A brief history of Glasgow in 8 columns, part 8: Home.
It’s like the beginning of a bad joke: three women are sitting in a tram in Amsterdam. One is Scottish, one is Irish, one is Dutch. But it happened to me this week. Next to us are a group of boys who start singing ‘It’s coming home’, thinking we are English since we’re speaking English. They are discussing which of them is going to ask us what we think of the World Cup defeat when I tell them, in Dutch, than I can understand Dutch without a problem. Embarrassed, they leave the tram at their stop before I have time to explain that my girlfriend and her fellow Scots often say ‘anything but the English’ and that my Irish gran doesn’t mind the English losing either.
In my experience, anything across the Channel counts as being ‘English’ to most Dutch people – all tea and Union Jack cosiness. Let alone trying to explain the Irish/Northern-Irish history. Can you imagine my shock when I found out that the orange colour my country dresses itself in on our national holiday Koningsdag (Kingsday) and during big sports tournaments has very different connotations in Northern Ireland and even in Glasgow, where I experienced a sectarianism I never knew before. There I sat, in the tram, realizing that my person, my knowledge and experience, has expanded so much after three years in Glasgow. Instead of the stories and histories of one culture and country, there are two roaming around in my mind that I can draw upon and learn from.
All my columns so far have been written in Scotland – the first one in the lounge of a hostel in Aviemore, the seventh in the train en route to Inverness, all those in between somewhere in Glasgow. But this last column comes riding on a bike while munching on some cheese, as I’m spending time at home near Amsterdam. Stereotypes are a funny thing – the Netherlands, or Amsterdam specifically, is literally encapsulated for me by cycling everywhere, eating cheese and passing a coffee shop several times a day. But stereotypes are not always so close to the truth: I have yet to eat a fried mars bar, haggis doesn’t exactly feature twice-weekly on every Scot’s dinner table and the rain is not that bad either. Stereotypes ring more true when it comes to Glaswegian personalities – they are about as friendly and chatty as it gets, similar to how the Dutch are indeed pretty direct. ‘Dutch people don’t coax,’ my Irish grandmother says, a trait she claims she has obtained after living here for exactly 60 years, but going to her house for lunch will tell a different story.
In February of this year, during the Olympic Winter Games, I was probably longing for home more than ever before. Watching sports on TV is a thing I have done with my family for as long as I can remember – football, the Olympics, the Tour de France. Suddenly, there was no one near me who knew about my favourite Dutch skaters or followed the tournament as closely as I was. Where I would have been on the couch in my parent’s living room, I was now watching Dutch programs about the Olympics while doing the dishes, and listening to live updates on the radio on my phone. I was in two, maybe three places at once – my Glasgow flat and West-End streets, back home in the Netherlands, and at the ice-rink in PyeongChang. While it made me feel homesick at times, it felt ridiculous too that my mind was able to be at all those places at the same time. Reliving memories as well as living in the present. In the past three years, I have learnt that these experiences don’t have to cancel each other out. It’s not the case that some are meant for Glasgow and others for back home in Amsterdam. Rather, I’m living them all at the same time.
Back home now, I’m cycling, swimming in the river, making new memories in well-known places with my girlfriend, working and spending time with family. From here, I am rooting for the fabulous Glasgow Women’s Library on the day the Art Fund ‘Museum of the Year’ gets announced – which GWL so sadly loses out on. I still look at Instagram stories from my favourite Glaswegian cafes to see what cakes I would have bought if I was there. I finish a book about a tiny group of islands near the Outer Hebrides, another profound history and description of place of a kind I have never been interested in reading about the Netherlands. Glasgow, Scotland and their history, of which I have been able to share a tiny part these past months, have changed me in ways I cannot even imagine.
One narrative is perfect – to feel at home somewhere. Two narratives enables you to look critically at your ‘normals’ and ‘stranges’, to learn more of your own culture and a new one. Three, four – the more narratives you acquaint yourself with, the more you are able to look at the world from multiple perspectives, to understand differences. People close to me are graduating and thinking about where life post-university will take them. While I hope to get to know many more narratives during my life, I’m so grateful to be returning to Glasgow for another year coming September. To delve deeper into the history and landscape of Scotland and, as a result, see the world around me, and myself, a wee bit clearer.