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The Definitive Guide To Scotland MAG
During the London Olympics, when excited sports fanatics (and their unfortunate relatives) flooded through the arrival gates of nearly all British airports and engaged in such thrilling activities as taking pictures of red phone boxes and riding the bus, it came to my attention (and the attention of many other British citizens, I dare say), that many tourists arrive in the U.K. with certain erroneous expectations of what awaits them.
The disappointment is evident on tourists' faces as they travel through the country, discovering that the queen does not walk her corgis up The Mall, our policemen will very rarely (if ever) say “'Allo, 'allo,” and that most of us will not ask a stranger in for a cup of tea and a biscuit when you arrive on our doorstep.
That said, however, nothing really disappoints a tourist more than a visit to the mysterious land of Scotland.
Having lived in Scotland for all of my 16 years, I have come to believe that I am an expert in all things Scottish, and therefore I think it is only right that I help the youth of America (and elsewhere) obtain a more realistic view of what to expect when visiting “up North.” You see, as amusing as I may find him, Groundskeeper Willie from “The Simpsons” is not an accurate representation of a Scottish citizen. At all.
A good starting place in Scottish culture, I believe, is haggis. Now, as much as I love to tell foreigners that haggis live in the highlands and that their front legs are shorter than their back in order to help them cling to the hills, I must confess that it isn't true. Sorry. In fact, haggis is a ghastly concoction of oatmeal, onions, pepper, suet, and, oh yes, sheep organs. That's right, haggis includes sheep's stomach, heart, liver, lungs, and windpipe. This delightful dish is normally served on Robert Burn's Night, when we all stand around in kilts and sing to it. (I'm not even joking.)
This brings me to the subject of kilts. Michael McIntyre once joked that the Scottish invented the kilt in order to look the complete opposite of the English, who wore trousers. This may be true; I don't know. What I can tell you is that I am not currently wearing a kilt, nor is anyone in my family. Perhaps if I was to drive into a big town, I would find a man playing bagpipes in a kilt, or maybe see some guests in kilts at a wedding, but the average Scottish person does not wear a kilt on a daily basis. As for the rumor that true Scotsmen don't wear anything underneath their kilts, well, I am lead to believe that this is true, though I don't make it a habit to check, and I certainly wouldn't recommend you do, either. After all, if they're wearing a kilt, they probably have a traditional knife in their sock too.
Next, we have the aforementioned bagpipes. Pretty much everyone believes that all Scottish people love bagpipes. I do not. When played in a large field during, say, the Highland Games, I don't mind them. That's fine. It's quite jolly, everyone feels patriotic, and all is well. However, when they are played in a small room while someone is carrying a haggis to the table and my ears feel like they are about to bleed, I must say that I'm not very fond of them. The average tourist will see and hear bagpipes during their visit, but you probably won't see any young Scottish teenagers involved.
My next golden nugget of information involves the Highland Games. This is a festival here in Scotland, where almost a whole town will congregate in a muddy field, normally on the first Sunday in September. It is here that very strong Scottish people, clad in kilts and other tartan items, throw around things that are heavy. A famous example is a caber, which looks like a tree trunk. Trust me, you don't want to be standing where it lands. While this is going on, Scottish Highland Dancers (normally girls in tartan dresses) will no doubt be on a tartan-decked platform, leaping over swords to bagpipe music. This might sound cool to you, but it isn't.
During the rare days that I do attend the Highland Games, I can usually be found walking around the field eating chips, which Americans call French fries. These can be purchased at special burger vans, among the carnival games and face-painting booths. I enjoy this part of the celebration immensely, although you can no longer win goldfish at the carnival games – that's now illegal. Normally the Queen will attend the Braemar Highland Games, since she has a castle near there. I do not recommend trying to get her autograph or offering her your chips, and you probably won't see her trying to win a balloon at a carnival stand or getting her face painted.
Finally, we have the Scottish citizen in general. Most people imagine Scots to be ginger (meaning having red hair, which I don't), freckly (I am), bearded (I am not), and grumpy (I dare say that this is true – after all, it's always raining here). Sure, you may find some people during your visit who fit that description, but you may be surprised to find that most Scottish people look like your average non-Scottish person. Are you shocked? I thought so.
Now, you may have noticed that I have not used “auch aye the noo” (meaning “oh yes, just now”) yet. This is another misconception – believe it or not. I very rarely say it, unless I am making fun of the Scottish stereotype (as many Scots do, especially around tourists). I tend to speak proper English (albeit with a Scottish accent), with the exception of the words “dinnae” (pronounced: din-nee; meaning: do not) and “cannae” (pronounced: can-nee; meaning: cannot). Sometimes I throw in a “willnae” (come on, you can guess it). This is true for most Scots.
There you go, a definitive guide to Scotland, as written by a very sarcastic teenager. I do hope it helps; please share it with your friends as I really don't want to have to hear another tourist say, “It's just like England, isn't it?”