Scottish poet and is revered here.

    - The Edinburgh Fringe festival, a huge art festival taking place during summer. Like, really crazy, really huge.


    Cultural & Family habits

    Now let’s leave the clichés to observe in which way everyday life here can be different from France. 

    1) Clothes

    I already talked about the impressive way Scots resist to cold, so let’s observe their fashion sense. 

    One word is almost enough to sum up student fashion in Edinburgh: Primark. Students are obsessed with this shop, and I can recognize the pattern of their cheaper clothes everywhere on the streets. Scottish people dress way more colourful than the vast majority of French people! They also tend to assume more originality in their style. I died my hair orange (well it was supposed to be ginger, but it turned out orange) and nobody acted shocked on the street, when I think in Lyon – which is the second biggest city of France – people would have stared a lot!

    Fashion style is also slightly different here from Lyon - I will only talk about Feminine fashion. Students going out usually seem to wear super-high-waisted super-skinny jeans, super-short shorts, skirts or dresses, super-high heels, and super-small crop tops! French style would probably be more discreet, simple and classic, but I also like this English version! 

    The great thing is that in France, women would probably not want to go out dressed as described, because of male pressure (cat calls everywhere) giving a very unwelcomed feeling of danger... I have not witnessed such a thing in Edinburgh, and I hope my guess is right!

    I am also delighted by the number of vintage shops hidden everywhere in the city. Prices tend to differ a lot from one shop to another, but each of them is worth the visit!

    We also went to the Vintage Fair in January: An experience I find fascinating and that I want to renew as soon as possible! 

    2) Food

    Everything cannot be perfect and if there is one field in which I have trouble to adjust, as a French food lover, it is Scottish food.

    As I said earlier, I'm suffering from the lack of fresh food. Everything is really expensive compared to France and fresh and non-cooked meat, especially beef, is clearly unaffordable for me and also quite rare, at least in the local shops in the city center. It seems that my flatmates almost only eat pre-cooked and ready meals... Yup, I just spotted Cammy trying to make pasta: he put the pasta in cold water and tried to boil it. It’s probably because it’s his first year living alone…

    I went to Mark & Spencer, guessing I would find some high quality basic food, but I was stunned to discover that actually 3/4 of the store was only ready meals! Moreover, when in France people eating ready meals would usually be students or single young active people, the supermarket was mainly visited by older people who seemed to buy big quantities of individual meals... Do they really eat those together with their family ? It does seem really strange to me. Here we have a quite clear cultural difference from France, where ready meals usually occupy only a single shelf in the supermarket. Same with sweets and crisps! (whereas in France it is more like two selves for cheese, two for meat, two for fresh vegetables etc...).

    So of course, I tried the classic haggis, Scottish breakfast with black pudding, baked beans, garlic bread, porridge, cheddar, sticky toffee, shortbread and over very English cheesecakes... Most of them are quite good and I adopted porridge, but one cannot live only eating those! I would grow fat very quickly! Happily they also always have a camembert or two in the local shops, which in the end goes quite well with toasted bread and Italian ham! I eat European haha.

    My next mission is to visit a hypermarket! Yeah I know, I should have already, but I am living in the city center and I have trouble finding one close enough to Fountainbridge. 

    PS: I hate cheddar, sorry

    3) Hanging out in Scotland

    I went twice to the cinema with my flatmates, and found out that eating during the movie is VERY important to them, and the size of the popcorn baskets impressed me. In France buying something to eat at the cinema is possible but not automatic: actually it’s even quite rare. Jack spent the double of the price of the ticket in sweets!

    We went to see American Sniper and The Woman in Black 2: both movies were a disappointment to me, and I think my Scots and I shared the same feeling. We both cannot understand the American patriotism and are strongly disgusted by the idea of war. We share more culture and history than Americans…

    One thing: I did not see fifty shades of grey, but I heard a lot about it, people getting really excited about it before seeing it. Also heard it was rated -15yo. Well in France, people did not make a big fuss about it, it was rated -12yo, and nobody was shocked! For some weird reason the movie went out two days before in France than in the UK.

    Pubs are exactly as I imagined them to be: extra noisy, crowded, sympathetic places where a lot of different people from all ages, nationalities and social categories gather with friends to drink beer and eat comfort food. Very homey feeling.

    Clubs are also way bigger and feel safer than in France.


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