THOSE OF US lucky enough to live in “God’s Country” inhabit a natural theatre where — if the stereotypes are to be believed — kilts and shaggy cattle are as plentiful as our blue skies. We’re seen as a nation of oddities. Name something unusual and we’ll wear it, fry it and eat it, or arrange a contest to throw it. We are inheritors of a national image that, typically, stems from a confusion of history and myth. The outside world not only believe we exist in this form, they also believe they know us intimately.
But let’s set the record straight. To stay on the sweet side of Scots and avoid a “Glasgow Kiss” (headbutt), take heed of this advice. Here are a few things that really tick us off.
Make a tasteless joke about Scottish vs. English history.
Typically, Scots will say they have no real beef with the English, issuing a statement such as: “I have an English friend, they are nice.”
But dig a little deeper into the turbulent history of Scotland and England’s relationship and you may find yourself in deep water. To this day, during the summer months in my hometown in the Scottish Borders, the annual festival of Common Riding is celebrated. The events are not only a good excuse for a few drinks — the origins date back centuries, when men would ride out to the border of Scotland and England and light beacons of fire to warn off any intruders contemplating crossing onto Scottish soil.
Although jokes of rivalry can be taken with a pinch of salt, the culture of opposition is still very prevalent — proceed with caution.
Confront a man in a kilt and ask why he’s wearing a skirt.
The skirt: commonly worn by women or male transvestites. The kilt: traditional dress, a symbol of one’s clan heritage, a substantial garment, typically constructed of 6 or 8 metres of tartan cloth…and worn by MEN.
Those questioning the manliness of a Scot who’s donned a kilt may want to peek underneath — he’ll probably have no undies on.
On a side note, Scots can get a tad annoyed when people from other cultures wear kilts, especially to weddings. We find this a bit bizarre — leave it to the experts.
Trainspotting. Terrific movie. But have I taken heroin? No. Do I know anyone in Scotland who has? No.
It can’t be denied that Scotland, like many countries in the world, has a problem with narcotics abuse and trafficking. We’re an island, and it comes with the territory. Trainspotting is a glorious trip through the darkest recesses of Edinburgh lowlife. Perhaps due to a lack of international virility of Scottish films and documentaries, the movie has had a massive influence on the outside world, shaping external understanding of our culture.
Although this film is relatable and many people in Scotland deem Irvine Welsh to be a genius, I can attest that not all Scots are violent, pill-popping nutbags.
Ask us to do an impression of Fat Bastard from Austin Powers.
I’m sitting at a dinner party in New York with a large group of friends, wine is flowing, and everyone is getting a bit merry. The food comes out — we are having BBQ ribs. Oh great, I think, I know what’s coming.
- “Can you pass me the rrrrrrribs,” I stammer.
“Hey, you know, you sound like Fat Bastard from Austin Powers.”
A chorus of laughter.
- “Say, ‘get in ma belly,'” they request in unison.
“No, I’d rather not,” I reply in my best Queens English.
Before I know it, everyone is online searching Fat Bastard quotes.
- “Oh, oh say, I ATE A BABY!!!!!”
“Nah,” another ‘friend’ interrupts, “Katie, say, I’m dead sexy!”
They don’t give up, and finally after 10 minutes of pointing, poking, and taunting, I give it my best go.
- “I want my baby-back, baby-back, baby-back, baby-back ribs. I want my baby-back, baby-back, baby-back, baby-back, baby-back, baby-back ribs. Chili’s…baby-back ribs.”
The room explodes. “Just pass me the darn meat,” I grumble.
Call whiskey Scotch.
It’s like the start of a bad joke: A man walks into a bar and orders a Scotch on the rocks. The man is American. The barman lets out a sigh — this is a first offence, he thinks, a misunderstanding — and politely corrects the patron.
“Oh aye? Ok, so you would like a whiskey?” That’s warning number one.
The next round, the American walks up to the bar and a local leaning against a nearby stool whispers to himself, “Don’t call it Scotch…”
“I’ll have a Scotch on the rocks,” the American chirps.
“Jeezo, here we go, poor fella,” the local murmurs under his breath.
The barman takes a short nip glass, holds it up to the light, grins, pours the nectar, and says to the American: “Sit down son. I’m going to tell you a wee story about Scottish whiskey.”
Scotland’s part of England, right?
This one’s a bit complicated. Four countries make up the United Kingdom. England is but one of them.
It’s pretty rare these days to come across someone who can’t read a map, but this point comes into contention with Scots especially in regards to international sporting competitions, as Scots can’t represent their own country. Take Sir Andy Murray, for example. Thank to goodness he won Wimbledon for Britain, because if he’d lost, it would have been a terrible defeat for Scotland.
With Scots voting in an independence referendum last year, this topic has become even more prevalent. In the past, Scottish nationalists have been deemed romantics, clinging to past legends and historical rivalry. The referendum posed one of the most important discussions the nation has faced in 200 years.
Whether or not a Scot supports independence is irrelevant to their bewildered response to those unaware of the divide between the countries in the UK. No doubt the English, Welsh, and Irish feel very similar. [/mn_slideshow_slide]
Ask us if we’ve ever seen the Loch Ness Monster.
I often ponder why the Loch Ness Monster has become such a central point of conversation overseas. Scots really don’t get the fascination — as beautiful as Loch Ness is, I’ve only been there once, and that’s once more than the majority of Scots. And before you ask, nope, I did not see Nessy. Here’s my two cents on how the legend began:
Scots can be a sneaky bunch of folk. Probably down the pub in Drumnadrochit (the small town next to the loch), someone pipes up after one too many swallies (drinks).
- “How can we make a ridiculous amount of money from tourists?”
“Why don’t we make up a story about a massive sea beastie that lives in the lake?”
“Aye…that’ll do son, that’ll do.”
Scotland thanks you for your dollars.
Say “Oh, I’m a tenth part Scottish on my father’s side” and think that means something.
After living in Australia and America most of my adult life, I can’t count the number of times I get a response like this when I tell someone I’m Scottish: “Amazing, so am I! I’m 1/10th Scottish on my father’s side, half removed.” I’ve formulated an automatic “Good-for-you” reply in hopes that, without being rude, that is the end of the conversation.
To say that Scots are proud of their heritage and ancestry would be whimsical. Scotland is a place where your neighbours know your granny for half a century, a culture where your roots can be traced back over thousands of years. Not only does your ancestry shape your family lineage, it defines your social status, your moral foundation, your legacy, giving you a sense of belonging. Our generation not only learns from our grandparents, but Scots are privileged to centuries of knowledge and wisdom passed down primarily through our kin.
It’s this aspect of our culture that I cherish and miss the most.
Ask what kind of animal “the Haggis” is.
This question is more entertaining to Scots than annoying. But if you’re pondering the existence of an animal called “the Haggis,” best to conceal your ignorance.
Insult the rugby team.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure to watch Scotland play at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, this point will resonate with you. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the boys walk out onto the field, led by a bass line of drums, a roaring crowd, and blaring pipes. There’s something about the electric atmosphere that makes my heart beat quicker and brings a tear of pride to my eye.
Depending on what area of Scotland you grow up in, the majority of young men dream of a chance to play rugby for their country. It’s the utmost honour to have a boy in your family who made it onto the Scottish team. Although we don’t often take home victories, our rugby team is held in the highest regard. You’ve been warned.
This was originally published on September 30, 2013. Featured photo by Petras Gagilas.