Blas Den Ghaidhlig (A Taste of Gaelic)
Last night we had a meet and greet wine welcome. There are eleven of us in Level One. Most of us sat together commiserating on how nervous we were about class. United in our fear and excitement and sat together again at breakfast.
To our relief, we have a wonderful and patient instructor, Coinneach—Kenneth in English. We all mess up equally so we moved quickly past the nerves and embarrassment. I am the only American. Most of our class is from Scotland but there is a German and a French woman and nobody laughed or gave stink eye to anybody.
Even the upper level students seem to remember what it was like to be a fledgling in the language.
Things I’ve learned about Gaelic so far:
It was a spoken only language for many many years. Then linguist tried to write it down but apparently they had either an evil streak or a wicked since of humor because there is no correlation with another language.
The letter h seems to be randomly thrown into words and sometimes it’s silent, sometimes it’s not.
If the letter T appears before a word, then it kills the first letter of the next word. For example,
D`e ‘n t-aimn a th’ ort? Is pronounced Je t inim a horst. It means Where are you from?
The Scots surnames are often Mac – something which means son of. MacInnes means son of Angus. But, if Murchadh MacInnes gets married, his new wife, Margaret, is now called Mairead NicInnes. Simple right?
My name, Mary, is M`airi unless you are speaking directly to me, then it’s a Mh`airi pronounced
A vadi. See, it’s those h’s again.
Is your head spinning? Imagine 8 hours of this.
Actually, it’s been fun. Sort of like reading a fantasy novel, you have to suspend disbelief or in this case suspend logic and just go with it. Coinneach’s wise words to us. Learn to say the word before you see it. Because if you see it first, it’ll mess you up forever. You have to forget all you know about English.
Other things I’ve learned about the Scotts besides that they are the most lovely people on the planet:
It’s just a wee walk, means at least 2 miles and probably 10. I learned this last year but after one of my classmates discussed taking a wee walk to the next village—6 miles away—I felt it was important to include here.
It’s a wee breeze, (Ha i gaothach beagan) means there are gale force winds coming off the water.
Highland Dance is super fun and great for the legs and cardio. How do I know you ask? Well I attended a highland dance class after dinner (also called tea here.)
Forget bar, put away palates, don’t even think about Zumba. I think it should be the new fling—er thing. CAUTION! If you’ve just consumed a large plate of Lamb stew, it might not be a good idea to go jumping about in a crowded room. All that action could cause a couple of farts to escape—just saying for a friend.
I’d hoped to post a picture of the Highland Dance class but forgot my phone. You know, the one I upgraded to because it had a fancy camera. Yeah. I’ll try to get some new pictures tomorrow. Afterall, the evening’s entertainment is a concert by Old Blind Dogs!
Anyway, after dance class, it was up to the pub for a wee dram and Pub Quiz. Trivia in another country is difficult. Trivia in Gaelic in another country is impossible. English translations were thrown in but it was so mixed in with the Gaelic it didn’t help much. Score one for me, I managed one correct answer for our table. I picked up the word Twilight and guessed Stephanie Myer. Whoop!
Day One was everything I’d hoped and more. I can’t wait for tomorrow! Until then.
Oidche mhath – Good Night.
I made it to Skye! I’m in my little dorm room and in a couple of hours I’ll meet the rest of the people attending classes here.
Excitement has built over the months, weeks, and days as time neared for me to go on this crazy adventure.
I’ve diligently studied Gaelic via the short course Sabhal Mor Ostaig ( The University of Highlands and Islands in Sleet, Skye) recommended. I’ve spent way too much time wondering what the classes will be like and if I’ll really catch on to this difficult language.
As T-3 months became T-3 weeks I decided to upgrade my phone to an X. Yep I did it, I went for the better camera and the app that allows you to send a text as a talking unicorn. I mean, after all, the unicorn is the national animal of Scotland. It’s true—look it up!
And then, while I was upgrading my phone, my gotta-have-it brain kicked in and I purchased an Apple watch. It’s super cool with all sorts of important built in bells and whistles—like the Breathe app. With a gentle vibration it reminds you it’s time to breathe. And if you engage the app, it will take you through a 1 minute exercise.
So with watch on hand and I-phone X in purse I packed my bags and made my way to Scotland.
Other than discovering in Denver that I needed 4 new tires, everything has gone right on schedule. I even scored a business class upgrade on my Denver to London flight!
But as I lay on that fancy bed trying to sleep, anxiety crept into my daydreams of Skye.
What if I can’t learn the language? I’d been at it for weeks and every time I’d turn from the computer screen, I’d forget what I had just learned. What if I’m the oldest person there? What if everybody else is Scottish and gives me the stink eye when I butcher their language. Holy Cow! What was I thinking?
In London, I handed the customs agent my landing card and stepped up to the booth. I shoved away my anxiety and smiled brightly as I prepared for him to ask a few simple questions, stamp my passport, and allow me into the UK. The first thing he did was look at my occupation and ask if I was really an author.
A question I’ve asked myself over the years. But I smiled and with my strongest fake-confidence said, “Yes, sir. I am
Agent: Well, I’ve never heard of you. Is it really your job?
Agent: Well I don’t read much so I guess that’s okay. Why are you here?
I straightened my shoulders and said, “I’m going to the University of Highlands and Islands in Skye to study Gaelic.”
Agent: Are you really going to study Gaelic?
I could hear the squeal of my false bravado escaping like a leaky balloon. “Yes-s-s, s-sir.
Agent: Do you have proof?
I handed him my class schedule. I thought he’d take one look and let me pass. Nope. He studied for about an hour – or a minute. At this point time was wonky.
Then he looked up and said, “I can’t read this. It’s in Gaelic.”
“The English is beneath the Gaelic.”
I’m not sure he understood that my statement was not a commentary on his mother tongue. Because, he removed his glasses and studied scheduled harder. People in line behind me began to dance around either in hopes or in dread that I was about to be hauled away to wherever they take slightly over middle aged writers with a desire to learn Gaelic. At last he let out long exaggerated sigh, stamped my passport, and allowed me to cross the boarder into the UK.
Once across, I should have been relieved. Instead, all of the anxiety that had settled in the base of my belly awoke. It hit me full force choking my airway, churning my gut, and screaming into my brain that I was a fool for doing this, that I was going to be laughed at.
And then…my watch jiggled my wrist and purple letters scrolled across the screen.
Time to breathe.
And I did. I followed my little watch’s instructions and I thought about what an adventure I’ll have. Even if I leave only slightly more educated, I’ll have tried. Even if I am laughed at, it’ll make a great story.
I’ve made it to Skye and I’m sitting in my little dorm room waiting for time to meet the others. I’m still nervous but as long as I have my watch to remind me to breathe, I know I’ll be okay.