Sunday, April 25, 2010

"This country hasn't treated you very well, has it?"

I heard this phrase from two separate friends this past week; commenting on my string of seemingly unrelenting bad luck over the past year. And it is somewhat true, I guess; financially, romantically, culturally it has been a struggle and it does not seem to be getting any easier. Once one struggle is resolved, another arises, all more difficult than the usual life struggles that my friends here are facing. So these statements set me to thinking, why haven't I thought this? Why is it that I wake up happy and enthusiastic every single morning? Why is it that outsiders have to comment on my situation for me to notice? Am I just in another screwed up relationship, where my love for this country is blinding me to how I am being treated?

This week, I had a nieghbour from back home come to visit me. It was fantastic, because I had a chance to show her around and prove to her what a great city Glasgow really is. I believe I convinced her, at least to the concept of a single malt whisky nightcap every night and having delicious curry as regularly as a pizza. I do love this city, with all my heart. I sit in the corner of Tennent's or the Uisce Beatha and I watch the city of Glasgow live and exist around me with elation and joy. I do not know if I am truly one of them yet. It takes a long time and even though I feel that I am at home here, there is a struggle in the sense that I am still an 'outsider' with a different accent and a different culture. After a heated debate with friends in the pub this week, they did not understand my frustration with the dating culture in particular. They always thought that I was perfectly happy to throw away all aspects about America that continue to haunt me. Then one of my close friends made an astute observation. It was not until she lived in Italy for a year, did she ever understand how actually English she was, and how comforting certain cultural habits were, even if you previously wanted to reject them. This is somewhat true about me as well. I find myself longing for American culture sometimes, particularly when I feel frustrated with certain aspects of my life. I know how to handle them in America and I know how I will be received. Being me, I have spent my life studying how I am perceived by others and what is expected of me. I am starting this completely anew here, and it is not easy. So though I have wanted to live in this country my whole life (well, since about the age of 10) I still find that I am frustrated with it from time to time. I do not know if it will get any easier.

After showing my friend around the city and hearing her reaction, I thought a lot about this culture and why I am, in fact, actually happy. She left yesterday, in what happened to be a gorgeous day of sunshine. I went to the Botanic Gardens (along with seemingly every other Glaswegian from my neighbourhood) by myself and had a think. She commented on the fact that she appreciated how Glasgow was unashamed of it's love for the alcohol. The long queues in front of the cashpoints at 5:05 on a Friday, the crowded corner pub, the impossible table to find if you arrive any later than 4:45, the constant flow of the cellar-cooled ale, Glaswegians love their alcohol. But I realised that it is not only the fact that Glaswegians are unapologetic about that particular cultural aspect. They are unapologetic in every aspect of their lives. They stand by their decisions, their culture, their reputation and embrace it all, wholeheartedly. You would be a fool for even trying to mock any aspect of any Glaswegian's life. This has definitely worn off on me as well, once I think about it. I have become much more proud of who I am, and more importantly, much more defensive about my life. I feel a sense of pride, far beyond what I have ever felt before. You do not notice it, either, until your being is threatened in some way. You become more willing to stand by who you are, the people around you and any decisions you have made, to death if necessary. Not even joking. It is weird.

There is a great sense of camaraderie here as well. Sitting in the Botanics, reflecting on my life, I recall doing the exact same thing almost a full year ago, when I first moved. I went to the Botanic Gardens by myself, on a nice day in June and sat with a book, fighting back tears watching all the couples, families and friends enjoying themselves in the sun and each other's company. At that point, I did not have anyone and felt very very alone. Sitting in the same park, almost 11 months later, I was still by myself, but things had changed. Not only was I waiting for a friend to call to get together that evening, but I was not even in need of a book. I simply was happy being around the people. Maybe that is because I feel like I am one of them, or maybe it is because I have established a life here and do not feel left out. One thing I noticed this time was that there were a lot of other people by themselves, lying in the sun, reading, eating lunch, and I did not feel lonely. There was a young family next to me that started chatting to me, and a young couple on my other side who were talking about their impending exams watching the young kids play with the pigeons. The happy faces, the friendly smiles; I did not feel lonely, though I was alone.

I have a great sense of respect for immigrants now. You do not understand the frustration that comes as you start to feel part of a city and part of a culture, but the first thing people bring up when you talk to them is that you do not belong there. Nothing rude, of course, but it is a constant reminder that you are an 'other' no matter how much you feel like you belong. Not only are there more aspects of the Scottish culture that I do not understand, but I constantly have a stigma over my head as being an outsider; people are much more quickly jumping to conclusions because of their assumptions of my place of birth.

You do start over when you immigrate. Which I realise can sound like a fantastic opportunity; the whole 'clean slate' concept has always appealed to everyone at some point in their lives. But what you do not realise is that you do, in fact, start over. Completely. You are cut off from everything that was familiar and comfortable. You cannot easily go back, you cannot easily keep in touch. It is a constant struggle, but at some point, you do have to accept that you have moved on. Keeping who you once were is simply too difficult. Friends and family are moving on without you, even if they have the best intentions of not doing so. You are just simply too far away. The friendships you thought you would always have sometimes fall through the cracks, because that is simply easier to let happen. The friendships that do continue are a constant effort of scheduling, emailing, any sort of communication possible to keep all updates on each others lives so there is some possibility of recognition if and when you get the chance to see each other again.

I gave up a lot to move to this country. I really wanted it, and in fact, I really needed it. However, I have given up a lot. I have accepted the fact that I will not get to see my relative's and friend's children grow up, I will not be able to be there for every wedding, every graduation, every life experience that my friends have had and are having. This is heartbreaking in a sense, but it forces me to ask myself if it is all worth it. I now, after about a year, have close friends whose weddings I want to attend, whose kids I want to see grow up, whose housewarmings I want to attend here in Glasgow. I have a new family here who would miss me as much as I would miss them. When it seemed that, due to financial reasons, I would have to go back to Colorado, my friends here seemed devastated at the prospect, which meant a lot to me, probably more than they knew. One of my friends here also just submitted her dissertation and I was mentioned in her acknowledgements, which to her may mean little other than a drinking buddy and a neighbour, it meant a lot to me. Hopefully, one day, I will feel like I belong a little bit more, but as things stand, it is not that bad. Though it may seem to outsiders, and even to close friends like this has just been one bad experience after another, I am content in simply waking up every day to a cup of tea, rainy weather, queues outside of pubs, steak pies, scoobie snacks, ales, curry, single malt whiskies, bagpipes, highlands, cars on the other side of the road, great friends, fantastic colleagues, the list continues on and on.

I have written this over the span of about the last 24 hours, with lots of care and thought given to it. I sit here now, in my kitchen, alone on a Sunday night writing this on my laptop with a view out my back window. I can hear the neighbours upstairs, the magpies on the rubbish bins, the rain falling on the cars. I am looking out on green grass, cars, clotheslines, an old dairy building, a dilapidated park and an abandoned school building. I have only a bottle of wine, leftover curry carnage, the magpies and the rain for company, but really, I am happy. The ambiance around me almost brings tears to my eyes. This is actually what I always pictured my life to be. Through all the struggle, through all the disappointment, through all the months of being alone, I feel like I will make it; that this is in fact, now my home.

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