Thursday, 7 April 2011

Second Star From The Right, And Then Left At The Next Roundabout

Scotland is a interesting country, to say the least. People all around the world are able to name the classic stereotypes – kilts, tartans, William Wallace, delicious shortbread, bagpipes and so on (Kevin Bridges, an excellent Scottish comedian, one made the point that bagpipes breach the final gap between music and noise, and he was entirely correct) and yet few people outside of Europe could identify us on a map. I am rather geographically challenged myself, so I'm not judging - up until I was about 14, I thought that Canada was under America. Sad fact. However, as I do live in Scotland, and am in fact descended from one of the original clans, I often feel that I should be more proud of my roots.

This is not the easiest thing in the world. Scotland tends not to be very good at much. We can't drink like the Irish (although we do try our best), our accent isn't as pleasing as the Welsh and don't even get us started on the English - we still vaguely hate them for a few wars hundreds of years ago even though no ordinary Scot these days can remember anything apart from how inexplicably annoyed we still are about it, and more recently because they tend to routinely beat us in every sport ever invented and then brag about it, which is frankly just humiliating. We bring it on ourselves, really, as we have recently been named the Fattest Country In Europe. No wonder we're not winning any sports. We're too busy eating all that shortbread.

There are of course good points to be made about Scotland. Music-wise we have the Proclaimers, Texas, Colin Macintyre, Sheena Easton and Garbage to be proud of, all of whom should be celebrated much more, in my opinion. You could of course add SuBo into that mix if you so wish, although I think I'd rather you didn't. We have produced many famous and respected actors, such as Sean Connery, David Tennant and Maggie Smith. In addition, such important historical figures as John Logie Baird - inventor of the television, Alexander Graham Bell - inventor of the telephone, and of course Alexander Fleming who (albeit accidentally) discovered penicillin, were all Scottish, as were the novelist J.M. Barrie (responsible for the classic Peter Pan) and of course the esteemed poet Robert Burns.

Now, as everyone knows, the national food of Scotland (no, it's not deep fried Mars bars, although I admit we do like to test the boundaries of human taste endurance and I have it on good authority that almost everything can be deep fried, except lettuce) is the haggis. Hunting a haggis is a difficult procedure, and one that requires some care, which is why the carcass is considered such a delicacy. They are small creatures, with four stumpy legs, short curly red fur and beady feral eyes. If you can, imagine the offspring of a fox and a sheep, (which, despite having some serious identity issues and possibly an affinity with fairytales,  might be rather cute) and you're halfway there. They tend to live in the highlands of Scotland, although their territories have been shrinking due to human habitation and some have even been known to venture into towns to rummage for garbage scraps. If you're planning to hunt any haggis (or plural, haggi) do take care. They may be small, but they can be quite vicious when cornered and a bite could potentially transfer rabies, pinkeye or a deep and unrelenting sense of foolishness. You have been warned.

The Scottish dialect (some might argue that it is a language in its own right) is an intriguing creature. Examples of phrases that might be useful on your travels in our wonderful, rain-drenched country are as follows:

Come ben – Please follow me into this room
Ah dinnae ken - I don't know
That's ganting – That's disgusting
Nice bunnet, barra – What a lovely hat, my friend
Awa' and boil yer heid – You have offended me. Please leave.
Listen, pal, ah'm no caring - While what you've said is a fine argument, I'm not convinced

There are a great many inflections which you must beware of. For instance, the word “pal” if used in a friendly, light tone, is welcoming and comforting, but someone referring to you as “pal” after you've, say, accidentally spilt a full pint down their back, should be your first and only indication that you're about to experience a Glasgow Kiss, which despite sounding rather nice is anything but.

I hope you've learned something new today from this post. Remember, with great knowledge, comes great fun. Actually, with great power comes great fun too (that's one of my many mottoes - I'm not a huge fan of all this moral responsibility talk but I am entirely in favour of fun). I hope the wait was worthwhile.


  1. Splendiferous post!

    Also worth noting is the wildly varying dialects in a relatively small area, from the Central belt's Glasweigan "awwright hen, dinna fash yersel", Edinburgh's attempted posher-Scot (With the exception of the "gies'yer jaiket or yerrrgerrin stabbed fraternity), the vaguely Welsh-esque sing-song of the WesternnnnIslessses, to the raw horror that is the Inverness/Nairn "Howyedoin? No ba'yersel? there'sit!"

    But yes, the strangely famously fanciful perception of Scotland - particularly by our North American friends is the concept of Scotland being somewhere in England.


  2. Oh I KNEW I left one of the phrases out, and it was indeed "dinnae fash yersel". Very important, that one.
    Agreed re dialects, they vary wildly and so much that they appear to be totally different languages on first hearing. Oh, our country. How wonder-... magnifice-... um, how overcast you are \o/