Hogmanay kiss mixes emotions

December 25, 1998

Wanseo Koo's introduction to the traditional British Christmas dinner was a festive Yorkshire pudding. Mr Koo, a Heriot-Watt student from South Korea, spent Christmas with friends whose oven broke down.

Too embarrassed to ask the neighbours to cook a turkey and all the trimmings, they begged just enough heat for the Yorkshire pudding, which they ate with cold accompaniments.

"It wasn't really traditional, some Korean food and some English food," Mr Koo said.

That would still have been a feast for Georgios Konstantinou Ouzounis, who spent last Christmas studying in his hall of residence room at Heriot-Watt, pausing only for a plate of pasta.

"It was my final year, so I had to study," said Mr Ouzounis, now taking a postgraduate course in computing and electrical engineering.

He decided to go out at 8pm for a celebratory pint and was astonished that no one was around. He eventually found an open pub at ten past midnight.

Christmas in northern Greece would have been very different.

"We have a sort of team spirit, whereas here I've seen a tremendous loneliness," he said.

At the beginning of the holidays the men of his small town go hunting for wild boar while the older folk tell traditional stories of the hunters' bravery.

"It is a complete celebration. The meat is processed into unbelievably tasty dishes, games are organised, there can be groups of about 100 people celebrating, and even if you don't know them, you are more than welcome to join them," he said.

"From what I have seen in this country, in order to say you celebrate you must pay, go out shopping, buy a turkey and tree decorations and if you can't pay, you don't have the right to join the celebration.

"With us, there is no reason to spend anything unless you want to," he said.

He was not impressed by his experience of Edinburgh during the Christmas vacation.

"All I could find was drunken people who were very, very unfriendly. We drink as well, but not to become drunk but to become happy."

He was particularly unimpressed by the city centre Hogmanay celebrations.

"What a stupid way to express your feelings, just screaming and kissing," he said.

The populace in his home town welcome New Year by firing their guns in the air.

"They don't kiss each other, but they do shake hands with everyone in the street."

Indonesian student Elberizon Elberizon was also startled by the exuberance of the Edinburgh revellers: "We just shake hands."

"Most of us were very shocked," said Wee Nee Lim from Singapore. "You're just walking along and someone kisses you. It's not like that in Asia. And it would be much better if they didn't throw bottles and cans."

But Gilson Gaston from St Lucia, studying environmental engineering at Edinburgh University, says he enjoyed Hogmanay so much that he is thinking of flying back from a course in the United States to welcome the millennium in Scotland.

Freezing in a leather coat, he was amazed to see the locals wandering around in T-shirts. But the atmosphere warmed up considerably once midnight struck.

"It was an overwhelming sense of 'wow'! I'd never quite thought about people in Scotland having carnivals. I wasn't expecting everybody to go snogging everybody.

"Sometimes you'd get somebody you'd never expect in a lifetime, and you wouldn't want to let her go."

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