You know the scenario. You’re sinking a few in some salubrious drinking hole on the other side of the world, just winding down after a hard week and trying not to think about whether you’ll still have a job on Monday, all that nuclear acceleration in North Korea, or how most of the world inexplicably seems to be spilling salty tears on to sequined gloves over the passing of a ridiculous child-man that referred to his own semen as duck butter.
Then a friend of a friend looms into view. Formalities commence. So-and-so meet so-and-so. You stumble into some awkward small talk. And that look flashes across their face. “Hey, you’re Scottish (long dramatic pause) … that’s funny cause my great-grandmother was from Dunoon”.
You stare back, the smile slowly slipping from your fizzog, wondering whether their nose would look better above their eyes or in a chin position when you rearrange their features with a blunt butter knife.
You ponder hearing this information for the hundredth time and wonder what they might possibly be hoping to gain from passing it on:
1. Perhaps they have misplaced said great-grandmother
2. Perhaps they want you or your family members to dig her up.
3. Perhaps they want to know where Dunoon is.
4. Perhaps they’re wondering if being “from Dunoon” is a euphemism for some bizarre Scottish sexual fetish.
5. Perhaps they’re hoping your great-grandfather once had a tryst with her on the ferry and you are actually long-lost relatives who will clutch each other before skipping off into the distance to tower together over some new Caledonian dynasty.
The truth is, geographical ignorance aside, they probably just want to share in your history cause they have so little of it themselves. It doesn’t make it any easier, though.
You try and nod and smile. But how can you possibly respond with any enthusiasm?
1. Wow, that’s amazing, cause my great-grandfather was from there too, he was a notorious rapist.
2. No way. Hey, did you also know we were all descended from apes?
3. Yeah, Dunoon. That’s where we used to put all the people born with deformities.
4. Dunoon? Never heard of it. Are you sure your whole life hasn’t been a lie?
All right, I’m being a bit harsh. They’re just trying to be friendly and that’s what you need when you move to a new country. But I’m not going to walk up to some Australian in a bar and try and impress them by spouting: “Hey, my great-grandfather was from Sydney”. Then he really would have been a rapist. Or at least a thief.
But sometimes genealogy revelations can surprise you. Across the tables in Melbourne I’ve bumped into a guy in his forties whose parents both moved out to Australia when he was two. While gifting him my chips he’s revealed that he’s only visited Scotland once in his life since, at the age of seven. But he still speaks with a unmistakeable Scottish accent.
As a father, it gives you hope. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve accepted my children are going to be Australian. But you still desperately want them to keep some kind of Scottish identity.
Perhaps then in twenty years time, some stranger will wander up to them in a bar and say: “Hey, you’re Scottish … that’s funny cause …”