Snippets of American freelance artist Elizabeth’s life in Forres, Scotland

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Elizabeth Taylor

July 20 2006

-Where were you born?
Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA

-Are you living alone or with your family?
I live with my husband, who was born and raised in Scotland.

-In which country and city are you living now?
We live in Forres, in Morayshire, Scotland. It's up in the northeast, very close to the Highlands. The nearest "famous" city is Inverness.

-How long have you been living in Scotland?
Nearly three years (it will be three years in September).

-What is your age?
I turned 37 in March.

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Scotland?
I have always had an interest in living somewhere other than the USA, but was never exactly sure how to achieve my goal, or exactly which country I wanted to move to (I had considered the UK, Norway, Belgium, and the Czech Republic at various times). In the end, I met Jim, my husband, through an Internet message board (not a dating site, it was all pure luck). We e-mailed and then started phoning one another, and really got along. I was already planning on taking a solo trip to Northern Wales, and as we continued to get along Jim asked to come along. We got along so well on our trip that we got engaged, and later that summer we married in Las Vegas and I moved back to Scotland with him. Ironically, in high school I had once declared that I was going to spend at least a year in Scotland at some point in my life--guess I was right!

-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
No. I was able to get a temporary spouse visa the day we came back from Vegas, and then last year got my permanent leave to stay. I was really impressed with how fast and easy it was.

-How do you make your living in Scotland? Do you have any type of income generated?
Currently I design and sell jewelry, but it's not such a big business that I could make a living from it. I would call myself a freelance artist who also takes care of the home. I designed jewelry in the States, too, but never sold it--it was just a hobby. Back in the States, I worked in a tool supply company, and was training to become a potter--something I hope to pursue again at some point (the pottery, that is). I'm self-employed so from that point of view, I can't give any tips on getting a job in Scotland.

-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I moved to an English-speaking country, so that part was easy for me. I do speak French as well but if I had moved to Norway or the Czech Republic--or anywhere else, for that matter--I would have made it a priority to learn the language as best as possible before I moved. I do think it's very important for expats to know the language.

There aren't any hugely different customs over here, but yes, I do observe them if they come up, and would do so in any country. I've made a point of learning local slang, for instance, and have tried lots of local foods (including haggis!). My husband and I also observe some American traditions--for example, we had a 4th of July party. If we have children I want them to know about both our countries and traditions.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I do miss home sometimes, though I've found it's the odd things that I miss--I miss certain stores and certain foods more than anything. I miss thunderstorms, too! I talk to my family on the phone almost every day for a few minutes and also do lots of e-mailing with them and with friends. When I'm really homesick for a certain food, I either try to make it myself or, if it's convenience food, I ask for a care package from relatives--I've gotten boxes full of Jello, Jello pudding mixes and Kraft macaroni and cheese more than once!

There are plenty of American chain restaurants over here if I'm really missing home--I can stop at McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, Subway...I don't that often, but it's nice to know they're there if I need a fast-food fix. Some people would argue they shouldn't be over here at all--I kind of felt that way before I moved--but they aren't everywhere and I'm actually glad now that I can go to them if I want to. As well there are cinemas and shopping malls and even bowling alleys--it's not all that different from Wisconsin in those respects.

Also, with all the castles, ruined churches, and sensational landscapes, it's easy to take my mind off homesickness. Jim and I visit lots of historical sites on weekends, and during the week, of course, I make jewelry--I'm a busy woman and don't have that much time to miss home.

-Do you have other plans for the future?
This is my home now but I hope to visit Wisconsin someday soon (we've been back once since we got married) and I'm hoping that family and friends will come here to visit, too. I also hope my jewelry business takes off in big ways and, as I mentioned, I'd like to get back into making pottery. No big plans right now, though, for anything.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
Jim bought a house right before I came over. We have a 3-bedroom detached house with a small garden. The house was brand new when he bought it; lots of houses are going up all over Scotland.

-What is the cost of living in Scotland?
It's much more expensive than the States--gas is about $8.00 a gallon, and clothes are much more expensive--"cheap" jeans are at least $50. CDs cost around $20. That was all a bit of a shock.

-What do you think about the Scottish people?
Everyone has been very nice to me, very curious about my home. I may be lucky because I had a built-in family when I moved over, but no one has personally given me a hard time. The press is very harsh to Americans but the locals aren't; I've come to loathe reading articles about the States, and news reporters can send me into quite a tizzy, but all the people I have met are great and listen to me and ask insightful questions about the States. People like to guess where my accent comes from, too--I'm often mistaken for a Canadian. Many people haven't heard of Wisconsin, but are interested to know where it is.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Scotland?
Scotland isn't really that different from the States, so there was really no major culture shock coming here. The countryside is beautiful, the people are friendly, and I really can't think of any huge negatives. The British press gives the US--and especially the Midwest--a very bad time and that has been hurtful, but when people actually talk to me, they are willing to hear my side of things. Things are more expensive and that has been a change--where I was used to going to Target and picking up a $10.00 CD and a $5 t-shirt on a whim, I now think much more carefully about what I buy--which is not necessarily a bad thing.

The roads are quite bad up near us, which means that a drive that should take about two hours takes about four. Most major roads are still one lane and shoulders are rare. That's frustrating and means that visiting places like Edinburgh is harder than it should be. But it's not so bad you can't get there if you want to.

I would say in general Americans are more positive than people over here, but that's an overall impression, fostered in large part by the press, and I know plenty of friendly, happy people. Americans also tend to speak much louder, so sometimes from that point of view I tend to stick out! I have nothing truly bad to say about Scotland or Britain and I think if you can see through a negative press culture, get over the sticker shock of gas, etc. and deal with some bad roads, everything else is good.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Scotland?
Come on over! Be respectful to people and they will return the favor. Don't "lecture" people about their own culture and listen to what they have to say (the movie Braveheart and the whole tartan culture are very sensitive subjects to many people--listen and you will learn some interesting things).

I was surprised by the rivalry between English and Scots--and with that, I would add NEVER call Britain England, and don't say English when you mean British. England is a separate country and people are rightly sensitive about it! If someone challenges you or says something untrue about the US, explain to them why it isn't true. Be polite when making your point and then they'll have happily learned something, too. People have some crazy ideas over here because of the press, but are happy to listen. Really, as I've said, it's not that different over here--just come and enjoy it!

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Scotland?
I keep a blog and often post photos of the area around us and, when we travel further, of other parts of Scotland. I also post jewelry photos there. It's a Xanga blog called “Elizabeth's Rambles from Scotland” and the link is http://www.xanga.com/bebopgirl1969

I sell some jewelry through E-bay. If you're interested I maintain a shop there--BeBopGirl's Jewelry Beadtique (http://stores.ebay.co.uk/BeBopGirls-Jewelry-Beadtique).

Scotsman.com (http://heritage.scotsman.com) has current news as well as sections on myth, culture, history, and places of interest.