Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Trials and Tribulations in Edinburgh: An Expat in Reverse

 I've been back in the UK for two years now, so sometimes I can barely remember what it feels like to be an expat. With this in mind, I wondered what it feels like to be the expat in my home country? As a sort of 'expat in reverse', if you will. Andy Hayes obligingly enlightens us with his experience of living in Edinburgh

"I hadn’t heard of the term “expat in reverse” until a conversation with Kate, but life in reverse certainly explains the disorientation I felt on landing in Edinburgh, Scotland.

I was born in the US, but arrived in Edinburgh via several years in Amsterdam.  I loved the Dutch lifestyle and laissez-faire café culture, but due to the European banking crisis, my job moved to Scotland, and thus I moved with it.

When I was offered the opportunity to move to the Scottish capital, the idea of being back in an English-speaking country again certainly piqued my interest. Ironically, language ended up being one of the biggest divides I found in integrating with the local culture.  British English was the language spoke at my old job and many of my friends in Holland were not Dutch, but other European nationals, so even today, a couple of years on, I still find it hard to write “neighbor” without the u, nor can I explain the Americanised version of “aluminium.”

Along with a handful of boxes, I took a heavily Dutch influenced American-Brit English accent with me.  I found most Scots quick to dismiss me as an American tourist (London expats being even worse), and even the people I worked with immediately assumed that because of my accent, my working style would be “American.”

All the accents tomfoolery aside, the UK was a total change.  Am I weird in that the first thing I think about culturally is how the pharmacies and drugstores are organised?  For example, in America the drug stores also sell the unhealthiest food.  In Europe, the pharmacy part is often a separate shop. In Britain, the pharmacies are all about the beauty and cosmetic products.  I can’t help but draw cultural comparisons.

In some ways, I found the UK to be somewhat of one step closer towards moving back to America.  There are the shopping malls and department stores, streets full of working folk and bustling shopping bags.  The working culture seems slightly more aggressive, as well as entrepreneurial.  An obsession with unhealthy eating is also pervasive. 

I don’t want to sound like a hater, because I’m not – Scotland is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

I’ve never lived anywhere else on earth where an extinct volcano had a towering medieval castle on top.  Where you could hike up massive crags – and where the cobblestone city streets were just as steep. 

And taking trips up to the Highlands is equally impressive.  Did you know there are still single track roads on the British mainland?  That there are miles of road where you’ll see nary a soul, nor will you be able to Tweet or Facebook about it because your phone won’t work?

It was interesting to see that was so popular during my days in Edinburgh.  I joined a local walking group, one of several different groups just for hiking, and that was one of the best ways I found to meet other folks. The group I joined was a mix of locals and foreigners, but my choice was more on finding the types of walks I wanted to enjoy, and hoping for similar-minded folk in tow.  If you find yourself in a similar predicament, I highly recommend checking out Meetup or whatever’s in your locale.

The highlight of my time in Scotland is without a doubt the Edinburgh Fringe. They say that Edinburgh becomes the UK’s biggest city for the month of August, and I believe it – it seems every street corner or empty lot turns into a theatre/café/open-air bar/restaurant (or combination thereof).    I would spend hours each month watching an array of performances, from comedy to musical.  The fringe is so much fun, it alone was almost worth the price of moving to the UK.

Looking back, I’m not sure if I ever really found my groove in Scotland.   I’m thankful for my time there – I ended up leaving my job and started my own company, which I still have to this day.  The Edinburgh Fringe really launched my career in tourism.  I made many friends and had many experiences, in Edinburgh and beyond, that I’ll never forget.   

But for some reason, things never really came together.  And I’m totally ok with that.  No regrets, just one step on the path I was meant to be on.

Photos all courtesy of the author.

About the Author: Andy Hayes is author of the iPhone app Edinburgh Secrets.  He still runs a blog about Edinburgh, though he spends most of his time now in Portland, Oregon


  1. It is a strange thing to move to a new place, particularly one that speaks English. I felt very odd moving to the States from Canada, and never quite felt at home there. I also lived in Amsterdam and love my expat friends there. :-) I live in Australia now and am fascinated by it's inability to be boxed or pigeon-holed. It is familiar yet not, understood yet utterly foreign. I have found a home here, and for that I'm grateful. :-)

  2. Sounds like you just needed to keep trying countries to find your niche! Glad you got there in the end - sounds like you're having an amazing time in Australia.

  3. I think you're going to have a GREAT time, Rambling Tart :-)

    Thanks again for the opportunity to guest post, Kate!

  4. Have just stumbled on your blog. We lived in Sydney for 5 years and are now back in London :(. Nice to see other people in a somewhat similar boat. Great Blog! xxx


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