Heading to work under the grandly imposing castle that overlooks our great nation’s capital is not something I take for granted. Not many people are fortunate enough to travel to work through a UNESCO World Heritage Site with an Internationally-Recognised View to keep them company.
This was put sharply into focus yesterday when I happened upon a squad of about 30 East-Asian tourists swarming around where Princes Street meets Frederick Street, masterfully playing to stereotype. This corner was clearly a Photographic Hotspot, as their expensive camera gear was very firmly in overdrive. They purposefully snap-snap-snapped away at a view I see every day, firing at will, oblivious to everything else. If each shot had been a bullet, the castle would have been under siege. Then, just like that, the photo-op was over and they reverted back into Regular People On Holiday.
Every nation has a stereotype, and Scotland is not exempt. I know perfectly well that the world sees us as a gang of snaggle-toothed gingers, living in a country populated by bagpipe-playing, haggis-eating footballers-who-can’t-actually-play-football.
Obviously we can refute (or confirm) most of these by simply turning up abroad and explaining things. But beyond the tartan and haggis lie ways of being Scottish that, as soon as we leave this fair isle, turn us into Scots Abroad, one and the same, no matter how hard we try.
1. We get misty-eyed whenever we speak of The Motherland, despite complaining doggedly about it when we’re at home.
“It’s shite being Scottish” according to Trainspotting’s Renton. Indeed it is, when in Scotland. Suffering yet another overcast July day, whipping wind punishing everyone for sins not yet committed, shoulders hunching, the ineptitude of Local Government, the cost of a pint…the list goes on. Until we’re off travelling, at which point grey turns to ‘silver’, whipping wind becomes ‘a fresh and jaunty breeze’ and the cost of a pint of Tennent’s is representative of its title as Best Lager In The Whole Of The World.
2. We bask in the sun like bronzed sun-gods, and refuse to see the lobster-coloured reality.
I can think of no place under this hot hot sun where the pasty-hued residents believe that seeing the sun three afternoons a year when at home (a generous average in my opinion) will prepare their skin for hardcore tanning. Except us. Why we believe that the tender white of our sun-starved skin will not turn to lorne-sausage pink just because we’re further afield is a mystery. And one I too am guilty of.
3. Our accents thicken almost unrecognisably into broad Scots, despite sounding like BBC Radio 4 presenters when at home.
At age 12, our brains have begun to build wall of resistance to learning, and our education system sees this as a perfect time to introduce us to Foreign Languages. Embarrassingly monolingual, when travelling abroad the only thing most of us have to offer in place of a fluent second language is our parochial dialect. At which point it’s time to resurrect everything we’ve learned from a lifetime of reading The Broons and Oor Wullie, much to the befuddlement of our foreign hosts. An whit’s wrang wi’ at?
4. We praise ourselves for knowing all the words to our national anthem, and keenly demonstrate this on an almost daily basis.
I also praise myself for knowing all the words to “The Northern Lights Of Old Aberdeen”, something I feel is compulsory for any traveller hailing from the granite-encased jewel of the parochial North-East.
5. We will meet someone from Fyvie / Drumnadrochit / anywhere within 100 miles of our hometown whilst on a remote beach in Pulau Weh and bond as ‘neighbours’ over countless pints of local moonshine.
Either this is demonstrative of how small the world is, or it’s illustrative of us Scots getting everywhere in a bid to quench our thirst for exploration. And in a nation of just over 5 million, the latter is definitely a ‘stereotype’ to be proud of.