There are three universal facts about dining in foreign countries today: First, no matter how small the town, there is at least one Chinese restaurant. Second, every menu that isn’t Chinese has a pasta dish on it. And third, you will always be served by someone from a country other than the one you’re in.
When we arrived in Inverness, a town of 56,000 that is the administrative center of the Scottish Highlands, we expected to hear people speaking with a Scottish brogue, much like Craig Ferguson of the Late, Late Show on CBS. And indeed, that’s exactly what we heard from the first three people we met – who, incidentally, hailed respectively from Poland, Hungary, and Germany. We were equally discombobulated when we traveled further north to see The Falls of Shin, where salmon are famous for jumping out of the cascading water. This obscure place featured wines from South Africa and New Zealand. We returned to Inverness and passed a Jamaica Jerk Chicken joint on the way to experiencing the Scottish national dish of Haggis. The international fare available in this remote, beautiful Gaelic countryside proves yet again that the world is shrinking ever faster.
But what also appears to be shrinking is the native Scottish population. In fact, the native Scots we met were mostly older folks; the young men and women were generally immigrants. This is typical of the demographic changes taking place throughout Europe, and causing a lot of the problems in places like Greece, Portugal, and Spain. The birthrates of these countries are far below the replacement level and there are just not enough young, working people to sustain the public retirement programs. Walk the city streets of Scotland and you observe these changes with your own eyes.
Talking with ordinary people makes you aware of other challenges facing Europe. We had dinner next to two gentlemen from Stockholm who had flown into Edinburgh for the weekend – you can do that in Europe. We started talking about Sweden, and they gave us some interesting perspectives on the dilemmas being faced in their native country.
These two Swedes were happy to have their own currency – the Krona – and not be subject to the gyrations of the Euro, although they admitted that the country was confronted by their own pension-related budget problems. I brought up the issue of their aging population, and the fact that their low birthrate was not producing enough young people to support the retirees. They expressed concern that the people who are filling those roles are principally Muslim immigrants who are not adapting to the Swedish culture. It certainly seems to be the challenge of the day in Europe.