Keep Fresh: Adjusting to Life in Scotland

Keep Fresh is qmunicate’s survival guide series to freshers’ week – from halls to hangovers, moving to mental health, your big auntie qmunicate is here to get you through.

I moved to Glasgow a wide-eyed Frenchie with absolutely no ties whatsoever in Scotland, and no prior experience of even being in the country. So naturally, it took me a wee while to adjust to life here (but I use “wee” all the time now, so I must have succeeded).

I think the biggest shock for me upon arrival at uni was the drinking culture. Not going to lie, I thought it was absolutely mental. Sure, babies are given a sip of champagne at Catholic baptisms in France, and I’d been tasting wine out of my parents’ glass from the age of six – stereotypical I know – and sure, high school did lead to some mad times cleaning up rum-scented puke out of my mom’s favourite carpet. But nothing could have prepared me for the endless cycle of pres, parties and afters or just casual drinks in a pub every night. I’d never seen regular alcohol consumption on that scale, and definitely never had friends fined on the street for drinking outside. But despite my initial bewilderment, the incredible volume of booze to pass through my everyday life became normal. I’m a big fan of good pint, some cheeky day drinking, have been on sub crawls and I complain about the overpricing of drinks every time I go back to Paris. There’s only one thing I haven’t been able to get used to, and that’s Buckfast. Don’t think I’ll ever fully adjust to Scotland in that respect.

Other things I found particularly difficult initially were the Glaswegian accent and slang. I cannot even begin to count the number of times I asked people – and especially taxi drivers – to repeat what they’d just said to me. I thought growing up bilingual with an American meant I could communicate without any issues in an English-speaking country. It took me a good month and a half to understand everything. Three years down the line however, and my family asks me where my previously American accent has disappeared to and why I add an “e” at the end of “shit” and call everyone “pal”.

Being a French foodie, I was expecting the food to change significantly when I uprooted my entire life to Scotland. I still miss freshly baked bread from the baker’s and the weekly farmers market of my hometown every single day. As much as I am a big fan of the occasional late night scran, a chips and cheese diet isn’t the thing for me. It still hurts my soul when I have to buy most of my fresh veg wrapped in plastic – even cucumber, why? – but am very thankful for the abundance of things like Jaffa Cakes and Percy Pigs, which I will never be able to find in France. As much as I definitely miss French food habits and traditions, my lactose intolerance had always been a hindrance in restaurants, which were often unwilling to change traditional recipes to accommodate my dietary requirement. No such problem in Glasgow. The abundance of vegan places, as well as the willingness – even sometimes enthusiasm – to adapt food for me has made my life so much easier.

Warning to all residents of countries where you drive on the right: the streets of Glasgow take some getting used to! I never would have thought that the muscle memory in my neck would be so intense that I would look the wrong way before crossing the street and almost get run over. Get yourself a lovely British pal who will pull you back onto the pavement by your coat just in time. And I always found myself opening the door to the driver’s seat in cars here even though I don’t have my license. But I have the opposite problem in France now, so really, you can’t win.

An appropriate way to end this list of Scottish things to get used would be the following: I grew up in Paris, a city notorious for its grumpy, busy and sometimes even rude, inhabitants. And as much as I love France, moving to Scotland was incredible because maybe the single biggest adjustment I had to make was being surrounded by friendliness. I had to get used to smiles in the streets, chatting to random strangers, helpful people in shops and cafés and an incredibly welcoming atmosphere which made Glasgow feel like home after only a month. And having to adjust to gratuitous kindness was a great gift Scotland gave me.

[Isabelle Ribe]

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