Final thoughts from Edinburgh

Actually, these are from the air after having departed Edinburg on our way to our connecting flight in Amsterdam. I’m posting them from a hotspot at B24, waiting for our flight to Munich.

(Parenthetical paragraph: Thanks Adam, for the Schengen-non-Schengen explanation of Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport and the concourse / security queue layouts. I told a ticket agent at Edinburgh what a pain Amsterdam can be for that very reason. Fortunately, it was pretty painless today, too.)

Edinburgh has an impressive bus system – at least based on outward appearances. 3GBP for an adult day pass is a pretty good deal, if you need it. Turns out we didn’t, based on where we were staying and what/how much we wanted to accomplish each day. We only used the bus twice – one trip out to Cramond and one back. You see busses, hundreds of them even, out on the street at all times of day. But if you don’t know exactly which bus you need or where it stops, good luck. The signage is awful — self-defeating actually, since often we couldn’t read the bus numbers at the stops until having reached the bus shelter, as OTHER bus signs were obscuring the ones we needed to see. Why bother with signs at all then? And it didn’t do us much good to try to figure out on the bus system’s website where the stops are on a real map (not just a schematic). I’ve seen that Google Maps has started marking U-Bahn stops and routes for Munich (and presumably other metropoles) on the maps for that area. That’s “brill” and a long time coming. Now every city needs that, for all their lines.

How about that Starbucks Gingerbread Latte? Pretty freakin’ tasty. Finally a reason other than Frappucinos to head into a Starbucks. I think I had three of them this trip. Seems like there was a Starbucks on every other corner around the bigger streets in New Town.

Shepherd’s Pie eluded me on this trip, but not for lack of trying. We did manage to snag some fantastic Indian (“curry”) take-out on our last evening. An original West Cornwall pasty at the airport on the way home and the fish-and-chips towards the beginning of the trip meant that we got enough native British stuff to eat. Especially considering the amount we brought home from Marks & Spencer to prepare/consume at the apartment.

When boarding planes, why don’t they get a PROPER boarding order down to a science? Sure, Extra-Special Lesser Deity Gold, Silver and Silver Plus can get on the plane first, for all I care. But why not implement a Window, Middle, Aisle seating order? We’ve all got boarding passes denoting the seat. Wouldn’t that make more sense? Over and over and over again passengers seated in the middle or aisle have to get up and let the window-seat passengers get to their window, just because they boarded out of this order. Seems like a simple solution to getting the sheeple onto the plane and seadted more quickly doesn’t it?

I don’t banter well (anymore). I think I used to; I must have lost this skill somewhere over the last five years. I wonder if the UK, or maybe English-speaking countries in general have banter-prone cultures. It’s not that I mind making small talk about practically nothing among those I know or want to know better — but the cashier selling me a hat and a shirt at Marks & Spencer doesn’t seem worthy of getting my life story, or even the circumstances which brought my American accent to his cash register. When forced, my answers are usually clipped and humorless. Clearly this also presents its own distinct disadvantage: potentially missed opportunity. We dined at a restaurant with a perfectly lovely and chatty waitress here in Edinburgh. She inquired as to our accents, wanted to know where in the U.S. we’re from, how long we’d be staying in Scotland, and even divulged that she too is a native North American (from P.E.I. to be exact). Sarah played along much better than I. Good thing too, otherwise we probably wouldn’t have gotten her tip to visit Cramond Island or at least the shore at Cramond, a town on the coast of the Firth of Forth (love saying that). We had a nice walk from the #41 bus route down into the village at out to the shore, where lots of people and their furry fetching friends were also out for a stroll along the seashore.

I wondered if this was evidence of the supposed superficiality Germans sometimes claim Americans exhibit. I mean, if that’s originally a British cultural artifact, then it makes sense that we as Americans have absorbed it. But the Germans don’t claim that the Scots/Welsh/Irish/English are superficial, do they? That’s an honest question, since I don’t know enough people from the British Isles to ask whether Germans accuse them of being superficial in their interpersonal activities.

I think Sarah nailed it when she said it’s simply a more frequent readiness to smile, shoot the breeze, etc. When we asked for extra help around here (with catching a bus, directions inside the airport, etc.), we got more smiles and chuckles than we bargained for every time. Even passers-by on our stroll along the shore at Cramond made pleasant, cheerful comments of encouragement. It was actually quite…warm. I think I can see how others might classify Germans as culturally cold if they were coming from a place where random pleasantries* are frequent and above suspicion.

Here are the best shots from our last full day, Sunday, in the Edinburgh area. It was a great trip for the city and it did well to convince us that we’d like to see more of rural Scotland, perhaps by flying into a big city and renting a car for a BnB-hopping adventure next year.

*And I can see that the term in itself is subjective. What is an objective term for those things?

11 thoughts on “Final thoughts from Edinburgh”

  1. Michelle

    I have no tolerance anymore for banter. I don’t smile very often at strangers anymore either. When I have to work in the US from time to time, I find myself starting at the people making all the chatter and laughter in the cubes. Depending how much time I have out of Germany I thaw out but for sure I have adapted to the norms here over the last years.

    Oh, and when I was at lunch this weekend, I was told that there are lots of German stereotypes of Scots being mean! This was confirmed by a couple of the Germans at our table. I was really surprised at that as the ones I know are very friendly!

  2. cliff1976

    D’oh! I realized too late this afternoon in Amsterdam that I’d forgotten to embed the slideshow of pictures from the last day, and then my 30-minute guilty pleasure of airport WiFi petered out and I couldn’t correct the post. They’re there now.

    Michelle: I wonder how I’d do in the U.S. anymore. I moved here for the same company as there in Michigan and have yet to embark on a single business trip to the U.S. — my “home” location or others — or even the same continent (I’d really like to check out our plant in Guadalajara…). All I know for sure is that when I have to deal with colleagues from the U.S. on the phone and the conversation doesn’t feel like it’s progressing to some sort of useful purpose, I start to get antsy. Probably not a good sign, eh?

  3. Sarah

    For most Americans (and maybe also U.K. dwellers), I always think of small talk/banter among strangers or in a service situation as social lubrication. It makes the machine run more smoothly. Honestly, I enjoy it a lot more when it happens because I experience so little of it in Germany. Plus, it’s a good opportunity to keep your wit sharp – for me, at any rate.

  4. Penny

    Oh I’m so jealous, it sounds like you two had a great time… its been so long since I was there…..Oh my God i’ve just realised 10 years since I moved back to Ireland from Edinburgh.

    On the social thing… I miss it so much… When I get back home Chris slags me off saying I never shut up… I just love that the women on the checkout in Tescos have so much to say and the people in line have an opinion on everything! Oh I can’t wait to go home!!!!
    (3.5 weeks to go!)

    1. cliff1976

      When I get back home Chris slags me off saying I never shut up…

      Well, Penny, I guess you’ve just provided evidence that it’s not entirely a cultural thing, since you and Chris have similar backgrounds…right?

      But yeah, we did have a great time. When we got back, some friends who’ve been there before asked us, “You did X and Y, right?” and we had to answer with “Uh…oops” most of the time. There’s always next time, I guess!

  5. Malge

    there’s a pretty drastic difference in social expectations within the US too. i was just in MI for the weekend and noticed a difference the few times i went to any stores or restaurants. compared to boston, folks in MI are a lot more likely to have small-talk conversations. most of the times i’ve experienced that with anyone here in boston i’ve come to find out that they weren’t from here originally….
    for the other extreme, visit rural VA. i have a couple of friends who moved down there about two years ago from MA. when you see the woman at the checkout in the grocery store you have to remember her family members, who was doing what, who was pregnant and who was getting married and such, and be ready to share the same about yourself. just wanting to pay and get out of there is considered RUDE.
    i have no problem with small talk – cliff you can vouch for that i’m sure. but hell, i’ve gotten new friendships and dates out of the deal…

    1. cliff1976

      How did the MI trip go? Smoothly, I hope!

      just wanting to pay and get out of there is considered RUDE

      Put me down for RUDE, then I guess. But the point is interesting — maybe I’ve always been this way (compared to rural Virginians then, by your assessment)? Maybe it’s a reaction to having worked retail jobs in college. I like talking to people I like.

      i have no problem with small talk – cliff you can vouch for that

      Consider it vouched. You are a master. When are you going to come visit us or meet us somewhere again? So far a Boston trip hasn’t been feasible for us. Can you believe that a kid born around the time we moved you out there would be in the 3rd grade by now?

  6. Holly

    Just reading your posts on Edinburgh, Cliff, and reminiscing about my favorite city. Being from the US and having lived in Edinburgh for a few years, I think I can say with some confidence that people in BOTH countries are into small talk with strangers, random pleasantries and “banter” in a way that Germans don’t seem to be. Sometimes I miss the random smiles from strangers that come more easily in the US or UK, and I find myself slightly smiling at people here even if it’s not reciprocated (I figure it might brighten up someone’s day, and at the very worst they’ll just think I’m crazy.) On the other hand, I didn’t always want to dish out my entire life story to yet another taxi driver in Edinburgh at 11pm at night after a long day of working. However, I’m sure a lot of that was due to my American accent. Here’s my take on it: I don’t get the same kinds of probing questions from strangers when I’m home in the US, so I think an accent triggers curiosity and people in the US and UK feel more free to ask whatever they want to know.

    1. cliff1976

      I don’t get the same kinds of probing questions from strangers when I’m home in the US, so I think an accent triggers curiosity and people in the US and UK feel more free to ask whatever they want to know.

      Really? I find the probing much more intense in the U.S. Much more so than in England, Ireland, or Scotland. And I’ll give them a pass, since the American accent sticks out, as opposed to in the U.S.

      “I’ll need to see some ID please.”
      [whipping out the passport or German driver’s license]
      “Um, do you have a driver license?”
      “I live in Germany, so I don’t have a U.S. driver’s license.”
      “Wow, your accent is perfect! How about 10% off just for applying for our in-store charge card?”
      “No, I’m from Michigan, but I live in Germany. We’re just visiting. Thanks, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t pass your credit check. Well, as long as I get the 10% off no matter what the credit check says. Yes, we love it. No, the auto industry. About 6 years. Not anytime soon. You too.”

      1. Holly

        Hmmm…well, you do have a good point there. I don’t usually end up having those conversations with sales clerks because I still have a US driver’s license, and I just use my parents’ address when they ask for something like a zip code. Again, it’s the curiousity thing, isn’t it? In some ways I wonder if maybe it’s because so few Americans live outside the US so it’s really fascinating for most to meet someone who does (or is from another country period)? Still doesn’t answer the question as to why people think it’s okay to be nosy and ask whatever they want, however….

  7. […] the time to help out a couple of hapless tourists. Cliff didn’t want to get drawn into the banter, but I still remember how to do that, so I went ahead and accepted the chat-up. We came out of it […]

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