One of a miscellany of short observations from a trip to Scotland.
Psst! Does ‘mean’ mean ‘cheap’?
Listing to his left, the psst-ing American to my right is being thoughtful, not rude. Our host, the umpteenth baronet of something-or-other, is doing what he loves: telling stories. It seems a shame to stop him in full flight for an explanation of a single unfamiliar word, so my travelling buddy looks around for help in translating between this Brit’s usage and his own. And there I am—a Canadian!—sort of halfway to being British, in his view. What could be better?
Does ‘mean’ mean ‘cheap’?
The usage has come up in a story about an elderly maiden aunt—congenitally elderly, from the sound of it—and a way of life entirely foreign not just to the Americans in the room but to me as well. Its foreign-ness, after all, has less to do with nationality than with old money. It’s a world I’ve read of in novels but never encountered in the flesh. Titled and entitled families. Family estates and family retainers, almost equally ancient. And sometimes, against all reasonable expectation, a touch of meanness in folks who can well afford not to be.
Does ‘mean’ mean ‘cheap’?
Keeping my eyes on the show, I smile, nod, and hiss back in turn. Yes.
It’s a good show: polished. Even if I didn’t know that this was part of the Sunday routine with new crop of visitors, I would know that he’d done it many times before. Do I detect more than polish – a little jadedness, perhaps? Lord knows, if I had to deliver the same-old lecture and tour of my house most weekends from March to October, I’d be polished as well as jaded by mid-September too.
Since arriving at this family-home-cum-environmental-centre, the Big Guy and I have both noticed a certain standoffishness in our host. Not rude, heavens no. Just no peer-to-peer communication, no sense of connection.
Is it the old money? His social circle includes Charles and Camilla, and we’re well outside that group, that’s for sure.
Is it that noted British reserve, standing out sharply against the ‘aye, lassie’ backdrop of the locals?
Is it the inevitable difference in perspective between professional hosts and amateur guests? I saw similar behaviour in my host family in Guatemala, lo these many years ago now. They were unique for me; I was just one of a here-today, gone-tomorrow horde.
Or is he just happier dealing with unavoidable strangers at arm’s length? I’ve seen this performance mode before in introverts, including myself.
In our own ways, the Big Guy and I have both tried to cross the divide. My own failure is not too surprising—this is not my forte. But the Big Guy can connect with anyone, anywhere. His failure makes it obvious to me where the problem lies, if problem it be.
As we move on to another room in this quirky house and to another story, I think back to a story from the morning’s lecture. A neighbour of forty years’ standing died a while back and the clan was gathered in to attend the funeral. His wife—a Highlander born and bred—was invited, but he was not.
Could you go, even without an invitation? Thank goodness someone had the nerve to ask what I was wondering.
Oh yes, he replied. But even after forty years, I’m not one of the tribe.
Maybe humans have endless reasons for, and ways of, maintaining their distance. After just a few days on the ground, it’s not surprising that we’re not the umpteenth baronet’s peers. After all, after forty years on the ground, he’s not even a Scot, much less a Highlander.