Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Friday, June 27, 2014

Eleven Days in Edinburgh.

The family.
I learned today that the early name for Edinburgh was Dun Eideann - which means "Citadel of the slope." Of course my home town "Dunedin" get's its name from that... "The Edinburgh of the South." Edinburgh Castle is certainly on a slope.
The Project.
Knox's house and a "Well" or where the early people of Edinburgh came to get their water.

We have been in Edinburgh eleven days and we are getting used to the city.
A project with my son.
I have been working on a project with my son. He has a small backyard with a deck, which is very close to neighbours. The fences on the side are picket style fences which are not very private if you are eating on the deck or doing things outside. They had decided to put up panels to make the yard more private so Daniel and I have been working on that. I enjoy working on projects with my sons. It is a bit tricky because I have to allow them to make choices about things and respect them as the boss of the job no matter what I think, because it is their house. I think though that they gain confidence from my presence and involvement. So most late afternoons and evenings this past week have been spent building this fence. We had built a back fence which encompassed a shared access way.  A neighbour checked about her access and we assured her that it was still OK.   This prompted my son to check the local building regulations. To be on the safe side we pulled our panels down and relocated them. This slowed the project down.  With tomorrow being Saturday we ought to finish the job. This next project is to sand and repaint the deck.
Getting to know Edinburgh
My wife and I have been slowly exploring Edinburgh. We have enjoyed doing things that people do, like going to the supermarket. We caught a bus and then a tram out to a hardware store one day. We are getting quite confident on the bus and even advised a local about the tram the other day. We poked around the central city a few times. We came across two charities caring for the homeless so we visited them. While we are not into gathering souvenirs and not inclined to be ripped off by touristy things, we have enjoyed exploring some historical sites in our own way and time. It has been good riding the buses, walking neighbourhoods, shopping and getting to know another city in another country.
Their talking…..
In Dunedin we encounter Scots who have immigrated to NZ. Most are now older people so when we hear a Scottish accent our minds assumes “elderly”. Here of course all ages speak that way. We were in a burger store and heard a young girl speak emphatically with her mother in this broad accent.  It seemed so “different” to us that we both giggled. It is strange too hearing an Asian or an Indian coming out with a broad accent. We decided that Scots speak loudly. (We thought the same about the French) In a bus or restaurant you hear people conversing or talking on their phone and you hear every word! I think New Zealanders are more shy or converse quietly so that others are not privy to their conversation. We have encountered couples having an argument. New Zealand couples when they argue in public tend to almost whisper through clenched teeth, sometimes smiling, so nobody will hear. On the bus, in the street, on park benches we have encountered couples arguing openly and loudly.  On the bus was so funny – He was sitting across the isle and a row behind his wife. They were going at each other with periods of silence between. The people around did not know where to look and just when you thought it had stopped one of the two would blurt out some other point! I laughed today – a young woman was pleading with her boyfriend who obviously had too much to drink watching the football. In frustration he yelled at her, “Och! Speak “Inglis” y’daft bitch. Y’d’na’ken.” (Oh. Speak English you daft bitch. You do not understand.) They speak quickly and efficiently. In a pie shop - “Y’ right tha?” (Are you all right there?) the shop keeper says. I love their “Aye” pronounce “Ei” which means “Yes”.  I hate Subways, even in New Zealand, because the people serving you blurt out questions about things you have to make decisions on, and I often struggle to hear.  On our first day here we went to a Subway and with a Scottish accent blurting out questions, I was lost and had to guess. Our ears are getting attuned to their way of speaking and mostly we get by. It is the same language, English, but somehow it sometimes sounds very very different. “Y’ken?” (Do you understand?)
Our talking..
But… there are times when in shops we ask for something and we get a blank stare back at us. They have not understood because of our accent! At a cafĂ© we were asking for soup, scones and tea for two and we had to repeat it several times… speaking slowly with gestures.  At church a lady said to my wife, “Oh you have a lovely quaint accent!” In your mind you want to say, “I speak English, it is you who have the accent!”  But no, here, we are the foreigners with the quaint accent that is hard to understand.  In a poem entitled “To a Louse” one time Scottish National poet Robbie Burns wrote this; “O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us.” (O would some power the gift to give us to see ourselves as others see us.)
Seeing from the outside
There have been a number of experiences like the language encounters, which have reminded us of the above quotation. There are things in a city or a country that “everybody knows” except if you come from elsewhere. I was on the top floor of the bus the other day and a lady lurched up the stairs looking for a seat. I was perched on a seat and she, struggling to stay on her feet as the bus bumped and swayed, asked “Are y’leavin’?” “No” I replied, “But you can have the seat.” I was taught to give my seat to a lady needing one. I stood as the bus continued on and when our time came to leave as we walked down the footpath my son said, “You don’t give up your seat on the top floor of a bus. You are not allowed to stand up there.” How was I to know? “Everybody knows that!” he replied. We have been reminded by such events that often groups of people, - churches, cities, countries – have things “every body knows” except those visiting. I had great difficulty in ministry trying to get church leaders to see what we were doing in church from an outsider’s point of view. It has been a reminder of Robbie Burn’s words, “O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us.”
Greyfriars Kirk
We visited Greyfriars Kirk, a famous church not far from the castle with plenty of history. The history was interesting but the information about its current directions warmed me. As I read its mission statement and some of the community involvement I thought “That is the same sort of directions I was trying to lead my Church in St Andrew Street, Dunedin.”  They pictured the Church and its activities as a tree, with branches reaching out into the community, involving lots of people and groups who may or may not worship on a Sunday.  The worship on the Sunday was the roots feeding the branches which went wide and far into the community. “That’s the sort of vision I had, but somehow most in the Church never understood nor accepted.” I went away from Greyfriars thinking, “I am not so weird after all.”  - “D’ya’ken.”


Keith Harris said...

Yes, Dave. "it wad frae many a blunder free us, and foolish notion".

I've found that perception of differences in habits and culture are at their most vivid when you first encounter them. Then they become the norm very quickly. I remember when we first moved from NZ to Melbourne in 1982 being surprised at fellow train passengers conversing loudly and openly, sometimes about quite private, personal matters, without a care in the world about who might overhear them. Aussies and Kiwis differ greatly, despite being lumped together as one in the minds of most beyond our shores.

Dave Brown said...

I have had many occasions when I have had to remind myself and others of the differences between Aussie culture and Ethos and our own. We lived in Australia for four years and have dear friends there. It is very different. We often make the mistake of not recognising cultural differences, or appreciating our own Kiwiness and the good things about our ethos.