Scotland in five easy steps

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Expat blogger Kasia from Homeland by Choice offers these five tips for getting started in Scotland.

When we decided to move to Scotland, there were certain things we knew about the place and a lot of things we didn't. The things we knew came handy, and very soon we learned more. So here's my attempt to explain Scotland, the way I first encountered it, in five easy steps. The facts below are a mixture of common misconceptions clarified (with a twist) and interesting facts that might make you want to visit (or the contrary).

1. Scotland is a part of the United Kingdom (a.k.a. Great Britain). It is not a part of England, and people living here are Scottish, not English. Unless they are not Scottish (like me). Scottish people usually speak Scottish English. Other people speak with other accents. If you can't understand them, in most cases it means they speak Scottish English. Do not ever call Scottish people English.

Obvious, right? Well, not so much to most tourists and not so much to the Polish Post. My sister was told on a few occasions that she should change Scotland to England (Doh! There's no city called Edinburgh in England!) on the envelope, because there's no such country as Scotland. Tell the Scots there's no such country and you might end up in deep trouble. And anyway, there might as well soon be a country called Scotland. Our current local SNP (Scottish National Party) government is planning on having an independence referendum. My landlord, who's a member of the party, claims that if Scotland becomes independent I'll get a Scottish passport straight away. I'm not entirely sure that gaining independence is such a smart move for Scotland, but that's a topic for a completely different post.

Anyway, England is not a country either for that matter. It's a part of the United Kingdom, too, along with Wales and Northern Ireland.

2. Haggis is a dish, not an animal. Although urban legend says it is an animal, and that it's got four legs -- two shorter than the others so it can run up mountains more easily. Urban legend also says that the Loch Ness monster exists.

Well it does, of course, you have to come to Scotland and see for yourself. I've seen it; I even had a picture taken riding on its back. No kidding.

And believe me, you don't want to know what haggis is made of.


3. Kilt is not a skirt. It's a kilt.

And yes, men wear kilts in Scotland a lot. They get married dressed in kilts and they go to football (or soccer as Americans would put it) and rugby matches wearing kilts. And gigs. It isn't only Scottish people that wear kilts, every year during graduation all male students wear kilts, irrespective of where they originally came from.

4. Aye means yes. Nae bother means no problem. I dinae ken means I don't know. If you're in Glasgow and somebody calls you a bawbag, it means they don't like you.

When I first moved to Edinburgh I thought everybody was speaking Swedish. Which was not that far from the truth cause Scottish English has lots of Nordic influences. The difficult thing about the way people speak in Scotland is that it's not only their accent (meaning pronunciation), it's also the vocabulary. People don't really speak Scots here, but they use a lot of Scots words. (Scots being the Scottish language). That's what Scottish English really is - it's English with Scots words and Scottish pronunciation. To make it even more difficult, the pronunciation is different in different parts of Scotland (the Glaswegian accent being the most difficult to understand) and dialects are different too. A friend of a friend learned to speak English when she was living in Aberdeen. Then she couldn't communicate anywhere else in the world because she was in fact speaking Doric (Aberdonian dialect).

5. Haar is a thick coastal fog from the North Sea over eastern Scotland. It can hang over Edinburgh for days and not clear out. If you're unlucky to visit the capitol at a time when there's a haar, you won't see much.

But going for a walk in the haar will make you think of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Which again, is quite obvious, since Robert Louis Stevenson is one of the most celebrated sons of Scotland.

I remember the day when we went to visit friends in Dunbar. We were driving along the Firth of Forth and the fog was getting thicker and thicker. We couldn't stop thinking of all the horror movies we'd seen and at some point it was quite scary.

So there you go, five facts that you might want to know about the land of whisky and bagpipes.

KasiaKasia is from Poland and a member of Homeland by Choice, a group blog written by expats living all over the world, each happy with their choice of new homeland and sharing their experiences of getting settled and living their lives there. They live in the USA, Canada, Scotland, Ireland, Japan, Norway and Poland.

Photo credits: Flickr/rfduck (kilts), Flickr/Taylor Dundee (haggis)
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1 Comment To This Article

  • Robert Park posted:

    on 25th September 2011, 17:47:01 - Reply

    As a Scot I found this article refreshing, amusing, and accurate! In particular I loved the observation on the Doric dialect which, even as a native, I have considerable difficulty at understanding it. It is refreshing to read of an outsider (excuse the term) looking in and seeing the country in the same manner as the kilt-swinging natives. I suspect that the Scotland may have a convert from Poland. There was a small omission about the haggis which the writer failed to mention that is that it also flies backwards!