Oct 12, 2014

Nine Black People in Ullapool...

Recently my wife and I took our first trip to Scotland. It was a wonderful trip. I have a “thing” about castles. I have read many books on the subject. But, I had never seen a real castle before. Now I have.

People ask about what I liked best about my trip and I have to say that it was the Scots themselves. Yeah, we got the hairy eyeball from a couple of people walking down the street. And, we got stared and snickered at by a couple of older people dressed in rather tattered looking formal wear when we went into a place near Stirling Castle to have lunch. But, the vast majority of the people we met in Scotland were wonderful. Simply wonderful. They were as friendly and direct as Texans, but maybe more polite, if that is possible.

There was one lady we met who made my wife and I face just how different things are in Scotland than the US. We were in the town of Ullapool on the west coast of Scotland in the highlands. Ullapool is an old fishing village that now lives mostly on tourism. It is just a beautiful town in a beautiful place full of nice people.

Our last morning there my wife and I had stopped at a coffee shop on the main road that has the ocean on one side and the town on the other. The shop had several tables outside so we took our cappuccinos and freshly baked scones out front so we could enjoy the weather and the wonderful view of the bay. After a while my wife wanted to do some more shopping and I did not. So, she went off shopping and I got another cappuccino.

It turns out that the second chair at my table was the only empty chair in front of the shop. A nice looking lady, may be my age, may be ten years older, asked if I minded if she sat their. Of course I invited her to sit. A conversation started and we talked about traveling and about the US and Scotland. We talked about politics and raising kids. It was a lot of fun.

After a while my wife joined us and we all continued to talk. I love talking to strangers. You meet some of the most interesting people that way.

Ullapool is the kind of touristy place where tour buses stop and release their human cargo to wander around, look at the scenery, buy souvenirs, get a drink, and eat a meal before they hurry on to the next stop.

As we were sitting there talking the nice lady (We never did get her name) bent over and said “Well, we've certainly had our dose of diversity for the day!”
I asked “How so?” I had seen nothing particularly “diverse” in Ullapool that day.

She replied cheerfully “I've counted 9 black people in town so far today”.

My wife and I looked at each other. It was a true WTF moment. I told her “We live in Texas, a majority minority state.”

She asked “What does that mean?” In what I can only describe as a querulous voice.

I defined the term this way “In Texas, if you add up all the blacks, browns, yellows, reds, purples... What have you. They out number what you would call the 'whites' in the state.” I went on to say that “When I look down the entire length of Ullapool and see only pasty white faces it is surprising, almost disturbing to me.”

In a very thoughtful voice she replied “I had never thought about that.” And then she changed the subject.

The exchange really caught me by surprise. I long ago realized that most people tend to think of the whole world as being just like their own backyard. But, this example of that really caught me by surprise. What I think of as a normal would be very surprising to this lady. Oddly enough she had told us that she had traveled extensively in the US. She had even taken a driving trip through Texas.

I tend to over generalize, I was about to say something comparing life and attitudes in Scotland with life and attitudes in Texas based on my experience with one nice lady on a sunny day in Scotland. What I can say based on my experience with her is that your life experiences shape you. She had lived most of her life in an area that is made up mostly of a single ethnic group that she strongly identifies with. She is a Scot, that is her nationality and her ethnicity. Like most Americans I have lived most of my life not belonging to a specific ethnic group though most people would call me “white”. But, white is not an ethnic group, any more than it is a race, it just means I have to wear a long sleeved shirt to the beach.