As the last tears rolled down the faces of guests, I prepared myself for compliments about the nice sounding of our language. During my first year of Ukrainian at school, like many of you, probably, I was told the familiar story about the Ukrainian language recognized as the third most melodic language in the world during a contest. I will jump ahead and say there was no such contest and it is time we stop stuffing children’s heads with unnecessary competitiveness.
Yet, my focus group made of native Scotsmen has definitely not heard anything about the best-sounding language contest. All this made for very unbiased and interesting comments:
“Dear God, I feel as if I understand this language with my very soul! It was about death and pain, am I right?” I did not want to upset uncle Erskine, who was obviously not very gifted in languages and… logics – a wedding song about death and pain! Who could have thought! Well, it did tell about tears, let’s be honest, but death – that is too much even for Ukrainian melancholy.
They went on to compare Ukrainian and Turkish – the same nice sounding, Ukrainian and Spanish – both sorrowful and then, my favourite comparison, Ukrainian and Gaelic, spoken by the Highlanders in Scotland. As I linguist, I found such a comparison confusing and baffling, to put it mildly, as the languages are not only non-cognate but also very distant – Ukrainian is Eastern Slavic while Gaelic is Celtic, of Insular group at that. They have as much in common as chalk and cheese. And the sounding is a whole different story. If you have heard Gaelic, you will understand. If you have not, you will be very surprised. This is not my idea of “solovyina” (nightingale’s – ed.) language, not at all!
When we were done with the songs and linguistic debate, it was time to wash the feet. Yes, you read it right – in Ukraine, we take off the veil of the bride and cover her head with a kerchief, in Scotland they wash her feet! The bride sits on a wooden throne, takes off her shoes, rolls up the dress and puts her feet in a basin with ice-cold water. At this moment hundreds of eyes stare at the poor girl – will she wince, cry or smile? This how her marriage will be. I do not know what they were expecting of ice-cold water baths, but the bride managed to force a smile and bear with the ceremonial feet washing. Luckily, the mother-in-law quickly put a warm towel over her feet.
Scottish weddings have gender parity – the groom also gets his feet washed! Yet, this time not in freezing water but in the dirt, grease and tiny stones. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to ask them what it signified and I can only imagine how the Highlanders see family life. I have to admit, it was an incredibly funny scene: a burly young man with hairy legs showing from underneath the Stewart Tartan kilt is standing in a bowl full of mud and is afraid to move lest the sharp stones prick his heels! This is not your typical first dance to mellow waltz and applause of emotional guests!
For the record, if the newlyweds are staunch on waltzing to My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose or any other “mainstream song”, as the bride’s father put it, then they have to pay for the wedding reception themselves. Strict they are, those Highlanders! True Scots should do ceilidh wedding walk, no questions asked. Surprisingly enough, ceilidh is very similar to Ukrainian elbow grip folk dances, which I learnt as a small girl during rural weddings, so I got another chance to impress the guests and prove how related out cultures were. For the convenience of those guests who are not very good at dancing (which is not an easy thing to do in view of the amount of whiskey consumed), true Scottish weddings have an honourable post of “crier” who outcries the bagpipe to inform of the figures and steps the guests should make next. Sometimes they pull all the stops and shout out the names of dance figures so quickly and in such a random order that the guests beg for forgiveness, but only in their minds, as quitting the dance is a disgrace worse than losing a fight to an Englishman!
I got to dance with all the guests and it was quite fortunate, I should say, as Scottish wedding menu is not the three sandwiches you would be served at an English wedding! Of course, the Scots cannot compete with Ukrainians in terms of wedding treats but my dress started to become a bit too tight around my stomach area. Cake is not the star of Scottish wedding, its role is merely formal and limited to paying homage to Hollywood romcoms. The main highlight is haggis – a dish similar to our salceson but in a sheep stomach. It is cooked by a specially trained person – haggisperson, and the guests, in particular, the oldest and most honourable, carefully examine the result to give their verdict – properly cooked or “good for nothing”! If haggis is cooked well, it calls for a toast. If not, the guests can have another shot of whiskey in silence.
When the guests are done with all the whiskey, it is time for honest folks to be abed. Musicians play The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond – traditional last dance song for all the genuine Scottish celebrations, and the guests prepare to leave. Traditionally everyone, including the newlyweds, should start dancing and see the guests to the door while dancing until all the guests leave and the newlyweds are alone to meet their first dawn together. This is not what happens nowadays. We are taken home by bus. Uncle Erskine starts singing Will Ye Go Lassie Go (Wild Mountain Thyme) and somehow the melody reminds me of Ukrainian songs so much that I understand the words with my “very soul”.
In the end, we had a warm hug and uncle Erskine whispered into my ear, “Our people have a lot in common – we sing, we drink, we party and we do not let our neighbours get us!” Or, maybe, I just imagined him saying that – it is hard to understand rhotic Scottish accent at five in the morning after a whole night of dancing.