On a recent visit to Scotland I learned a lot about unspoken communication. Thousands of people in Edinburgh manage to live very closely to one another without actually touching. It’s a skill that I think you must acquire at birth or take years to develop. As a visitor, I was blithely unaware of this.
Despite what I considered to be the best of British good manners and Canadian deference, I managed to upset a man on a bus because my scarf touched his neck. No kidding. I was seated behind him when I took off my scarf and he turned to glare at me. It was one of those looks that, like magnified sun, could fry an ant on the sidewalk.
At first I was momentarily bewildered until it dawned on me what must have happened. I instantly apologized but this, apparently, did little to mollify him. He then adjusted his posture so that I could clearly see his back and shoulders telling me to … well, to show me his displeasure.
I was taken aback by what I considered to be an over-reaction to a minor annoyance, but on reflection I can understand. Edinburgh is a large, diverse, multicultural city in a socially stratified nation. Its history and monuments reflect the lives, loves, battles, and beliefs of millions of people over hundreds of years. The outcome of all this living, loving, fighting, and faith is very complicated. And magnificent. And messy.
When you have to live with the weight of history, the complexities of migrant populations, and the digging up of the main shopping street to build a tram line, you tend to get a little touchy. That is to say, you do not like being touched. At least, not by strangers’ scarves.
To preserve sanity, you have to protect your personal space, and that includes an inch or two at the back of your neck.