What Scotland is Not.
It's a clumsy title, I appreciate that, but I was moved to write a short post to debunk some of the most popular assumptions and associations that Scotland might have for visitors. It is true, unfortunately, that much of the marketing of Scotland that seeks to draw visitors to visit is based on a heavily nostalgic or romanticised vision of the country, and visitors may be surprised to discover, on arrival, that we aren't still living in the age of Walter Scott and Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Scotland is a modern, 21st-century country, with a contemporary outlook on life. We are more multicultural than visitors might expect, and we are not a nation trapped in aspic (there's an old fashioned idea right there!).
Scotland is, of course, proud of its heritage, history and centuries of culture, but that history, heritage and culture is constantly evolving and changing, and Scotland today is very different from how it was even fifty or a hundred years ago.
With my tours I seek to offer visitors an authentic experience of Scotland, drawing together the threads of history and heritage into a modern, living portrait of the country today. On that basis, here's a guide to what not to expect from Scotland when you visit....
For modern Scots, a kilt is primarily formal dress, most often seen at weddings, and a full kilt outfit is a quality product which costs hundreds of pounds. A kilt is an investment that many Scotsmen will make at some point in their life.
BUT. Not everyone wears a kilt. Not everyone owns a kilt. Not everyone likes a kilt. As a non-Scot, the kilt is not part of my heritage. Having said that, I can almost 100% guarantee that you will see a man in a kilt during your visit, if only because it is an expectation that many people (and organisations) feel obliged to meet. So when you do see a man in a kilt, please:
1) don't ask what he wears under it
2) don't decide to buy one on a budget of £20, even as a 'joke'
3) don't refer to it as a 'skirt'
Like any country, Scotland has a proud heritage of food and drink. Haggis is often described as a national dish, and as such is a popular foodstuff consumed by people in Scotland every. single. day. It is not a novelty food, it is not something we just tell visitors we eat, or describe just to watch the look on your face, and it may not (entirely reasonably) be to your taste.
Yes, it is an offal dish that originated as a convenient and affordable food, and yes it is (or was) traditionally cooked in the entrails of a sheep. But it is also delicious (if you like that sort of thing) and is today available as a gourmet product with a variety of flavours and styles. Try it if you get the chance, or don't - it's up to you. We won't be offended. But we would prefer you to try it and decide for yourself.
We also produce a lot of whisky (without an 'e') in Scotland. Scotch - which is ONLY ever used to describe the drink and not the nationality, by the way - is a popular alcoholic beverage which we export all around the world. However, like a kilt it is not necessarily something that everyone likes, or drinks, or drinks in great quantity.
And while the country might have a well-publicised problem with its culture of alcohol, it is rare that this problem extends to whisky - there are plenty of other drinks more widely available and much more cheaply. Do try it, if you fancy a nip while you're in Scotland, but don't feel obliged to pay extortionate amounts of money for it - the cost of whisky is not always proportionate to the quality of the product. And, although we're powerless to stop you, we'd probably prefer it if you don't mix it with Coke.
The third spoke on Scotland's culinary wheel is often considered to be the deep fried Mars bar. Unlike haggis, this is actually something of a novelty foodstuff, and whilst you can probably find a chip shop offering to sell you such a thing, it's not a regular feature on many (if any) Scots' menu.
Scotland's cuisine is a wide and varied subject, featuring a variety of meat, fish and game products, cheeses, fruits and vegetables (Glasgow salad anyone? That's a bowl of chips to you...) and with a variety of influences from a wide range of cultures. You're statistically more likely to enjoy a great curry or a quality plate of pasta than a deep fried Mars bar.
Not everyone you speak to in Scotland will be Scottish. There is no requirement for you to act surprised, or disappointed, or betrayed, or as if you've discovered some deeply-concealed secret when you stumble across a non-Scot (all of which I have witnessed from visitors whilst working in the tourist sector in Edinburgh). We are proud of our history of welcoming people from countries all around the world to live and work in Scotland, and proud of the impact and effect this sharing of culture has on the country. I think it's a part of what makes Scotland an attractive place to visit, and a successful country on the world stage.
Which leads us neatly to:
In 2014 we enjoyed a national dialogue on the political future of Scotland, and the outcome of the referendum on Scottish independence was a close-run thing. The outcome was firmly a statement of union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland to remain in the United Kingdom, and should (it could be hoped) put paid to the ongoing relationship battles between Scotland and England.
Yes, at one time the countries were mortally opposed to each other; yes, both countries imposed severe military defeats on the other at various times in the last 800 years; yes, there are significant culture differences between the two nation states which are often exploited for comedic, or dramatic, value. But we have shared the same monarch (for good or ill) since 1603, and the same political governance since 1707.
We've sort of got used to the 'odd couple' relationship we've formed, although you'll inevitably find Scots who are more or less vociferous in their support for (or resistance to influence from) England, and the relationship is growing and evolving all the time.
I'm from England originally, though having been in Scotland for over 20 years now (nearly half my life) I consider myself a naturalised Scot. And I realise now the list of what Scotland is not could run to a very long article. So I'll curb it here, with an invitation for visitors to experience and enjoy the great diversity of Scottish life and culture, and to welcome a broader range of influences than the heather and bagpipes imagery of some publicity campaigns.
Wherever you visit in Scotland, and whatever you do while you're here, that is modern Scotland. Tell your friends. We think they'll like it too.
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