America and Italy in Scotland by Matthew Bishop

When I touched down in Scotland in the very, very, very early morning of October six, I felt very far from my two homes: the one in Italy where I am studying and the one in America where my friends and family are and to where I will return this winter. I was visiting a good friend of mine who was born and raised there and lived between Glasgow and Edinburgh and I was excited to tour the country—but I found myself constantly referring to Italy or America and contrasting the countries against Scotland. It’s easy to miss a place that’s become your home.

 I went with my friend’s grandfather to visit a castle one day, which was near their home. When I got to the parking lot, my cousin was there and she screamed when she saw me. She had been studying in Copenhagen and apparently had gone up to Scotland just for some number of days on a class trip, and had chanced to visit the castle just as I was. We usually see each other twice a year back in the States—we celebrate Christmas every year and have a summer family reunion. Seeing her in Scotland was entirely coincidental and funny in that sense but moreso, it reminded me of the States and perhaps made me feel just a bit more at home in Scotland.

Surely it was due largely to the warm reception my friend’s family showed me, but I think it was partially that meeting, and also another one, which made me feel at home. I went to Edinburgh on the third day and found a Bella Italia Ristorante there. I was very excited—a genuine Italian restaurant, I thought! So I walked in and gave a buon giorno, come va? And got only an awkward look in reply. No one in the whole place spoke Italian.

However, coming back from a bar one night, we stopped by a fish and chips take-away and when I looked in the window, I saw a man holding up a hand with his fingers pinched together and his hand shaking—an Italian gesture. My eyes lit up—I got out of the car and spoke with the man in Italian. He was an emigrant from Italy, now working in the Scottish countryside at a fish and chips stop—surely one of the most Scottish professions anyone could have! So by the end of the trip, I had met my cousin from America outside a castle and spoken Italian with an Italian owner of a fish and chips.

Reflecting on these funny coincidences, I think that there is always some part of home to be found, sometimes oceans away. Surely there were other things— the braes of Ben A’an reminded me of my expeditions in the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest, exchanging Christmas stories made me think of my own traditions and my family, the hot chocolate and malts always helped to warm me up, and of course, the very warm reception from my friend’s family and their friends, for which I am most thankful. When I piece it all together, although I stayed in Scotland for only four full days and nights, I can think of it as a home to me. When I put all of these things together, my experience there was not so much one of a tourist, but one who, by the time he left, was actually quite attached to the country. So, I think my experiences may have been comical or coincidental in part, but as a part of my time there, they helped to define what Scotland has become to me—another one of my homes across the ocean. And one day, I do hope to return. I leave this place with a recipe for tablet, another for shortbread and the names of malts and a whiskey I know I do in fact like. I leave with traditions that I can explain to other cultures. I leave with a very close sense of family, prevalent in at least the part of the country where I was, which I hope to pass down someday to a family of my own. And of course, I leave with another home and another story to share.

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