I keep forgetting that despite being called the United Kingdom, this place has four different countries in it, and four distinct cultures as well.
Yesterday, while wearing my Hogmanay hat, I chatted with one of the women working in the cafeteria.
"Bit early for a Hogmanay hat, isn't it?"
"Well, I got it with my ticket, and I'm so excited, and I want to wear it lots!" It's blue, with a cross on it, like the Scottish flag, with Hogmany 2006 on it. It's horribly tacky and too small to actually keep any part of my head warm. I love it.
"Ah, you're Canadian, are you?" she asked, smiling. Most people don't assume I'm Canadian, they guess I'm American. I was oddly flattered.
"Yeah, I'm just here for the year, so I'm really excited about what will likely be my only Hogmanay in Edinburgh. I've got tickets to the street party, and I'm so looking forward to the fireworks, and I'm jumping into the Firth of Forth, and anything else I can think of to cram into the four days."
"It's interesting," she said. "They do things so differently here than back home. I'm from England, and there Christmas is the big deal. There's nothing big like that for New Years."
I'll admit to being a bit boggled - England starts about an hour away from here, how different could it be? You can drive the length of the entire country in less time than it would take to drive the length of Alberta. My flight to London is going to take less time than your average flight to Vancouver. It feels like the whole country should be one little community of happiness, you know? Everyone the same because they all live so close.
Of course, sometimes 'neighbour' means "person I'd most like to see under the ground instead of on it."
It's just little things, really. The different ways of celebrating holidays, different bank notes, different accents. My Scottish notes are carefully scrutinized in Wales, but English notes are fine up here. The accents are different, in ways I'm just now beginning to hear. Word choices that are "English" now sound off to my ear, since I'm so used to hearing things in "Scottish".
I don't know where I got the idea that everyone here would be one big harmonious melting pot of sameness. It's not like seeing Toronto is anything like seeing Edmonton. I think we get these ideas when we think about different countries, different continents. We use them for shorthand in movies, in books, in stories. European = Cultured (and I keep forgetting that living in Scotland, I'm living in Europe). British = Stodgy. Scottish = Earthy. American = Brash. Canadian = Dull, but Nice.
It's just easier, isn't it? We can picture places in our head, people them with stereotypes, and tell ourselves from that if we'd like them, hate them, feel indifferent. "Oh, I don't want to go to France, all Frenchmen are unwashed and rude."
I'm rewriting the stereotypes in my head, trying to fit things in differently. I'm glad I get the chance to - not too long ago I was sitting at home wondering, thinking, dreaming, but not planning or doing anything about it.
Hogmany in Edinburgh. This is the place to do it, isn't it?