Friday, August 12, 2011

What I've Learned in Scotland

On Sunday I went to Whisky Fringe.

It took place at the Mansfield Tranquair (which is where the Boutique Bar Show took place). I had an awesome time. Lots of fun. I met up with Dave Broom (who poured me a Jamaican rum that smelled like eating bananas foster next to a tire fire), tried the entire line of El Dorado Rum (more on this later), and drank super special whiskies from all across Scotland. Then we went to Bramble and I drank a bunch of Negronis (one with Campari, one with Fernet Branca) and shots of corn whiskey.

At this point, I could get into the nitty gritty of what expressions I tried, what the tasting notes are, and overall what I thought of the Whisky Fringe. I could do this.

I'm not gonna.

I think the 20 quid I paid to get in serves a better jumping off point for something else. Mainly, what I've learned from Scotland (much like my IPCPR post). I was thinking of actually doing this AFTER I left but that won't be for about another month and it's fresh in my mind at the moment. So let's roll with it then.

1. Scotland is awesome.

This is a pretty roundabout and vague title so let me explain (read: get ready for an anecdote). I realized this at the Bruichladdich booth at Whisky Fringe as we were sitting around sipping on a 7 year old single barley varietal whisky (to be released in the near future), as well as gin. I'm standing there, chatting with Natalie, an awesome and patient worker at the Bruichladdich booth.

 Some guy in a blue checked shirt, obviously blootered, comes up next to me and asks for a try of their gin. He's jovial, to say the least. In a heavy Glaswegian accent, we start chatting about Scotland and scotch when another guy comes up to say "hi" to Natalie and offer a card of some sort. This ends up forming into an improptu discussion of the liquor industry in duty free, then to travel, and then to my accent. I tell them that I'm, indeed, a Yank and that I'm from NY. The guy next to me says that he was in an elevator in NY once with a guy who commented on his Scottish accent and asked him where he'd been. He said Las Vegas and NY, to which the guy replied "you still haven't been to the US." Natalie said that she'd love to go to NY, to which I replied this:

"It's a nice place to visit but not to stay, I think. The people there...they just don't care about other people."

And then it hit me. Of all the places I've been both in the US and abroad, the NICEST people have been in Scotland. Everywhere you go, people are warm and inviting. In London, I definitely got a weird vibe from people because of my weight but here, they just don't care. If you need help, you can literally ask anyone and they'll reply, politely and with a smile. Just walking by people and catching their eye leads to a "Hullo" and a grin. I dunno what it is about this country but everyone here is, to put it most accurately, awesome. They're accommodating, generous, helpful, and warm. I suppose I should amend the title to say "Scottish people are awesome" but that's not the entirety of the story. Just looking in ANY direction in Scotland is breathtaking. I look out my window to not just one, but two sets of mountains in the distance. From my classrooms, there's beautiful views of sweeping fields, stoic mountains, and the history of Edinburgh. So I'm sticking by what I said. Scotland is awesome. If you ever get the chance to come here, do. Without hesitation. Just bring pants and a rain jacket. You'll need it, no doubt.

2. It's important to push yourself

This is a big one for me and I've really been hesitating writing about it for awhile but I think it's really time to set things straight. I talk a big game on Twitter, I really do. Truth be told is, I drink maybe a 10th of what it sounds like I do, mainly because of the medication I'm on. If I drink too much, my heart might slow down enough to stop. Or I could just get violently nauseous. Either way, I lose. If you've ever seen me at an event, chances are I haven't taken this medication so that I can actually do a solid tasting without blarfin everywhere. And I'm generally extremely nervous. Why? The reason why I'm on this medication is for anxiety. I'm not going to lie, it's a crushing anxiety. I'm literally sweating bullets and panicking as I write this. Thanks to my extensive medical history, I have a little something commonly reserved for soldiers that have returned from combat. I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I won't bore you with the details and such but, suffice to say, 26 surgeries have made me a jangling bundle of nerves for my whole life.

It was a huge step for me to go to undergrad, five hours away from home. My PTSD meant that I would have constant and severe panic attacks during anything remotely stressful. Like tests. Or interacting with my professors. Or being a normal human being. I wasn't diagnosed with this until right before I went to college and I didn't get a medication regime that worked until about two years ago. Thus, when I say moving to Scotland to pursue a degree in Brewing and Distilling Science was a "big step", it's a bigger step for me than for most people. If I sweat, shake, get nausea, shortness of breath from tests, think of how I was taking on a $32,000 loan to move 4,000 miles away from home to a completely different culture. The first week or so here was...intense. And it's been pretty difficult ever since. I've done fairly well in my classes and I'd like to think my thesis is going quite swimmingly (for someone that had to do pretty much ALL of the work themselves, without help). And I've learned a whole lot about myself and my capabilities. Yeah, it was rough but I think it was definitely a good thing. Doesn't hurt to come out with a degree from it either.

But this doesn't mean that it's all been gravy. I've mostly kept to myself the entire time I've been here. I use video games and movies to escape from my anxiety. Also, that $32,000 didn't go very far with the fluctuating exchange rate so money anxieties have really kept me from doing anything with the people in my program (If any of you are reading this, sorry. I know I came across as the weird loner kid. I tried though.) That and the anxiety of being in a completely different world and culture. Like above, I've done the equivalent of only going to Las Vegas and New York while I've been here. Realistically, I haven't "been" to Scotland. But hopefully when I'm stupid rich later on I'll amend the hell out of that. So stay tuned.

3. Learn how to do stuff for yourself

I've heard people say "necessity is the mother of all invention." I'd like to take this a step further and also state that "hunger is the mother of all innovation." Being generally flat broke here, I've learned how to cook in a pretty rapid time. I went from buying the cheap, ready made meals to making my own. I actually just pulled a mushroom and bacon pie with flaky crust out of the oven. I've learned how to brew my own beer and come up with recipes (although that's a lot of the degree's doing). I've learned how to fix just about anything with compressed air, string, tape, and paper clips. I've learned how to garden and sew. I can make a damn fine cup of builder's tea, jars of pickled eggs, and oatmeal. I can also make a mean bottle of limoncello and I've learned how to make an fantastic cup of coffee in a moka pot. I suppose making my own stuff has been a combination of being broke as well as needing something to do but I've learned a lot over here not even remotely related to my degree. Even my buttermilk biscuit recipe is coming along nicely. They've just progressed from the threshold of "only edible if soaked in gravy" to "edible". That's gotta count for something, right?

4. Never wear shorts on the Royal Mile / Princes Street

I learned this one from the ungodly amount of people doing it. You look like a tourist. Just stop. How are you even warm? It's 55 and raining.

If I come up with any more, I'll add them here. For hanging in there with my rambling, have a Negroni from Bramble:

No comments:

Post a Comment