The Grumpy Edinburgh

By: Ieuan Dolby
I recently returned to Edinburgh with my family, the first time that my wife had been out of Asia and my son had been further than the bottom of the garden (if we had one that is). I returned to the city were I grew up, not as a hero back from the wars nor home after a week of the sun in Benedorm. I returned as a camera flashing tourist, viewing the city through my wife eyes and as a tourist guide as I marched them from the Castle to the Botanical Gardens, up the hills and then down to the sea!Edinburgh has always been well known for its surliness (if not Britain as a whole) and from the Black Cab grumps to shop assistants who assume that "they are always right" bad words and scowls have been issued out like red-hot machine guns against the evil enemy, the customer! Having traveled through America frequently and having just returned from Canada polite words and smiles and the customary "have a nice day" or "how you are sir" still echoed clearly in my mind. It was thus in my new-found tourist/guide mode that I missed the clanging of the alarm bells, I suitably bypassed the fact that life in Edinburgh had changed considerably from the place that I once knew. For the first few days I accepted unquestioningly the taxi drivers who physically left the comfort of their seats to open doors and who smilingly talked about the weather in preference to a monologue on the current malaise hanging over the cab business. I did not jump out of my shoes at being accosted by a shop assistant with a smile and a "can I help you with anything", in fact life at that moment did not register with me and I was walking through it with blinkers on.

In retrospect I had missed this enormous cultural change; from airport officials who kindly let us jump the queue seeing as how we had a baby to a pedestrian who rushed to help when my pram wheel wouldn't get up the curb I was oblivious to it all! In fact I might have returned to Taiwan without noting this change had I not encountered the real Edinburgh and the old Edinburgh, a feature that hit me with a jolt and that brought me tumbling back down to solid earth.

It was this jolt of reality that showed me the new face of society and turned me instantly from the tourist/guide guise that I was protecting myself under into a guy who had just returned home after a long period away!This reality check occurred in the ladies underwear section of Marks and Spencer's of all places (the one on Princes Street for those who know were I am talking about). Please note that I do not normally frequent such areas of an establishment but I was there that day as the lift from the food hall to street level exited right in front of a rack of skimpy lace garments that did not leave much for the imagination. Anyway, this is by the by! I was pushing the pram out of the crowded lift, my wife was behind me and my mother was somewhere in front sort of herding us together and away from the masses! A stooped old lady in front of me was pushing a trolley filled to overflowing with enough ingredients for a meal for the whole regiment of Scots Guards back at the castle and she was wielding this four wheeled vehicle with as much proficiency as my 14 month old son might do. I was in the middle of doing a six point turn as fast as I could without overheating the rubber wheels on the pram when I felt a bump, heard a curse and the rack of undergarments teetered precariously between smothering my son and regaining an upright position. I was standing there on one leg, stretched over my son and helping the rack in its decision to remain upright when the little old lady said "sorry"! As I was helped back onto my two feet by my wife who fortunately remained calm and collected in such situations as these I responded with a "oh, no problem, no problem". A statement that I felt absolved all of blame and allowed all and sundry to get back to their efforts of extricating themselves from garments that they did not require and to pushing over-laden trolleys to a clearer area for maneuvers! The little old lady though was not having any of this; she responded to me with "wasna' talking to you"!And whoops bang I clattered back to earth! Bus drivers may smile today, doormen might actually live up to their job description by opening doors but deep down to were the roots of Edinburgh Culture froths and bubbles the truth will out! The city is still a melting pot of grumpiness! I told all of this to my mother afterwards as she had not heard the verbal exchange. She had though been witness to the near pile-up and after hearing the story she just couldn't imagine who the lady had been apologizing to if it was not to me!Should I have had any doubts as to this jolt on life another incident soon came along to confirm all! I was in the corner shop buying a few things. My wife was at the counter and I was sort of playing with my son as we waited. I had him half standing in this low pile of shopping baskets when a voice muttered behind me "basket"! Not thinking straight and probably still assuming that people were friendly natured I started to take my son out of the baskets and said "you wouldn't like a baby as well would you"? Before I had managed to turn around to meet the eyes of this basket-requiring shopper a retort was issued, "not yours I wouldn't"! Finally getting around I managed to meet the eyes before they were whisked away with the basket, and oh golly gosh, they contained malevolence! Yep, the bubbling cauldron that held the true Edinburgh culture was alive and kicking and any doubts that I had retained had now vanished forever!I must though iterate that it is lovely to find taxi-drivers and shop assistants in Edinburgh who smile and say nice things. I fully appreciate that this new found cordiality has been pressured onto them by owners who have at last realized that inherent grumpiness does not bring in the customers and by tourists who tend not to like such attitudes (even their corner shop assistants back home enquire as to their health) but it is very nice to see. It is oft said that it takes three generations to change a culture so maybe one day in the future this forced bonhomie may turn into true feelings! I hope anywayFind Article, as these reality checks hurt!

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