People keep asking, “What’s it like in Glasgow?” and “How are you doing?” The short answers are “Lovely” and “Doing all right”; the long answer to both is, “It’s more complicated than that.”
Glasgow first: Magpies instead of crows ( I don’t even see that many pigeons here).
Sandstone buildings everywhere; the question is “Red sandstone or yellow sandstone?”
Cloudy skies much of the time, but not as wet as one might think (so far) (Of course, it’s supposed to rain all day tomorrow, and my overcoat hasn’t arrived yet. If Samuel L Jackson is reading this, would you consider mailing me one of your full-length black coats? Thanks).
This “drive on the left” practise has effects beyond the obvious. A great many behaviours follow from the initial axiom that one drives on the left. For instance, the whole notion of a “passing lane” changes. For another, the habit of making eye contact with the driver when one is crossing the street works much less well when it turns out that you’ve been staring at the passenger.
Almost every restaurant I’ve seen has a vegetarian option, frequently a vegan option. Unfortunately, they rarely offer more than one or two, so if you don’t like those (or if they emphasize tomatoes, as many do), it’s hard luck. If you do like it, you’re in for a lot of repetition.
I like living as a pedestrian, but Glasgow is distinctly hilly — and my walk to and from work begins and ends on hills, with a more level stretch in the middle. From Partickhill to Hyndland, there’s a serious slope; then from Hyndland to Byres Road, it’s much more even. From Byres Road to the University, it’s uphill again (especially the short stretch from the gate I enter to the building that houses Theology). So every day, my walk begins comfortably enough heading downhill, but winds up with a steep uphill stretch.
I like Glaswegians, although I have to ask people to repeat themselves embarrassingly often. They (mostly) indulge me with a smile. I haven’t explored much yet, but I look forward to learning more about the neighborhoods beyond the West End.
I hadn’t been listening to much music, partly because I wanted to learn to hear Glasgow, and partly because my iPhone now functions almost exclusively as a music player, and carrying one more electronic item (besides my actual mobile phone, for which Thanks, Gary!), seemed unnecessary. Yesterday and today I took the iPhone on my walk, and listening to music that I love contributed to a notable uptick in my feelings. That, together with the recollection that I can use the iPhone’s wifi even though I can’t use it for phone or phone-based data transmission, has me thinking again about jailbreaking it.
That reminds me that I’m startled by how security-conscious institutions in the UK seem. The folks I meet every day aren’t suspicious or unfriendly, but the University network is more tightly locked-down than any I’ve worked on in ages, and practically every net access point I see is password-protected. I can think immediately of several places in Durham and Evanston where you could easily catch open wifi signals, no big deal; here, even the cafes that offer free internet require that you enter a secret password for the day. And considering the size of Glasgow and the presence of students, there are startlingly few places that offer free net access at all. It won’t irk me so much once the broadband at my flat actually starts working, but for now it’s an unsettling nuisance.
That touches on the “How are you?” question, and in a sense I’m certainly doing quite well. Sleep is reliable and comfortable. My colleagues have welcomed me with intoxicating warmth. I’ve been eating frugally, but with a view toward getting my fruits and veggies, and minimizing carbs and fats. And of course, I’m getting a lot of walking in!
All that, however, masks some real and persistent stresses that accompany intercultural displacement, isolation (aggravated by my relative lack of connectivity apart from working hours; Margaret and I have to get by with truly minimal interaction), the limitations of having only one suitcase of clothing, and the fact that it’ll be another two weeks till I’m paid. I could handle the relocation stress and loneliness much more manageably if (a) I had pots of money, so could just spend on clothing and eat out and pay per-hour for cafe wireless and seek out self-indulgent treats without thinking twice; (b) I were less committed to eating more carefully, so that I might consume more of the bready foods that surround me in a carb-driven food culture; (c) many of the social settings didn’t require intermittent expenses like cups of coffee or pints of beer; (d) my shipment of books and clothing would arrive (two formal shirts in my closet); (e) the economics of everyday life here didn’t differ from the USA in ways to which I’m not yet accustomed, so that I have to calculate all the time, and make judgments based on unanticipated differences in expense; and (f) a few other things. The simplest angle would just be to use money freely to ameliorate most of my frustrations, but we don’t really have access to cash till payday (and family and friends have already supported me very, very generously — thank you all very much!).
So I’m resolving to spend more of my day in social space (office and flat don’t count), and to spending a little more money than my frugal self would ordinarily venture to. The difference between a cup of instant coffee made at home and a brewed cup at a cafe isn’t only the £1.80, but also the spiritual cost of isolation. And a few pounds on bottled ink, or a shirt, or subway fare (as Steve was pointing out to me yesterday, just riding on the world’s cutest subway makes you cheerier), or a dinner out, may strain the budget, but they relieve very real tensions and burdens.
Tomorrow is my first class; that’ll absolutely help too.
So I think I’ll head out to get a bite of dinner and maybe a pint, and to log in somewhere to post this update. Glasgow is lovely and delightful, and I’m orienting myself to it gradually. And I’m doing fine, I’m doing all right — better and better.