Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Foos Yer Doos? Aye, Peckin'!

 “[Britain] and America are two countries separated by a common language.”
(George Bernard Shaw)

As luck would have it, the staff of the Aberdeen City Council is made up of native Aberdonians. Go figure! My new job is turning out to be a weekly cultural exchange of slang and customs. For example, the unfortunate opportunity presented itself to explain to my colleagues that the American equivalent to “builder’s bum” is “plumber’s crack.” I’ll leave you to wonder about how the topic came up, but I will just say it was rather an eventful day at the office. My colleagues love to learn about America, and in turn they teach me more Doric slang and, very usefully, the appropriate way to pronounce local towns. For example, “Chapel of Garioch” is pronounced “Chapel of Geery” and “Turriff” is pronounced “Turra.” Without this education, I would go about my job mis-pronouncing addresses and confusing myself and everyone else.

The wee Aberdeenshire town of Turriff had fifteen minutes of fame in 1910 when a local farmer refused to pay national insurance tax and had his cow confiscated by the government. The locals rioted and the Turriff Cow (known as the “Turra Coo”) became a symbol of the rights of the farmers. Today a statue of the Turra Coo can be seen on the Turriff high street.

The Turra Coo

Another Doric phrase I have recently learned is “Foo’s yer do’s?” to which the appropriate response is “Aye, peckin!” A “do” is a pigeon and at one time pigeon racing was quite popular in Aberdeen. Locals used to ask one another how their birds were faring as a way of asking “What’s up?” The phrase translates, “How are your doves?” “Always pecking!” This is similar to an American asking a friend “How’s it hangin’?” or a German asking “What’s loose?” (to which their friend will respond ‘The dog is loose”).

In other news, Paul and I are in the process of changing our names to Truitt-Turner and I am discovering that the British are not very understanding of my choice to use “Ms” as a title. I have been using Ms ever since I was 18, having always preferred my title to be separate of my marital status. Most of my American girlfriends use Ms. But here in Britain, woman are automatically expected to take their husbands’ names upon marriage and switch from Miss to Mrs. I literally have to make special requests at the bank, Human Resources, etc to be called Ms. However, when Paul filed his legal name change paperwork we discovered that in the UK, a person has the right to use Mr, Miss, Ms or the gender neutral title Mx. So while the government gives me the right to have a title separate from my marital status or even my gender, the public still expects me to be Mrs. Paul Turner. As with so many occasions where I defy British expectations, they just assume it’s because I’m American.

Paul and I send everyone our love and we sincerely hope that your doos are peckin’!

Song of the Day: "The Far Famed Fite Turra Coo" by Geordie Murison. I found this song about the Turra Coo and uploaded it on youtube so you can check it out. Sorry to say I don't have a translation of the lyrics.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Trumped Up: The Donald vs. Scottish Turbines
"Discontent makes rich men poor."  
(Benjamin Franklin)

I don't usually take sides in local political issues in Scotland. As a foreigner I feel it's my duty to listen and learn. But as this hullabaloo centers around a man whom I grudgingly call a fellow countryman, I feel the need to speak up.

Donald Trump is developing a new golf course. He is apparently unaware of the fact that Golf was invented in Scotland and the best courses in the world are already here. But that's just my opinion. Here's the rub: He says that the government has no right to build green energy wind turbines which are planned to be installed miles offshore from his golf course because they will spoil the sea view.

I have several problems with his ludicrous argument. Firstly, the turbines are going into the sea, miles away from his view for rich people. Second, despite his innumerable wealth, Donald does not actually own the sea (or, in fact, the government or the Aberdonian voters). The government can build whatever the voters like in the sea off Scotland's shores. Third, and I feel this is slightly obvious, wind turbines are not ugly and, in my humble opinion, are nice to look at in their own right. Not that it matters, since they're going MILES off shore into the sea . .  but I repeat myself.

In addition to buying giant newspaper ads trying to convince local Aberdonians that wind turbines are evil, The Donald had just written a letter to the Scottish government arguing that wind turbines will foil Scotland's chances of independence from the UK. This brings me to my fourth, and soapyest-box of points: Mr. Trump, you have absolutely no business meddling in Scottish politics. The Scottish people are fully capable of deciding their own future in regard to golf, independence and green energy without any help from your PR minions. You cannot simply tell the government of Scotland "You're Fired!" You can't even vote them out because you're not a Scottish citizen . . . unless you want us to question your birth certificate too.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Scottish Food: From the Braw Bangers to the Bellywashers

(Braw = good, Bangers = sausages, Bellywasher = pint of beer)

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
-Robert Burns, Address to Haggis

Ah, Scottish food. Where to begin? It is the subject of so many myths that perhaps it is best to first lay a couple of those to rest.

Myth 1: Scottish food is the same as English food (i.e. terrible). Now that’s just untrue and unfair. Scotland has historical ties to France and therefore the Scottish people have long been exposed to fine sauces and lovingly prepared roasted meats. That they completely missed the French cooking lesson on green vegetables is the fault of the climate. While pub grub in Scotland shares many a dish with pub grub in England, Scottish cuisine has its own unique style. Perhaps most importantly, Scotland has top notch seafood and beef to rival the best the in the world!

Myth 2: It’s all haggis all the time. I don’t know anyone here who eats haggis on a regular basis. Apart from Burns Night (the birthday celebration of Scottish poet Robert Burns, which includes haggis, neeps [mashed turnips], tatties [potatoes], a lot of Scots verse and an energetic albeit drunken chorus of “Auld Lang Syne”), I have never once seen a Scottish person eating haggis. Haggis is comprised of unsavory bits of meat spiced in such a way as to conceal their origins. This traditional poor-food sustained the penny-pinching, poverty-ridden Scots through the centuries. But just like chitlins and liver in America, prosperity brought with it better tasting foods that are now the norm. Is haggis easy to find? Sure, tourists eat it all the time. You can even buy it canned at the supermarket (gross!). However, you’ll find it about as common as Rocky Mountain Oysters in the American west. Does everyone know where to find it? Sure. Does everyone eat it? No way . . . unless it’s stuffed inside a chicken breast, as in dish called “Balmoral Chicken”.

Below are some lists of my favorites, least favorites, and local treats only to be trusted at quality establishments. If you find yourself venturing to Scotland any time soon, I encourage you try some of the good stuff!

The Good Stuff: Scotland Does Lots of Food Very Well

Fish – salmon and haddock. These are locally sourced and the best I’ve ever had. Salmon in America is flown in from Alaska or (surprise, surprise) Scotland. Before I moved here I didn’t know what salmon (or lovely, white haddock, for that matter) was supposed to taste like. I was missing out!

Summer Berries - I did not know the taste of Heaven until I tried a Scottish summer strawberry. And blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries - oh my! I like these with a little cream cheese on top of a toasted crumpet. To die for.

Baked goods:
Scotch Pies – These can contain meat, veggies and even pasta. Thain’s bakery in Aberdeen is famous for the best pies in the city. My favorite is the lasagne pie (strange, I know, but good). It’s full of macaroni, meaty red sauce and cheese. Delish! The macaroni pies (full of macaroni and cheese) are also quite nice. While many Americans find carb-on-carb a little strange, pies make very handy fast food when you’re on the go.

Pastries, scones and butteries – They just love baked goods in this country. Fresh scones with butter and jam are very popular. One local favorite is a flat scone made with more butter than you want to know about called an Aberdeen buttery. I prefer regular scones, but both are very tasty.

Cheese – Scottish cheddar, particularly from Orkney and Shetland, is to die for. Yes please!

Macaroni and Cheese – Imagine the best mac & cheese you’ve ever had in America. Now try to imagine it with the best cheddar you’ve ever tasted instead of Kraft flavorless orange shreds. Mac & cheese is very popular here and considered a proper dish at pubs and cafes. It’s a great choice for vegetarians and carnivores alike.

Roast beef, chicken and pork – The Scots, like the English, love a proper Sunday roast, sometimes called a carvery. roasted chicken, beef or pork is often accompanied by stuffing and roasted potatoes, carrots, parsnips and Brussels sprouts. It’s like Thanksgiving every Sunday!

Sausages - As a Texan, the only sausages I’ve really been exposed to are Louis Rich summer sausage and Jimmy Dean. The Scots eat more sausages (sometimes called “bangers”) in more flavor varieties than you could ever imagine. Last weekend at the farmers market a local butcher was selling sausage flavored with Iron Bru, a popular Scottish soda (see my “avoid” list). We bought pork & apple and beef & tomato and had a dinner of bangers and mash (mashed potatoes). Both were excellent. I think Paul could eat sausages for dinner every day for a month.

Steak – Aberdeen Angus beef is popular even in America. The Angus cows are plentiful in the Scottish countryside and make for one tasty steak. But don’t ask for any A-1.

Oats – Like oatmeal? The Scots invented it! Porridge, as they call it, is lovely here and oats also feature in baked goods like the popular oat cakes eaten with cheese and deserts like cranachan, a sort of oat parfait with ice cream and fruit. Granola is called “oat crunchy” here and is very good, especially with honey and yogurt.

Whiskey and Beer – Do I even need to explain these? Whiskey, called “uisge beatha” (the water of life) in Scots Gaelic, is plentiful, with well over 100 distilleries in this small country. I suggest trying it, even if you don’t think you’ll like it. A little water helps me appreciate it a lot more. Popular beers made in Scotland include Belhaven, McEwan’s and Brew Dog. Brew Dog is currently the favorite of young hipsters in northern Scotland, as it is made in Inverness.

Foods which are safer in nice restaurants:

Cullen skink – a creamy haddock soup similar to chowder. This recipe is named for the town of Cullen on the north coast of Aberdeenshire and it's done really well in good restaurants.

Stovies – an Aberdeen specialty, this is a meat and vegetable mash. Imagine you took all your leftover roast meat and veggies after Sunday dinner and made it into a paste, then pluralized the name for no good reason. If the original ingredients that went into the stovies were good, so too will be the stovies. If you’re at a chippie or a dodgy pie shop, don’t bother.

Black pudding – I only recommend trying this blood pudding when prepared by a chef and nicely spiced. It can be tasty or terrible. It’s all about where you have it.

Haggis – never eat this in a touristy place.  As with black pudding, only trust a good chef! It tastes even better when kilted men are present.

Foods to Avoid

Vegetables at pubs – if it’s colorful then it’s frozen and flavorless. You’re better off sticking with potatoes at pubs and enjoying quality veggies at a nicer restaurant or cafe.

Scotch eggs – Some people love scotch eggs, which are boiled eggs wrapped in limp bacon and greasy breading. I think they’re gross.

White pudding – If you’ve heard of black pudding (made from blood), perhaps you can imagine what goes into white pudding. It’s made from marrow and fat leftover after butchering meat. No thank you.

Kebab/Chinese/Curry/Burger/Pizza Takeaway Shops & “Chippies” – These are ubiquitous. If 5 international cuisines served in one dingy storefront doesn’t trigger red flags for you, check out the grease leftover at the bottom of your takeout container. There are genuine, lovely restaurants where you can get gyros, shwarma, fried rice, curries, hamburgers pizzas and fish & chips, but never all in the same building. When I want takeaway here I get it from a proper restaurant. Drive thrus are not common in here. I can only think of two in Aberdeen – McDonalds and Burger King, both of which I avoid even in America.

“Bar-be-que,” and “Tex-Mex” – Both these cuisines (often confused with each other and with Cajun) are popular here and there are British chain restaurants selling foods that claim to be American BBQ or authentic Tex-Mex. Take it from this Texan: Run for your life! That is unless you enjoy Cajun-spiced duck burritos with sugary salsa. My general rule (one I copied from Anthony Bourdain) is to stick with the local specialties wherever you are. There are plenty of good things to eat in Scotland, and when I’m homesick for BBQ or Tex-Mex, I make it myself.

Iron Bru – A Scottish soft drink banned in the USA for it’s harmful chemical ingredients. It tastes like Mountain Dew with fat added and looks like orange toxic waste.

Scottish cuisine has a lot to offer and I suggest you get yourself a plane ticket and come check it out!

Friday, March 2, 2012

To Be An Immigrant

To be an immigrant is to be alone

because no single person in your divided world

can know every part of you.

To be an immigrant is to work

twice as hard without the benefit

of “native” understanding.

To be an immigrant is to have your heart broken

over and over again as those you love

spread far apart beyond your reach.

To be an immigrant is to misunderstand

often, and yet understand

what no one else does.

To be an immigrant is to know secrets

that cannot be translated

but must be experienced.

To be an immigrant is to suffer,

and struggle,

and grow.

Lately I have been experiencing frequent cultural hiccups that make up the immigrant’s learning curve. I accepted a job, only to find out that I cannot start work until I receive a National Insurance number (similar to a Social Security number in the USA). I waited in line at the post office to mail a letter that was in a prepaid envelope. (How was I supposed to know? It didn’t say, “postage paid?”) I got terribly lost in a familiar street and gave up looking for the destination, only to discover later that I was next door to it when I gave up looking. These are the daily trials of living in a foreign country. I keep remembering a particular nugget of wisdom from “Eat Pray Love” when an Italian tutor said to Elizabeth Gilbert “You should be very polite with yourself when learning something new.” It’s difficult for me to have that patience. I’ve always been an A student who prided myself on getting things right the first time. But as an immigrant I am bound to get some things wrong because there is a wide range of cultural knowledge one can only learn from experience. And so the girl who hates to get things wrong must do just that and do it with patience for herself. Oh, the irony! I’m very grateful for Paul’s love and support. When I make a cultural mistake and do not want to forgive myself, he offers me the patience and understanding I need. I have gained a profound respect for immigrants around the world who cross language, bureaucratic and cultural boundaries to experience a bigger world. My ancestors left Scotland knowing they would never see home again. Luckily, travel and the Internet make it possible for me to visit the people I love, near and far. Nobody appreciates Skype more than an immigrant!

Song of the Day: "With a Wonder and a Wild Desire" by Irish American band Flogging Molly