Friday, August 10, 2007

Ohio vs. Scotland

Entry for 9 August 2007:

We’ve returned to the US for three weeks of business (home repairs), conferences (Humanistic Therapy and American Psychological Association meetings in San Francisco), work (Rogers chapter, catching up on email, and getting ready for the conferences), and maybe a bit of vacation.

After the cool Scottish summer, it was a bit of a shock to be reminded of what a hot, humid Ohio summer feels like. We have had the house closed up with the air-conditioning running the entire time we’ve been here. So much for sitting on the front porch reading and working in the summer cool breeze! I tried this a couple of times, but my computer and I both got too hot.

Every time we come home we are confronted by the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between Scotland and Ohio. Not-so-subtle and more superficial includes, the heat and driving on the opposite side of the road (both Diane and I have had to watch ourselves carefully this time). But there are many revealing differences:

Scotland: Many things are an effort: driving (blocked and one-way streets); parking (in Hyndland); understanding (many) people; getting to the downtown (by train, never by car, the traffic patterns are too confusing for us).
Ohio: It seems designed to be easy, convenient: the streets are wide, laid out in a grid pattern, so there are million ways to get from one place to another; parking is plentiful; we follow the speech of the locals without effort; to get to the downtown, we can hop on the freeway that runs a half-block from our house, and be downtown in 10 minutes.

In Hyndland,our neighborhood in Glasgow, we live in a flat in a lovely 100-year-old red sandstone tenement building; we have no garden of our own, and the flat is full of architectural details like stained glass, bay window, decorated tile fireplace, recessed cupboards, coved ceiling.
Toledo, Ohio: We live in a lovely but small detached wood frame house about 80 years old. (We would not feel comfortable living in a US “tenement,” which is the name of a stigmatized building style found primarily in poor neighborhoods.) Here, we have a small garden, which because we aren’t here very much, is somewhat overrun with weeds (although cherry tomatoes did get planted this year and have started to produce tasty fruit). Compared to most US houses, ours is full of architectural details (it was the perpendicular or tudor arches in various places that we fell in love with after having spent a year in England in the mid 1980’s), but these seem few and plain compared to our place in Glasgow.

Most fundamentally, as Diane and I concluded after a long talk this evening, in Ohio we feel grounded in the place, the culture and the people. This feels comfortable and familiar; even the dangers and inconveniences are familar, like a broken piece of favorite furniture.
In Scotland, by contrast, even after a year, we are still just beginning to feel at home and grounded in the place. Misunderstandings are more common, and we generally feel we have to be careful not to say something silly or annoying. We don't really have a feel for much of people's ordinary lives and their courses.

To give a flavor of the some of the cultural differences, consider this incident:\
I was out mowing my front lawn the other night. It was still very hut and muggy, and I was pushing my old-fashioned push-mower over the bumpy, ratty patch between the sidewalk and the street.
A small African-American boy of about 5 walks slowly by, stops and turns to me, saying, “What’s that?”
I reply, “You’ve never seen one of these before?”
He says, “No… only in cartoons!”
“Well,” I say, “it’s an old fashioned lawn mower.” Since I was a college professor and find it too difficult to stop educating people, even my 5-year-old neighbor, I go on, “In the old days, everyone used these to mow their lawns…. or they used sheep.”
“What’s that?” he wants to know.
“You know, it has wool all over it and it goes ‘baaaa’?
”That’s a goat!” he tells me (apparently my sheep imitation was not as good as I thought it was.
Fortunately, at this point, his mom, who was getting into her SUV, called him to her, and he went off with her, leaving me somewhat bemused, to finish mowing my lawn. “Toto,” I said to myself, “I don’t think we are in Scotland anymore!”

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