St Andrews: Lost in translation

There are nearly 8,000 students at this university and I fall into the thirty percent range of overseas students. Of those 2,500 pupils, I’d like to think I’m not the […]

There are nearly 8,000 students at this university and I fall into the thirty percent range of overseas students. Of those 2,500 pupils, I’d like to think I’m not the only one who finds the Scottish language far removed from the sort of English that I’m accustomed to. I’m embarrassed to admit that this particular student has gotten lost one too many times in the language barrier of St Andrews.


Imagine the scenario. I’m sitting in the library one day messaging with a friend of mine. For anonymity purposes, let’s call her Bertha. The conversation looks something like this.



  Are you in the library?
  Where are you, I need to show you something
  Second floor north street side


5 minutes later…


  Bertha, where the hell are you? I’ve circled this floor two times
  No you haven’t… I’ve been sitting here looking up the whole time

  Are you by the computers?

  There are no computers on the north street side of the second floor
  Are you retarted? The second floor is the printing floor, there are like 50 computers
  That’s the first floor…
  Bertha, the ground floor is the second floor. The second floor you are referring to is the third floor
  On what planet would the ground floor become second floor and the actual second floor be the third?


In the US, when you walk into a building, that floor you walk into is the first floor, the next floor up is the second floor, etc. In France, Spain, and the UK, the floor you walk into is the ground floor or, level 0. The next floor is then the first floor, etc. To add to this mix, in China, one may notice that in some buildings, due to superstition, the fourth floor is omitted.


The St Andrews Library went off on a completely different tangent and decided to defy both the North American and the British definitions and establish their own story system. Of course we did.


Imagine the next scenario. There I was, a fresher almost straight off the plane who wanted a coffee from the Bubble Café in New Hall. I approached the super intimidating barista who had the thickest Scottish accent that a new foreign student at St Andrews could ever understand:


“Gude afterrnune what can I get ye?”

“Um hi, could I please have a Coca Cola and some chips?”

“Surry we dun hae any chips.”


“We. Dun. Hae. Any. Chips.”

“Oh, but they’re right there on the rack against the wall.” 

“Aie! The crisps!”

“Yea the chips…”

“Crisps, not chips lassie.”

“Is there a difference?”


Chips and crisps versus potato chips and French fries. The barista looked at me like I had just jumped straight off a UFO from Mars. And I still can’t get it right. It’s not so easy to re-train your vocabulary.


Final scenario: ‘The Taxi Ride’: I’ve come up with a pretty straightforward approach regarding the taxi rides to the train station, Dundee, and Morrisons. It starts with iPod, headphones, silence. However, before I established this amazing-taxi-ride-conversation-avoidance-strategy, this is how the conversations went down:


“So rye ofta ednbrah?”

“Eh, yes just for the day.”

“aie itsa vurygude dae. Whask jfalksjfnei nuekxk enbrah.” (inner thoughts: that was definitely Gaelic or something)

“Uhh yea…”

“asfa sdfkji j euxkask dnfaw uefnna esiiytfc vbniu gyvgkh bnm.”


Long story short… actually just a short story: I never figured out what the hell he was talking about. Nobody said coming to Scotland would be easy. Misunderstandings have sent me to wrong floors, given me the wrong form of processed potatoes, as well as a completely one-sided conversation with a taxi-driver. Generally, conversations send me for a loop in St Andrews. What’s that word they have for thank you again?



Written by Louise Holten, standpoint writer