European friends…

It was just about a year ago that we were on holiday on Lake Como, in Italy. Sad to say the weather was worse there than it had been in Scotland, and the hotel and food left a little to be desired. Luckily it was a secondary holiday, so we were happy to make the best of it.

There was a wide range of nationalities represented, as you can imagine, and I always enjoy speaking a foreign language. The difficulty arises when you catch short snatches of what is obviously not English, but are unable to identify it. I once had a long chat in German with a gentleman at the Mozartblick viewpoint in Austria, and only when we asked each other where we lived did I discover that he came from London, and of course I was from the west of Scotland! Red faces and laughter were evident in equal measure!

And so it was at Lake Como. Staring out at the rain, I sensed a Germanic conversation drifting towards me from a couple. I was in the midst of commenting on the weather in German, but was informed that ‘We are not Germans’ in German, and then repeated in an undistinguishable lingo. It turned out they were from the Netherlands, and from such a rather unfortunate start, we grew to be regular conversationalists in English which they both spoke very well!

Over the relatively-few days when our holidays overlapped, we found a bond developing, and since they had never been in Scotland, they were invited to come to our house to see some of the best of our wonderful country. Such offers and acceptances are easily made, and just as easily allowed to lapse. But we felt there was something in this one, and exchanges of Christmas cards, and the arrival of a Dutch-English Dictionary, seemed to weld the friendship together, and eventually dates and provisional plan were agreed.

It was probably at this time that a few minor thoughts crossed the minds of both families…..we didn’t know each other well, would they like our food, could they manage English for a solid eight days?, what if it rained all the time? would they be comfortable staying in someone else’s house? what about their political views?, could I learn a few words of Dutch? We were also having a large party at our house at the same time, for Son’s 40th birthday, so how would they manage in a large crowd?

Suffice to say that all went perfectly. From the meeting at the airport we felt we were in the presence of lovely friendly people, who settled well into our house, and seemed comfortable to be with. The weather was unbelievable, and trips to Aberfoyle,the Trossachs, Dunoon, Inveraray, Glencoe, Loch Lomond, Glasgow, St Andrews, and Crail went well. Unfortunately there are so many great places to be seen that they could only visit a few. The eventual parting was accompanied by a number of tear-stained faces, and many hugs!

We have seen how two different cultures can get along so well in the intimate spaces of a house and car, such that even possible disagreements in culture or politics do not have to prevent people from being part of a friendly human race. We are now saving our Euros so that we can make a return trip, but I must try to get my tongue round some of their very strange-sounding words..because they’re not German, you know!

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…but who am I really?

We are looking forward to the visit of a couple from the Netherlands. We met on holiday and since they had never been in Scotland, we invited them as guests, so that we could show them round our beautiful country. They have been kept up-to -date with our provisional plans, which include a rather important large birthday party.

They should have no problems handling the English/Scots conversations as they have an excellent knowledge of our language, but I think they were concerned about starting and maintaining a conversation with people about whom little was known. So they asked for some photos and a little background about some of the main participants, including both me and the Lady of the House, so that they did not put their foot into it by saying something wrong (would they understand the phrase ‘putting one’s foot in’, I wonder?).

So what to say? I’ts actually quite difficult in just a few words to sum-up someone you know well, into a matter of a few sentences. Facts on age, jobs, interests, familial relationship etc are useful enough for a passport application, but tells you little about the actual person. So to cut a long story short, it took a while to provide half a dozen brief  synopses of the main participants, without giving-away sensitive information, but still allowing an entry into a discussion at the party.

Worst of all is trying to give a brief, unbiased set of facts about oneself…a sort of miniature autobiography, without appearing to be boastful, and ‘padding’ of one’s intersts. For better or worse, the requested information has been sent.

And to get my own back, I have asked them to do the same for us!

I’m still young, honest!

I can’t really believe that our younger child is almost 40. In my mind it seems relatively recently that a fair-haired young lad would join his older sister to affect our lives so much. Both grew up in different ways to be excellent adults of whom any parent would be proud so no problems there.

However, there is a parallel, in that wife and I had a joint 40th when we reached that age, in our house, and we can still remember it well! There are also many photos from that time to remind us how we have changed.

And yet, and yet, I still feel young, even with increasing  bodily decrepitude, at least until I look in the mirror! The other strange thing is that I used to look upon older people as founts of wisdom. I now realise that we may have more information stored than  we had 20  or 30 years ago but we do not always have more wisdom.

We obviously wish him well for the future , and hope that he and his contemporaries have as great a life as  my wife and I have had. The party will hopefully be as good as the one we had. But I think I will resist the temptation to compare the photos with those taken when his Mum and I were his age.!