Tuesday, September 30, 2014

One Year in Scotland: Five Reasons We Love It

1. They take care of you

Scottish ambulance
 By this I mean that here in Scotland, there are many things that we would be worried about in the States that we don't have to worry about here.  Chief among these is health care; while in the US it's a complicated mess of employer sponsored care, here it's simple.  You show up at the local health centre, register, and you're on the rolls. Your children are automatically sent reminders for well-child checks and vaccinations. If you have a problem, call, or walk up the hill and make an appointment.  Another non-worry: preschool.  In the US if you're middle income & up, you pay for private preschool.  Here, you're guaranteed 15 hours per week of preschool (nursery) once your child turns 3.  No charge. A big one (though we won't be here long enough to take advantage of this) University is still tuition-free in Scotland.  So if you're Scottish and you apply for a place in a Scottish University and are accepted, you pay zero tuition.  

2. There is work/life balance

 The biggest difference in Scotland (and the UK) is the amount of time people have off.  People, no matter what their job, have weeks of leave, not just days.  It's usual to get emails back when you send something out that say, "I am away on annual leave until [2 weeks from now]. I will reply to you on my return [OR, contact this person, email provided]." People don't seem to think they're indispensable in the same way they do in the States.  Maternity leave is a lot longer too - at least 6 months, often a year, and advertisements are put out for maternity leave cover with regularity. It takes some getting used to. When we arrived last September, I started my job and realized I had nine or ten days of leave that I needed to take before the end of the calendar year. It makes taking time off, especially when kids are out of school, seem like a much more normal part of life rather than juggling childcare when kids are out of school. 

3. Food is fresh and local, by default

 We happen to live in the "soft fruit" belt of Scotland.  So that means fresh, local strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and even tayberries (a mix of blackberry and raspberry, so named because they grow near the River Tay.)  Even in the local Tesco, they feature local produce when possible.  Meat is the same - we have a local butcher who sells local meat and eggs - when Paul asked him where the lamb came from, the butcher gestured across the River Tay and said "Right over there." 



4. There is a culture of walking and taking public transport

 We have lived here just over one year, and I do not drive.  We live walking distance from my work and Audrey (and now Claire's) school. We walk to all our regular activities (singing, yoga, Rainbows for Audrey (a bit like Brownies)) with the exception of swimming lessons. If it's too far to walk to get to the city centre, or the other side of town, buses run regularly, except on Sundays.  Trains also run regularly, and it's easy (and often cheap) to get a train to Glasgow, Edinburgh, or into England. People walk a lot.  And the buses are well-used by everyone.  In our early days in Dundee, a man struck up a conversation with me on the bus to tell me that when he went to America, he was never more scared than when he rode the bus in Orlando, Florida.  It was definitely not the friendly atmosphere of a Scottish bus for him.   

5. There is obvious national pride

 For a place with the approximate land area of the state of Maine (see this Telegraph article for 50 facts about Scotland) there is a lot of national pride.  Many visible symbols reflect this: the national dress (no pun intended) of the kilt, the strong interest in highland dancing (accomplished in tartan and featuring at just about every gathering of Scots), highland games, and of course bagpipes and bagpipers.  Then there are the national drinks of Scotch whisky in its innumerable varieties, and Irn Bru, a Scottish orange drink in one variety, and the national dish of Haggis.  Accompanied, of course, by the Scottish poet Robert Burns (or as they say here, Rabbie Burns, see my earlier post on Burns Night, which features both haggis and poetry (and of course, highland dancing, see above)). There are Scottish sweets like Tunnocks caramel wafers and tea cakes (see my earlier blog on sweeties and biscuits here), not to mention Scottish jams, Scottish tablet (imagine fudge and sugar mated), and Scottish shortbread.  When I attended a one-day conference at the University recently, the attendees were welcomed into the building by a bagpiper playing out front, and the conference bags contained a mini Walker's Shortbread and a copy of The Beano (a local Dundee comic book, still in print).  Now there's pride for you - for Scotland and for Dundee.      

Watch Scottish comedian Michael MacIntyre talk about the birth of the kilt here on Youtube

If you enjoyed this post, why not visit Part 2 of my One Year in Scotland series:   One Year in Scotland: 3 Reasons to Think Again.

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