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The American in the Room

by Alexandra Sokoloff
I am the token American in this dark and British lineup. But before somebody calls security, I will hasten to add that I do live in and am published in the UK. I’ve actually been a resident for two years now. So I’m here with a fish-out-of-water perspective and also a cautionary tale.


Because it was also almost exactly two years ago that I went to one of these crime festivals like the one we’re also about to embark on—and ended up living here in Scotland. (That’s Scotland, via Los Angeles. Can you say “culture shock”?)

How did this happen??? I’m still asking myself.

Well, you all know that at a writing conference, you can always find the writers at the bar. You may not be as aware that the longer you stay in the conference bar, the more likely it is to turn into a hotbed of illicit activity. (Okay, I guess that’s true of any bar…) So two years ago at the Left Coast Crime conference I was at the bar talking to Scottish crime writer Craig Robertson…

And basically we never stopped. I visited him in Scotland, he visited me in California… and suddenly we were redecorating an office together. (No, we don’t write in it at the same time. He often doesn’t wake up until I’ve finished my entire writing day. Which is useful for productivity…).

I always said if I ever did the love thing again, it would have to be with another writer. It’s just too hard when the person you’re sharing your life with has no idea what is going on in your head. With another crime writer, you know exactly what’s going on in your partner’s head. And it’s seldom pretty. And that’s okay. Because let’s face it, what’s in your own head isn’t very pretty, either. And you can do things like wake the other person up in the middle of the night to ask critical life questions like “What’s the absolute minimum time you can get full DNA results back?” and they will not only have the answer but also not mind you asking in the middle of the night (much). That’s golden. We’ve been living together for two years now, which is pretty good considering that I moved in with him before we had a first date.

And for my post today I’ll tackle the question everyone always asks me:

What’s it like living in Scotland? 

I do love my lists, so here’s a short list of answers.


- It’s more like Trainspotting than Brigadoon 
Actually, Glasgow is more like Trainspotting, Edinburgh is a bit like Brigadoon. Especially up around the tourist traps near the castle. We live between the two cities, so I get to spend a lot of time in both of them, and it seems to me that Glasgow and Edinburgh have a combative relationship somewhat like the one between L.A. and San Francisco (except that L.A. doesn’t really look outside itself enough to realize that San Francisco has a combative relationship with it…). Glasgow is the mean streets, very straight lines, masculine, outgoing, aggressive, and apparently crime-riddled, though I haven’t personally seen as much of that as there is in, well, Craig’s books.

Edinburgh is dreamy and winding and arty and feminine (really one of the more gorgeous cities I’ve ever seen). As a part of the crime writing scene I spend more time in Glasgow, but I like both cities and find the contrasts fascinating. Yes, I’m taking notes for a new series…
Speaking of Trainspotting…

- Subtitles would be good 
Okay, I know that in my list to the Universe of what I wanted in a partner I suggested that an accent would be nice. English, Irish, Scottish, they’ve all always worked for me. (Now I know that accent should come with a warning label…) Plus there’s that humor. Pretty irresistible, really. What I didn’t know was how bloody hard it is to understand a whole country full of them.

Craig is mostly comprehensible when we’re alone. He was a journalist for twenty years and has interviewed people from all kinds of countries, so he’s used to adjusting his accent to whomever he’s speaking with. But get him in a taxi, and he starts talking with the driver… they might as well be speaking Swahili.

- Separated by a common language 
It’s not just the accent. Even when I do manage to decipher that, I am constantly running into words and usage that I’ve never heard of. Everything that we pluralize in the US, the UK singularizes, and vice-versa. It’s the linguistic version of driving on the wrong side of the road, which they also do here. Lots of words get shortened (leccy, brekky, footie) and everything shortened has a “y” or "ie" added. If that all wasn’t short enough, they are constantly dropping “to be” in sentence construction (you hear “needs ironed” or “needs replaced” instead of “needs to be ironed” or “needs to be replaced”). And of course, everything is “wee.” It’s not “a walk” or “the shop” or “a text.” It’s “a wee walk” and “a wee shop” and “a wee text.” (If you ever hear me saying a “wee” anything, you’ll know I’ve crossed some internal line and there’s no going back.) Apparently the Scottish people invented the English language. Apparently they invented a whole lot of other things that the English stole. So I have no grounds for any linguistic argument. Plus you really don’t want to get in an argument with anyone Scottish – they seem to have invented that art, too. So I don’t argue. I just casually mutilate the language with my Californiaisms. Probably I’m not the only one who needs subtitles.

 - There are castles 

 Like this one, which we can see from our street:

In fact, there is history everywhere, and really, really old history. Sights like the above are so common here I often feel as if I'm living on a movie set. My dreams are pretty surreal, too. -

- The weather isn’t as crap as they keep saying it is 
Scots like to complain. They especially like to complain about the weather. Maybe I got such a hard sell on how crap the weather was that it seems sunny by comparison (I’m a native Californian - people were betting against me surviving my first winter) or maybe I spend so much of my day inside my own head that I don’t notice the weather, or maybe rain is just good for the kind of writing I do, or maybe Scotland is finally getting the global warming it’s been dreaming of… but I don’t mind the weather at all. It rains a lot, but there’s also a lot of sun. It’s also clear air all the time, which is wonderful. Smog is bad. Snow is a major pain and could kill you. Rain is just weather.

- There’s this thing called a pub quiz

 Pub quiz is both hilarious and nerve-wracking, like Trivial Pursuit on steroids. Luckily they take place in a pub, so all that Guinness takes the edge right off.

Look, we all know Americans are notoriously, spectacularly bad at geography. And there’s nothing like a pub quiz to make you understand how little you know about the composition of the world. I’m even worse than normal because when I was in primary school, the gifted and talented classes were held during geography hour, so I got lots of art and square dancing, which are pretty useless in the geography portion of a pub quiz. While I occasionally get random American trivia right, I try not to get involved in the tie-breaker final answer kind of thing. But it is hilariously good fun, much more engaging than a night in watching television.

 - Don’t even think about mentioning Braveheart 
Not being a fan of Mel Gibson’s torture porn, I never saw the movie myself, but apparently it’s about as accurate to Scottish history as Apocalypto is to Mayan history. The actual story of William Wallace is fascinating and explains a lot about the Scottish character. He was a Scottish landowner who rebelled against incredible persecution under the English and became one of the main leaders in the Wars of Scottish Independence in the late 1200’s- early 1300’s. (And yes, it all still feels that old over here.) Here’s the Wallace Monument, which I can see from the bedroom window (Do we think men had anything to do with this design? I wonder…)

- Yes, there are kilts 

And I’m in favor of them. I get homesick, no doubt. But my Huntress Moon series takes place all over California, all my favorite places, so when I get a hankering for home, I can pour my heart into locations and settings that I miss, and that I know readers enjoy experiencing as much as I do. And best of all, I’ve met this whole new great group of author friends in BritCrime. I may need subtitles once in a while, but there’s a familiarity here that transcends the English language barrier. Authors are authors, all over the globe— the funniest, smartest, sexiest, weirdest people you could ever hope to know.
-- Alex

Alexandra Sokoloff is the Thriller Award-winning and Bram Stoker and Anthony Award-nominated author/screenwriter of eight supernatural and paranormal thrillers and the Thriller Award-nominated Huntress/FBI series, which follows a haunted FBI agent on his hunt for that most rare of killers… a female serial. 

HUNTRESS MOON, BLOOD MOON, and COLD MOON are available now.

Learn more about Alex and her books at http://alexandrasokoloff.com 
US:
Huntress Moon: http://amzn.to/1z3pSh5
Blood Moon: http://amzn.to/1EqoKax
Cold Moon: http://amzn.to/1ymNA6b
UK:
Huntress Moon: http://amzn.to/1wEwxZo 
Blood Moon: http://amzn.to/1CPG4Uw 
Cold Moon: http://amzn.to/1xBtA2U

12 comments:

  1. Very Good. Having also lived in both Scotland and on the US West Coast, I did get a wee chuckle out of the “separated by a common language” section!

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  2. Thanks, Daniel! You know exactly what I'm talking about, then. (I caught that "wee chuckle.")

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  3. That was a good read. I love it when foreigners feel comfortable here and express it. It helps me to see things through fresh eyes....

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    1. Thanks, Miriam! Hopefully I'll never lose the fresh eyes… :)

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  4. How have I missed seeing this? It's great!

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    1. Thanks, Winona - of course you'd appreciate it!

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  5. Great article! I truly enjoyed your perspective. We hope to visit Scotland within the next year. Edinburgh is first on my list.

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    1. Suzan, I'm sure you'll love it. Ediburgh is a knockout, but do try to travel outside it as well. There's a lot more to Scotland.

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  6. Alex, I love this article and love you, my talented friend. Hopefully our paths will cross somewhere. Based on your post, I think I need to plan a wee trip to Scotland!

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    1. Mary Stella, you're welcome any time. Come on over! Not in winter….

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  7. As a Glaswegian who married a southern Californian and swapped the horizontal rain for perpetual sunshine, I come back a couple of times a year just to converse with people who don't think I'm Australian. (-:

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    1. Laughing. Yeah, Americans aren't great about distinguishing accents...

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