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The Scots: Stereotype and Reality

As risky as it is to characterize any place in terms of generalized traits, it is worth my while to try and give you some inklings into the Scots character. From Galloway in the south west to Caithness in the far north, Scots will cheer on the same national Soccer Team. And yet, as in most countries, Scots have more local loyalties. They are loyalties to family, village, local pub, local soccer team. They are loyalties to their surrounding area, to religion, to fellow-workers and to friends. And there are certainly some folks in Scotland who prefer not to think of themselves as Scots at all. Indeed the Orkneys and Shetlands have more links with Scandinavia than with the Scottish mainland.

But first some words on the Scots in general. By world standards - even by the standards of Europe and North America - Scots are a very well-educated people. And although the location of Scotland, tucked away in a distant corner of Europe, might have once kept Scots out of touch with the rest of the world, they have had, since the 18th century, a distinctly global outlook. Generations of Scottish emigration means that few Scots are without relatives in countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Canada, South Africa, or America.

The Scots view of themselves is often quite difficult for visitors to understand. That view tends to be a mixture of outrageous pride and incredible cynicism. It's a complex mixture. The complete Scottish patriot is a far rarer person than would be found in other countries such as America. And yet, any Scot who completely writes off Scotland will be intensely disliked. Typical Scots can never praise Scotland without a hint of irony in their voice - and can never criticize it without betraying a deep love of their country. Thousands of Scots went to see the movie Braveheart, and although it moved them to tears - it also moved them to laughter. No one, you see, is more aware of the fake side of Scotland, than the Scots themselves. And they have a love/hate relationship with the packaged image of their country.

Scots have a deadpan style of humor; a reluctance to express enthusiasm for anything in direct terms - thus, " It's no bad, " becomes the equivalent of " It's fantastic. " But to describe Scots behavior as unemotional would be far to simplistic. There are, however good historical reasons why Scots might remain reluctant to show obvious passion. One is that, since Scottish history began, Scotland's people have been promised much and given little. Through centuries of war and English domination, the Scots have become wary of expecting much. The second reason relates to religion. In 1560 the strict teaching of Calvanist Protestantism replaced the free and easy ways of the old Scottish Catholic Church. This new religion bread in Scots and abiding feeling, which lasts to this day, that punishment goes automatically hand in hand with most kinds of enjoyment.

On many occasions, of course - at New Year, at weddings, ceilidhs, at parties, at major soccer games - Scots will dance, sing, kiss, embrace, cheer and let themselves go. Scots also have a tendency towards what can only be described as sentimentality. When a few Scots are gathered together, looking back on a history of lost causes and what-might-have-beens, it can very quickly bring on a general communal malaise. Add a few beers, the right music, or poetry, or song, and the combination can be melancholic in its effect. Not that all Scots would describe themselves as traditional-music fans. But sit in a Scottish pub at the end of the evening when a singer strikes up the opening of Scotland's only real national anthem, " Flower of Scotland, " and you will see the tears well up in the eyes of grown men. In that situation, Scots patriotism, whilst normally subtle and ironic, will be shown at its true depth.

What of the more negative images of Scotland ? First, there is absolutely no truth in the idea that Scots are miserly. Anyone who visits the Real Scotland will soon discover an incredibly generous and kindly people. Second, there is no truth in the idea that Scots are 'dour' ( surly ). Scots are very witty and love humor. It may be though, that visitors simply have to adjust their antennas to the subtle nature of Scottish verbal humor.

Finally, the visitor has to set aside the clichés that pervade the image of the Scots. They are not a quaint, rural people, honest and friendly, dressed in tartan and kilt, fond of the bagpipes and their haggis, simple yet shrewd, clever with their hands and tight with their money, living slow, antiquated lives in a wet country covered with heather, highland cows, and great castles. These are all misconceptions which all contain a wee grain of truth. Scots are actually modern Europeans who cherish and act on all the best of their old traditions. They love their country, whilst at the same time seeing all its flaws. They are a well educated, humorous, and friendly people who love to meet 'genuinely interested' overseas visitors who will take the time for a 'wee blether.' ( conversation )
Just don't call them 'Scotch' or 'English.'

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