Friday, 21 October 2011

london to inverness - will I need my passport next time?

I have been working in London this week - at our Camden office - so I have been living the London life of working hard, negotiating the always hot and bothersome tube, strange pub hours and explaining that the SNP is not a Scottish version of the BNP.

I then boarded my train back to Stirling, for a quick sleep and clothes change, before I get picked up for our policy and public affairs road trip to Inverness. All day yesterday I thought three things. Brilliant - some fresh highland air to re-oxygenate the brain. I hope it isn't too cold. And, what kind of mind set shift, if any, do you need to make when moving from one end of the UK to the other.

The first thing is that I will not need to be so conscious of my Scottish words - I used 'driech', 'dwam' and 'smirn' during my three days in London and each time was met with questions about what these words mean. I think 'smirn' is used in the north of England too - although I am not sure - so I am aware that what I think of as Scottish words may be used by Scots but not necessarily owned by them [a bit like banks. I may have an RBS account and use their cash machines but I don't actually have shares in them nor do I feel as a Scot I have responsibility for the global financial business that is the RBS]. I love explaining Scots words and sharing my culture - I also prefer to do it where that sharing is supported with genuine interest and respect. I am not saying it wasn't, but there have been times in the past, with different groups of people, when it feels more like the questioner wants to tease and make fun rather than genuinely understand. Maybe that is my own Scottish cringe though colouring my interpretation.

There is also the cultural approach. It is a generalisation, but in several meetings this week I was conscious of the bluntness, the get-to-the-pointness, that Scots seem to have a wee bit more of than our English cousins. We assume that if we are round a table it is because we all have something to say - so let's say it. I saw Alex Salmond on BBC morning news saying [I paraphrase] 'It isn't difficult to understand devolution - what's the problem?' and poor Bill Turnbull looked quite pale at this direct pointing out that for us devolution isn't a particularly difficult idea to get our heads around and when we find people who don't we will address that head on.

I don't always conform to my national stereotype. I had one colleague point out that my email tone can be overly chatty and doesn't always nail deadlines and what I want from people. I didn't say this to them at the time, but that is in part because I am compensating - evidently over-compensating - for my natural communication style. It also made me wonder if I change that style just a wee bit or quite significantly between my Scotland based and London based colleagues. Needless to say I am now going to just go with my own 'voice' and deal with the response as it comes.

As I wait for the toot of the horn that lets me know my lift is here - and contemplate whether Inverness requires full blown winter gear and therefore me seeking out my wellies and abandoning my carefully selected suede shoe-boots - I feel a distinct lift in my mind that I am going to an event that could redefine how we Scots see ourselves and our nation evolving over the next few years. And I can say 'isn't it dreich?' to other attendees without explaining myself.

1 comment:

  1. Chanced by your blog. It's good regional variation exists. I've just been looking at an xmas rerun of My Fair Lady and then you could (apparently)work out where people lived within 2 mile radius. It's a shame so many London folk (who only speak one language) now sound so similar (often Mockney/essexy) No wonder they talked to you and wanted to know what you were saying. Enjoy clearing the cobwebs. Nicola