Monday, September 12, 2011

The Differences

It's almost impossible not to compare one thing against another. It seems to be something a person can't really get away from. Comparison isn't always a bad thing though. Ever since I moved here I can't help but compare Scotland to North America and as I've mentioned, that is not always a bad thing; at least in this case it is not.
One of the biggest differences I have noticed is how the street crossings are structured. In North America most blind people are taught that you never cross busy intersections unless you have "parallel traffic" to listen to and cross with. Basically, if the traffic to your side and not in front of you is moving, you can go. Some intersections beep and have two different tones for each crossing. For instance, say I were to be standing at the corner of a street called University and another called King, a sort of "cuckoo clock" noise indicates that it is safe to cross University, while a weird, mechanical chirping lets you know that King Street is the one to be crossed. If, as I said, there isn't an audible signal available at that particular intersection, you cross with your "parallel traffic."
In Scotland, and from what I can tell England as well, all traffic is stopped and it is then safe for pedestrians. This allows people to cross diagonally if they would like. That is a huge "no no" in North America for blind travelers. Some of the intersections have an audible signal here as well, but it is only a high pitched beeping. There are a few that actually talk and say,
"the traffic has been signaled to  stop (insert street name)." Also, a lot of the crossings are what we in North America would call "indented." I think I described these when I was back at Leader Dogs for the Blind retraining. Usually these are used for "country" or "sidewalkless" travel. To indent, the pedestrian walks a ways down the intersecting street and crosses that. For North Americans, this technique is employed in order to ensure   you cross straight when you do not have a sidewalk to indicate a straight line of travel. Here, for the most part, it is to avoid "round abouts" and pedestrians having to try to cross those.
These differences are not bad. They are just something I have noticed and have had to get used to. A few times we've been out and a friend has said it is safe to cross and I've been like,
"no it's not!"
because I've been waiting for the parallel traffic to drive. I'm still figuring out a trick for the crossings that do not have audible signals. A lot of the time, I can tell it is safe to cross when I hear the traffic hit their brakes and come to a stop. I wait for the vehicles to be idling for a bit before hauling butt across the street. Don't even get me started on the vehicles driving on the opposite side of the road-that was slightly unnerving at first. Again, not bad, just different. I do thoroughly enjoy that the majority of crossings have tactile strips at the curb's edge. Those are present in North America as well, but not as frequently; at least not in the cities I've been to.
I've also noticed a plethora of off leash dogs. I haven't decided if this is good or bad yet. I think there are pros and cons to having so many off leash dogs. In North America, it is illegal to be in public with an off leash dog. Here, it is common practice. For the most part, these dogs are all well behaved and stick with their owners, but not always and it is these times that make me a bit nervous. A guide dog was attacked just a few weeks after we arrived just outside of the grocery store that we go to all of the time. The dog in question was off leash and even though it put six puncture wounds into the guide dog, it was given back to its owner with a warning.
I am completely aware that these things happen in North America as well. There are irresponsible dog owners everywhere in the world, but with the leash laws, at least there is more dogs on leash and under control.
That said, it is so cool to walk down the street and see these dogs just hanging out with their owners, not even interested to go and greet our dogs even though they are leashless. I haven't completely figured out why this is, but part of me thinks that dogs may be socialised differently here. Just from observing dogs off leash in a local park and those who do not wear a leash on the streets, I do not think they are socialised to be "friends" with other dogs. They do not have play dates and they stick to their owners like glue. They are also not as outwardly excited to see strangers as North American dogs are. With all of the dogs roaming around, and believe me there are a lot, I have pet only two other dogs since I've been here and they belonged to the same person. (With permission of the owner of course).
If you go to a place where dogs can be off leash in North America, nearly everyone's dogs come up to greet you and lean into your legs for a good ear scratch. Even dogs on leash are excited to meet strangers. These are general statements and do not apply to all dogs or all dogs' owners. My experience here has been that dogs will move away if a stranger goes to pet them and a lot of owners seem put off if you ask to pet their dog. Again, this is not necessarily bad, it is just an observation and could actually be investigated further with regards to training well behaved dogs. The only thing that makes me nervous, besides the off leash stuff, the dogs not being as excited about strangers here is that they are a bit more territorial; not to be confused with aggressive.
Glacier and Roscoe have been growled at quite often and we usually scare people off at the park if we let our dogs run free. They seem to be too exuberant for dog owners here. We've decided that off leash running may have to be done at night when no one else is around so that other people do not leave the park anymore.
Do you know what else is different? The taste of a lot of the food. The meat in particular tastes different, but I like it. Sure there are things about North American food that I like, but there are a lot of things about the food here that I enjoy and one of them is that the meat has more flavour. If we make something with ground hamburger, or Mince as it is called, it just seems to be tastier. I love food, so I am not complaining.
The coffee is quite different when you go out to eat as well. I haven't quite figured out how to order my coffee so it is the way I like it, but I am getting there. Usually, the cups are much smaller and the coffee is way stronger. Again, I'm not complaining since I found the coffee incredibly weak when I was living in SC. I hardly ever ordered coffee out because it tasted like dirty dish water. Here though, is a whole different story. I have to add sugar to these little, tiny cups like a mad woman and you only get one cup. In North America, quite often coffee comes with free refills. However, the coffee is so strong here, that one small cup usually is enough for me.
There is one thing that is different that I am not so excited about. A lot of the times, not always, but a lot of the time, the public bathrooms smell awful. We've been to so many cafes or restaurants and had to pee, but have waited until we got back to the flat because it smelled so bad. I don't know why this is, but when a bathroom smells that badly, it is somewhat off putting and it makes you wonder when the last time they actually cleaned it was. That is not to say that there aren't gross bathrooms in North America because there are, but clean and non-stinky ones are more common.
I'm also so amazed by the historical architecture still  standing. North America isn't that old and so the beautiful, intricate architecture is kind of lacking. Our flat that we will be moving into on Friday, for example, is near the water and was probably used as a warehouse for the ships. We are on the second floor, but have to climb three winding, steep, stone staircases to get to our front door. The stone steps are so worn from years of feet climbing them that they are warped and slanting. It is better to walk on the sides rather than down the centre because you have less chance of slipping. The bannister in both mine and Tenie's flat are gorgeous too. They are big, thick bannisters with little curly bits at the bottom. Iron pegs are holding my bannister together. There are cobble stone streets everywhere as well. It seems like if there was a cobble stone street present in a lot of North American cities, they were taken out and replaced by pavement. We'll be walking along a street and Tenie will read a plaque on a building that said it was built in the 1400's. Canada wasn't even a country until four hundred years later!
The differences are countless: they have chippies here, they do not exist in North America; the flush button is usually on the top of the tank here whereas in North America it is on the front; tumble dryers are not a common thing here, but in North America a person would be mad if they rented a place that had a washing machine but no dryer; fridges are tiny and would be considered beer or apartment fridges in North America; and so much more. Despite these differences, I love it here and the differences are what make it all the more charming.


Jen said...

That was really interesting! I really want to go to north America even more now :)

Nicky said...

Hi, I really loved reading that post just now. It reminds me of the first time I visited the states and getting use to the fact that I hadn't got any of the stuff like tacktile paving that you are only getting use to now to help me. I remember walking with a mobility teacher and a student as they were doing a mobility lesson in Louisville and the teacher was talking about walking a block and stuff and I had to get myself use to dealing in blocks rather than just walking and getting use to streets like we would here. In the UK they would not have as much audible crossing signals as we would have here in Ireland so if you ever get to visit here and in particular the likes of Dublin you will notice them everywhere you go. I expect that you have climbed up to the castle? It is a steep hill but I remember going up there with some friends that could seee and appreciate the views that they were able to get from up there. Best of luck with your move on Friday.

Torie said...

I know the number of dogs off leash is scarey. Now i wait to hear if a dog is under control. Thankfully we haven't come across many stray dogs but i would much rather that they were on leads.

It's so funny reading what you find different. I couldn't ever imagine going when traffic was moving! You know the way you were saying that some crossings don't have the beep? If they have buttons there are little twirly cone things that spin when it is safe to cross.

How are you getting on with the guide dog association? Xxx.

browndogcbr said...

Hi Y'all,

Cobblestone streets used to be common in the cities.

Trolley cars also ran on tracks in the middle of the streets and some even had train tracks where the trains ran down the street to get to the station. If the tires of your car caught in the track it was a swaying ride, so you tried to straddle.

Later cobbles were paved over to make the ride smoother. Still later the trolley was abandoned for buses, and trains were eventually routed on tracks separate from the streets.

Y'all come by now,
BrownDog's Human