Just when I think I’ve settled into living in Edinburgh and the stunningly gorgeous gothic architecture is just another old stone building to pass by on my daily treks, I walk a half hour into the city only to become overwhelmed with it all over again. Any local here will look on and laugh at this newbie tourist’s point of view, looking toward their extraordinarily ordinary hometown with wide eyes of wonder. But no matter how much they downplay their city’s glory, there is no denying the Scots are proud to tell you where they came from.
It’s a booming shout, far over the crowds of gloomy Englishmen six hours down south, who are more than happy to grumble about their stuffy days, and offer up not-so-subtly hidden apologies for their grimmer corners. The Scots clamour above the din about theirs. They grin toothily, with a proud nod to Auld Reekie, their loving pet name for beautiful Edinburgh, never ones to let the world forget that their thriving city was built up from reeking streets of blood, dirt, and piss. They teach their children where they came from, with nursery rhymes of old codgers’ words, of a language they keep in their firm grip, even now, unwilling to let it slip from their fingertips into the archaic void. They tell stories to anyone who will listen, gritty and lyrical all at once. Where poetry sets you on a journey across moors one moment, then tells you bawdy tales of scandal in roaring stage whisper.
In a city full to bursting with outsiders, where you can hardly walk across the street without hearing a foreign tongue, it’s a wonder Edinburgh manages to maintain such aggressively vibrant culture. People flock to this city to learn; to soak in this culture determinately cultivated here. To sit in cafes with the view of castles on the rocks from their window. To stop into souvenir shops to pick up whimsical lamb’s wool tartans. To get an earful of the piper’s drone from around the corner. They’re here to celebrate what any Scotsman has known for all his life, and his father’s life, and grandfather’s before him, and so on and so forth. When I walk into a classroom, or attend literary events, only to have one more Scottish book thrust upon me, it’s not an act of assimilation. Not a stern become one of us or leave situation. It’s a hearty welcome into the fold. A prideful nudge in the ribs; a wink as they let you in on a particularly unsavoury inside joke.
Because we all come from somewhere. We all have stories to tell. The Scots just have theirs, and if they’ll have your ear, even for a moment, they may just let you.