An Englishman in Glasgow

Scotland's largest city inspires fierce patriotism from an expatriate. TRAVEL: SCOTLAND

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

CONTRARY to a song associated with Scotland's largest city, I can't claim that ``I belong to Glasgow.'' The fact that I live here is beside the point. The point is - I'm English. But even as a mere Englishman here, I have found that this city has a way of exciting one's sense of partisan loyalty. Overhearing a lady in a York caf'e advising a tourist to visit Edinburgh say: ``No point in going to Glasgow - there's nothing to see,'' my indignation was instant. I interrupted and enumerated ten or twelve pressing reasons for going.

One pressing reason this year is that Glasgow is undergoing its most serious self-promotion campaign yet, 1990 being the year in which the title ``European City of Culture'' crowns its proud urban brow. It is overwhelming itself with cultural events.

Yet there are those in Glasgow who are uncertain about the city's influx of Yuppies (for which read, more or less, ``The English''). Murmurings are heard occasionally about the opening of coffee-shops where you can purchase croissants or cr^epes. Whatever is happening to working-class Glasgow? And sardonic mutterings are made now and then about warehouses being transformed into expensively smart apartments with alarm systems for people with ties and BMWs.

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Dockland turns touristy

And there must be more than a few older Glaswegians who eye, bemused, the tourists who stroll along Clyde-side cobbled walkways as if this once fiercely industrialized dockland, this world center for ship-building, has become the Brighton promenade.

Former riveters and welders now make much better money (well, one or two of them do) as comedians or actors (mainly in England or America) or as artists of no mean international repute. Others - since Glasgow, for all its determination to pull itself up by its bootstraps, still has very high unemployment - make nothing at all. But the assumption of the busy fresh-imagemakers of Glasgow is that any influx of tourism or business - even if it's ``from the South'' - can't be bad for any of the city's inhabitants.

However ferociously anti-Thatcher, anti-Conservative, anti-affluent-Southeast-England the people of Glasgow may be, they know on which side bread is buttered, and justify a vigorous love-affair with all forms of private enterprise by calling themselves ``pragmatic socialists.'' This means that, for sheer vigor and vitality, for energy and change, for rebuilding and renovating, Glasgow is a notably stimulating place to live in or visit. Is it likely to lose its special identity? I doubt it.

Glasgow's image, however, isn't safe even with some Scots. Just a couple of weeks ago my wife and I were dining at an inn by a loch when we were stunned by a talk-snippet from another table. A Japanese visitor had just mentioned some experience he'd had when in Glasgow. ``But Jo,'' expostulated his Scottish host, a gentleman of positive opinions, ``you know very well Glasgow isn't in Scotland!''

That gentleman was either from Edinburgh or was a ``teuchter'' - a disparaging Lowlander term for Highlander, the antithetical equivalent of the term ``Sassenach,'' which is what Highlanders call Lowlanders, and all Scots call the English. Glasgow, ironically, though perceived by such biased, mock-humorous detractors as so full of Lowlanders that it scarcely counts as Scottish at all, is substantially populated by Scots descended from Highlanders who came here for work in earlier centuries.

It is true, though, that Glasgow is cosmopolitan to a degree: Apart from English immigrants like myself, the city has been the recipient of waves of foreigners - particularly from Ireland, Italy, and Pakistan. We have Italian-Glaswegian friends who live three houses away. Indian friends one house closer. One Pakistani - a newsreader for Scottish TV - reckons that what she calls ``the open tolerance of other races'' in Glasgow is because Glaswegians are more concerned with the Roman Catholic-Protestant divide than with color differences.

I have become accustomed - though hardly reconciled - to the periodic Orange Marches through Glasgow, with drums and whistles reverberating in strident celebration of Protestantism. The march is an absurd tradition which I'm glad to report seems to be somewhat on the wane. Obscure speech patterns

The Muslim population seems less willing to be absorbed by Glasgow than the Italians, for example, who seem more Glasgow than Glasgow. But Pakistani-Glaswegian children do not (unlike certain English adults) resist Glasgow speech, and while Glasgow speech remains, the distinctness of Glasgow is surely secure and its absorption of (most) foreigners assured.

There is nothing like difference (or obscurity) of speech to maintain identity. Of course there are many forms and shades of Glasgow speech. ``Kelvinside,'' for instance, is a snobbish, West-End, middle-class form encountered around Hyndland and Hillhead, the University (``the Uni''), and Great Western Road, quite unlike the down-to-earth patter of the working-class East-End that invades the center of Glasgow along Argyle Street. Millimeters from each other on the map, the twain don't meet much - if possible. The patter is so difficult to grasp that it might almost be another language.

Stanley Baxter, comedian, has made much play in sketches and books of this astonishing verbal dexterity which manages to communicate without grammar, separate words, consonants, or vowels. One example will suffice: the taxi-driver who asks the tourist who wants to be taken to an eating place: ``Hud ye heehaw tae eat oan the train?'' This means approximately: ``Didn't you have anything to eat on the train?'' - but that's an easy one. So - when you get used to it - is the fact that a district north of the city called Milngavie is pronounced ``MullGUY'' and a road near our home called Dalziel Drive is pronounced ``Dee-ELL.''

As TV English (and American) pervades even Glasgow's homes, there is inevitably some self-consciousness about local speech: In perverse reaction to this it is more than acceptable for politicians, civil servants, waitresses, comedians, and artists to baffle their listeners with astonishing degrees of slur-and-spittle that I sometimes suspect even their Glasgow friends can't interpret.

As for me, I'm satisfied that I have been accepted here to the extent of once being called ``Jimmy'' by mistake in a lumberyard, and once being addressed on the phone as ``Is that Mister - eh - McAndreae?''

If I were female, I'm not too sure that I would like to be addressed as ``Hen.'' But then, like ``Jimmy,'' ``Hen'' is a familiarity that comes straight from the heart of an urban Scottish tribe - the Glaswegian - which, as a whole, is truly generous, friendly, affable, and quite surprisingly willing to forgive one for being foreign. I feel at home around Glasgow, whatever they say.

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