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Scotland is The Place
February 2, 2007 - 8:20am

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I’ll admit it: It took me too long to come around to Scotland, and I blame that on the American tendency to reduce all culture to the equivalent of soda pop, oversweet and easily swallowed. I never felt at home with the clichés thrust at me—Scots as stingy misers, as country gentlemen, as duffers, or as kilted warriors with blue faces and cold scrotums (or was it the other way around?).

Twenty years ago, I dated a girl from an affluent Chicago suburb who was chosen to be the Queen of the Illinois St. Andrew Society. Her father said they were related to the poet Robert Burns, and when he got home each day from his job as a school counselor, he donned a tweed hat and something that looked suspiciously like a grouse-hunting jacket and headed for the tiny yard behind their split-level, where he manured and poisoned his extraordinary roses. His children called him The Garden Weasel, after the hand-tool then for sale on late-night TV.

I was a young roué fresh out of the army then, with all the self-assuredness and sophistication I needed to pronounce Scotland’s most venerable city, “Ee-duhn-berg,” but I was sitting at the Society’s head table when my girlfriend was crowned as Queen at their annual Burns Supper in the famous Gold Ballroom of the Congress Plaza Hotel.

I didn’t care for the haggis and the peaty Islay whisky served warm and neat in crystal tumblers, and I cared even less for the handsome young piper who got to escort my girlfriend under dazzling lights to the cheers of the crowd. As a result, I drank too much wine on an empty stomach and freaked out a little when four men carried in a roasted beast the size of an ox on long poles. It had a pelt thrown over it for a saddle, and two half-naked children rode it in, beating it with riding crops.

All that took place long before I met Mrs. Churm, whose mom and dad emigrated from Inverness—actual Scots from a truly Highland city. (“Robert Burns,” her aunt sneered, when I asked her some question and inadvertently interrupted Jerry Springer on the telly in her council flat on the Caledonian Canal. “That man was from the Lowlands.”) Now I get it, all of it, this Scotland business, from the warm people, to iron-age forts on hilltops near the sea, to sleepless white nights, to Speyside single-malt (drunk with a splash of water—how else will you be able to taste it, then, son?—and some ice, as a family friend instructed).

Madonna loved Scotland so much she married it, in Skibo Castle, and told the BBC, “[Guy Ritchie’s] family are Scottish, on his father's side of the family, so he got to wear his family kilt, which was nice.” Bob Dylan got his honorary doctorate in music in 2004 from the University of St. Andrews, and evidently has bought Aultmore House, a manor in Inverness-shire, with his brother, that other Zimmerman. Obviously, Scotland is The Place .

It’s been difficult for foreigners to live and work in Scotland, due to immigration regulations, but since 2005 there’s been another chance to do so—the Fresh Talent: Working in Scotland Scheme, which gives international students the chance to work, without a permit, in Scotland for two years after they finish school. The program is part of a wider initiative by the Scottish Executive to bring in skilled workers for the global economy, a “managed migration” you can read about here.

On various websites associated with this effort, you can find application forms, case studies of people who’ve stayed and worked in Scotland, a list of job sites from Scottish Development International, and answers to questions about general regulations for working in the UK as a foreign national.

The only hitch is that Scotland's unemployment rate, while considerably lower than the wider EU rate of 18.1%, is still 13.1%, and Mrs. Churm and I wonder what all that Fresh Talent will do for a living.

Wouldn’t it be nice if an American MFA could find work in a quality fish and chip shop, making chip butties and mushy peas?

 

 

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