Avery’s highly amusing take on living as an American expat in Fife, Scotland

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Avery Archer

January 20 2007

-Where were you born?
United States (though for political reasons, I'm considering having my place of birth changed to Canada). I should also add that my family originally hails from the sun-kissed tropical island of Tobago, which happens to be the most beautiful place on earth; but only objectively speaking of course. Unfortunately, this interview isn't about Tobago, is it? 

-In which country and city are you living now?
The Kingdom of Fife, Scotland, which is situated between the Firth of Tay and the Firth of Forth. I realize these places all sound like they're taken right out of a Mother Goose nursery rhyme, but those are their actual names. Furthermore, while the names may sound sweet enough to induce a diabetic coma, the places themselves are anything but. (Trust me, you don't want to be caught in a dark alley at night in the Firth of Tay!) I kid, I kid. These places are every bit as quaint and lovely as their names suggest.

Pertshire Scotland-Are you living alone or with your family?
Alone, and I really do appreciate you reminding me of this fact.

-How long have you been living in Scotlande?
Just under two years; which is just long enough to get past the initial novelty inspired “ohh, ahh” phase and settle into that comfortable cynicism that comes with living in any country for a substantive period of time. In brief, it’s finally beginning to feel like home.

-What is your age?
The mind of a grumpy 58 year-old in a 28 year-old's body, or at least that's what my close friends say. (But then, they may be biased by their love for me).

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Scotland?
Let's see, it's dark, it's cold, it's wet, and it's allegedly inhabited by a centuries-old sea monster; shouldn't the question be, “Why would someone NOT move to Scotland?” In my case, the chief motivation, apart from a deep rooted masochism, is academic (no, literally). I am an aspiring philosopher, a field I entered mainly for its financial prospects, and my research interests lay primarily in the Scottish Enlightenment. Having lived here, I've since come to question whether there was ever really such a thing, but that was at least my initial motivation. Which perhaps explains the old Scottish adage, “Scotland: come for the philosophy, stay for the...” (They haven't quite figured out an ending for that saying yet.)

-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
Fortunately, being a US citizen is like being best friends with the high-school bully; no one gives you too much trouble once they discover what your affiliations are. In short, acquiring a visa wasn't much of a problem for me and (as I'm made to understand) if you have a job offer and a degree from a respectable institution of higher learning, getting a work permit isn't that difficult either. As for those who are not US citizens, well let's just say I'm not sure how things are for the other kids on the playground. However, from conversations I've had with non-American expats, getting a UK visa is relatively quick and easy; a lot like that girl, Jamie, from down the hall. (Though I suspect that you're much less likely to find the phone number for the British Consulate written on one of the stalls of the men's bathroom with the words: “For a good time, call Visa Office!”)

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
Not at all.  In fact, visitors to the UK are eligible for free health-care for the duration of their stay (a fact that my American mind has more difficulty making sense of than the eleven space-time dimensions posited by String Theory). 

-How do you make your living in Scotland? Do you have any type of income generated?
First there was the “are you living alone” question, and now this? Thanks for reminding me of what a loser I am!

raasay, scotland-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
To be completely honest, the language issue has been an ongoing problem. First, there was that unfortunate incident at the pub when this “bloke” walked up to me and asked “fag?” I later tried to explain that I was not used to hearing cigarettes referred to that way, but saying sorry couldn't heal his busted lip and broken nose, could it? Then, there is the weird way they pronounce their words. For example, for some strange reason the folks here insist on pronouncing the word “herb” as HURB, instead of URB, as we do in the US (though I’m guessing it may have something to do with the letter “H” at the beginning). At first this can all be very frustrating: “Why can’t these people learn to speak proper English!” However, with time you learn to add the superfluous “U” to coloUr and reverse the “ER” ending in centRE.

As far as customs are concerned, all visitors are required to try a local delicacy known as haggis. I would tell you what it’s made from, but it is typically considered impolite to do so until after you have ingested “it.”  

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
It’s funny you should ask, because I’ll actually be flying home next week due to a family emergency. My family is coming here.

-Do you have other plans for the future?
I live alone, I have no job, and I have no plans for the future. There, I've said it! Happy?

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
I can't say I know much about the financial end of things, so I’m afraid I won’t be of much help on this one. But if you wanted my naive opinion I would point out that purchasing a house in Scotland at the bottom quartile of house prices (around £60,000) a single earner is assumed to need annual earnings of around £17,000 on the recommended affordability multiplier of 3.5 times earnings. This means that an agent earning less than the aforementioned amount would find themselves unable to afford housing, even at the bottom quartile. However, I should also point out that the current estimate does not take into account any of the latest econometric data, such as the effects of population growth on housing prices vis-a-vis a time-series analysis or a comparison of multiple variables at a single temporal position on the housing-cost growth curve vis-a-via a cross-sectional analysis. 

On the upside, I've found that lots of the houses here have very pretty mailboxes.

-What is the cost of living in Scotland?
The United States may be the last remaining superpower on earth, but the dollar is still the pound's b*tch. In brief, the standard of living is quite high compared to life in the US, due primarily to the exchange rate and the rather excessive local tea consumption. (In fact, over the last fiscal year the national expenditure on Earl Grey outstripped all other items on the domestic budget combined.) As if that weren’t bad enough, I happen to live in the city of St Andrews, which is like the Beverly Hills of the Kingdom of Fife (but minus the palm trees, sunlight, and silicone-enhanced women).

-What do you think about the Scottish people?
One of the great things about moving to a different country is that it forces you to give up unrealistic prejudices about the people who live there, and develop new more realistic ones based on their actual deficiencies. However, I've learned that despite everything people say about them, the Scots are really wonderful people.   

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Scotland?
Well, by now it's obvious that I'm a glass-half-full kind of guy...so you should probably take my overly optimistic assessment with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, I could honestly say that Scotland ranks in the top three places I've lived.  (Admittedly, that isn't as impressive as it sounds once you consider that I've only lived in four places and the one ranked just below Scotland is war-torn Somalia.)

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Scotland?
If they discover you're American, just say, “I didn't vote for him,” and everything will be fine.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Scotland?
If you want to get inaccurate, biased information then you should check out the official website of the Scottish Tourist Board
If, however, you prefer to just get the facts, then you may want to check out my blog, Freewill Tastes Like Chicken, which chronicles many of my Scottish (mis)adventures.  For those of you who are illiterate, I would say…well, first I would say how impressed I am that you were able to get this far. But right after saying that, I would suggest that you check out my Photojournal which features very few words and lots of pics. I'm not sure the images of the Scottish landscape are really anything worth seeing, but the occasional glimpses of yours truly definitely make it worthwhile.