Some of the things to know about Scottish stereotypes
Scotland is one of those nations with a big personality. People from all over the globe can probably drum up various images that embody all that is Scottish – from folklore to personality traits with some food and drink in between. In truth, we proudly display our heritage and our preferences visibly to outsiders in a ‘badge of honour’ form. We’re not proud of them all of course, but self-deprecation is a vital part of the Scots’ nature. While our history is littered with colourful imagery we, paradoxically, don’t take ourselves too seriously. Undoubtedly though, we are an easy candidate in the stereotypes game. So here’s my view on the leading Scottish stereotypes….and their accuracy.
Tartans and kilts
There is nothing quite so Scottish as the image of a kilted, grizzled gent attached to some bagpipes amidst a Highland glen. For centuries, the design of tartans have represented the family lineage of the wearer. The idea being that Scots today wear the same tartan patterns as their ancestors did in centuries’ past. I’ve taken my well-travelled family kilt all over the planet with me and it’s amongst my proudest possessions. So forms an odd, ‘second skin-like’, attachment that I like to think Robertsons of old would have a chuckle over.
Kilts are super-cool skirts for Scottish men. Given my travel blog name you’ll probably have guessed I’m pretty pro-kilts. Worn at weddings, ceilidhs (raucous traditional Scottish dancing events), football games or just for a really fun night out they are a great way to proudly and loudly show off Scottish heritage. They come with all sorts of groovy accompaniments including kilt pins, socks, shirts, jackets (tweed works best in my view), a sgian dubh (sock daggers) and sporrans (hairy pouches that compensate for the absence of pockets). And, yes, underwear is completely out of the question for a true Scot, regardless of the temperature.
We lose at everything. Well, no, that’s not quite true but we do lose with alarming regularity when it comes to team sports in particular. Football is the national sport and brings out the best and the worst in us. Fiercely passionate, this can sometimes overcome our supporters in the form of rivalries. Celtic vs Rangers has always been a legendary battle and is connected to Catholic vs Protestant origins. It is not always friendly unfortunately. The reputation of the Tartan Army (Scottish national supporters) has however always been magnificent and when we travel, Scottish fans tend to be regarded as fun and friendly rogues. Just keep the alcohol flowing!
Then there’s our legendary Highland Games. Large-scale events, these are held all over Scotland over the summer season and involve Celtic music, dancing and fierce trials of strength. Tossing the caber is particularly sought-after and prestigious and involves burly kilted men (them again) chucking tree trunks through the air.
We are also particularly big on rugby and, of course, golf. We do produce more than our fair share of world class athletes such as Andy Murray, Sir Chris Hoy and Stuart Hogg. In decades past we delivered loads of top footballers too but that’s dried up alarmingly these days.
Haggis is indeed the national dish and yes we really do eat it on a semi-regular basis. Yes it is indeed a sheep’s stomach and the contents are better not known. But it does in fact taste fantastic and I thoroughly recommend it – amongst many other top Scotland travel tips.
As a fitting tribute to the huge influence of India and Pakistan on our culinary culture, curries have become as common as pizza in Italy on a Scottish night out. Nothing beats a Glasgow curry, ask me for details any time. Alternatively, get yourself a good fish supper (admittedly more of a generally British than Scottish stereotype). Haddock or cod, doused in salt and vinegar, is often the perfect end to a busy day or a boozy night. Scotland also has some of the world’s finest fish and seafood in our waters.
The famous Scottish stereotype that we eat deep fried Mars Bars is largely nonsense, they are mainly for the tourists. I’ve never eaten one or seen one being eaten.
The Scottish stereotype that we drink a lot is….bang on. We don’t all like whisky however. We import all of the world’s best beers but Tennents is the cheapest local brew. It serves as the default lager of choice in most bars, although connoisseurs would probably tend to conclude that it is not the nicest pint in the world. Lager drinkers should aim for the likes of West Brewery’s St Mungos or Edinburgh’s Innis and Gunn. The craft beer revolution has benefited Scotland more than most and we’ve seen bar and inn fridges transform in recent years to accommodate the change in taste. BrewDog (originating in Aberdeenshire) is the biggest name in this regard and has taken the world by storm. Gin is another big hitter in Scotland – with us producing around 70% of the UK’s rivers of gin. The outstanding and rapidly growing producers in Harris, Shetland and Callander all spring to mind here.
When it comes to the ‘water of life’, yes visitors will not have to look far to find a good single malt. Some of the top distilleries (and there are many) include: Talisker, Glenmorangie, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Ardbeg and Laphroaig. If you are a super-knowledgable whisky drinker (or just want to appear to be one) make yours a single malt either neat or with a little spring water. Avoid ice. The north east malts are typically sweet and subtle with hints of spice, citrus and fruit. You can read more about renowned Speyside malts here and if the smoky-peaty variety of Islay is more your things, read on here.
Irn Bru is our non-alcoholic national drink. Radioactive orange in colour, your teeth will thank you not to get addicted to it. For hangovers, however, there’s few cures to match it.
Red (or ginger if you are being cruel) hair is more common here than almost anywhere but it is one of the Scottish stereotypes that has been overhyped. The idea that 90% of Scots have red hair is ridiculous and the figure is closer to 10%. What is true though is Scots’ aversion to the sun’s rays! Our pale skin does not respond well and results in an awful lot of red faces on the rare occasions that the big ball in the sky drops by. In fact, sunny days have taken on national holiday status, when we all lean from windows and proclaim “Taps aff!” like a demented war cry to anyone who’ll listen.
Possibly Scotland’s most famous ever son. The poet’s mark is seen all over the world and Burns’ Suppers on the 25th of January every year are a salute to his work. Traditionally a haggis is carved and feasted on by hungry, kilted devotees and drinking goes on long into the night. Basically all of our stereotypes come crashing together in a simultaneous fest of Scottishness.
Scots don’t generally know all the words to every Burns poem, but we are taught it in schools and there are competitions to find the most vocal and skilled reciters of his work. Picture little boys and girls with shaky knees standing in front of their classmates giving it everything they have. Yeah, we do that. For fans of the Bard, Ayrshire or Dumfries are the places to go where you can visit several top Burns-related attractions.
Politics and Constant Historical Discontent
Messy subject. But, yes, years of conflict and political disquiet point to a country that is eternally divided on its political views. From the Jacobites (made famous once again thanks to Outlander) to our recent flirtation with independence from the United Kingdom, there’s been chapter after chapter of disagreement. I doubt a country in the world can match little Scotland when it comes to complex history. Reflecting on the 13th and 14th Century Wars of Independence and legends like William Wallace and Robert the Bruce fighting with our English neighbours, Scotland has found itself in scraps aplenty. The Scottish sterotype here being that we just never agree on very much of anything. I contest that to an extent and am proud that Scotland is generally a liberal and tolerant country.
The 2014 Referendum was a 45-55% vote in favour of remaining in the UK, but the issue is still far from closed as long as the uncertainty over Brexit looms. Scots passionately disagreeing with each other isn’t going away any time soon. But, in today’s astonishing and alarming worldwide environment, we’re certainly not alone in being a hotbed of political chaos!
The Loch Ness Monster
This is the legendary snake/dragon/dinosaur type beast that terrorises one of Scotland’s most beautiful spots. Does Nessie exist? Probably not, but who really knows? He/She/It could fund the country’s economy on his/her/its own with the right marketing I suspect. Head up to moody and eerie Loch Ness with your binoculars and see if you get lucky/unlucky! Beware though, the Loch has become a tourist hub in every sense and is best avoided in peak season if you’re not a fan of queues.
Our indisputable resident animals do include red deer, golden eagles, otters, puffins, whales and dolphins. Which is not bad going.
What Scottish stereotypes have I missed? Did you previously believe that a haggis was an actual animal with wings? Do tell.