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Scottish Humour

With such a distinctive national dress, drink, bagpipe music, landscape and folklore, Scotland has shaped a cultural identity recognizable the world over. It is a land of astonishing contrasts and possesses an almost magical quality, whether seen shrouded in mist or rising majestic above the mirror of a loch ( lake ). The Scottish mainland reaches from North to South only 275 miles, yet its coastline stretches nearly 6,200 miles. There are 787 major islands, almost all lying off the northern or western coasts. The topography is generally extremely mountainous with wild heather moorlands in the north west, pine forests mixed with quality pasture in the middle, fertile farmland in the south. Beautiful lochs and rivers are scattered throughout the whole country. Most of Scotland's 5 million people live in the central part of the country.

The Scots cherish the differences that set them apart from the English and everyone else, and cling tenaciously to the distinctions that differentiate them by region - their customs, dialects and the Gaelic language. The Scots can be dour but equally they can flash with inspiration. They delight in self-deprecating humor and continue to honor their tradition of hospitality. The Scots are a gregarious people and thoroughly enjoy meeting people from all over the world - while at the same time ensuring to keep intact their national characteristics and customs. Which, strangely enough, rarely include wearing the kilt, drinking vast quantities of whisky, or playing the bagpipes.

National Characteristics

There are many pessimists among us who will insist that in the fast moving, globalized, internet-world of today all things are becoming unified, and that all races are becoming standardized into a kind of gray and drab uniformity. They will tell you that even if there did exist in an earlier day certain qualities and attributes which were accepted as typically Scottish or Spanish or Native American or any other cultural minority, they have long been eroded by the evolutionary tide and global capitalism. We are asked to accept the hard fact that all traces of these traditional and distinctive marks of the Scots, and others, have now been lost and forgotten, and that nothing can wile them back. It is an old story.

More than a century ago, my forefathers were lamenting that the peculiar features of Scottish ways and customs were daily melting and dissolving into those of her sister and ally, England. Scotland, they declared, was losing much of the pungent wit and dry humor of sayings in her native dialect. Only the slighter shades of national characteristics remained, and Scottish life was becoming every year less and less distinguished from the rest of the world. If, on reflecting upon the effects of enlarged connections with " England and the Rest of The World " my forefathers could feel so disturbed, I wonder what they would have to say today if they could return to find themselves confronted with the unending " noise "of radio, cable and satellite television and the prolific internet. Imagine their alarm if they could have foreseen that in Scotland's largest city, Edinburgh, or on the remotest Scottish Hebridean Isle, the Scot would read, hear, and see what was being read and heard and seen in Paris or Pittsburgh, Sydney or Seattle; or if they would have thought it credible that Scots today would communicate twenty-four hours a day with folks from all over the world at the speed of light.

Well, it's " good to dread the worst, " as the old Scots saying goes, " for the best will be all the more welcome." But fears are often liars, though no Scot would deny that there have been changes in the domestic and social life of Scotland as elsewhere. But the physical conditions of the country and her unique history of unremitting struggle, have, for good or bad, left their settled marks.

Nature has been a stern foster-mother. But the adversity of climate, physical geography and history has had its compensations, and it is almost inevitable that there should remain enduring lines on the spirit of each succeeding race of Scots. The examples of national humour in this presentation should prove that there remains a distinct Scottish character with a well-developed, though often dry, sense of humor.

A race unconquered, by her climate made bold.

The Scot has never been very servile or " supple at the knee ", and it has I always been one of his striking characteristics to regard independence as the first of earthly blessings. His love of liberty has never been subdued. The past has taught him to stand firmly on his own legs and to look the world steadily in the eye. He has " a very good conceit of himself " and is quick to resent rebuke or even the mildest criticism.

But first, the most asked question:
"Is anything worn under your kilt?" to which the reply is,
"No. Everything is in perfect working order."

It is said that all Scots have a sense of humor
- because it is a free gift ! 

The Thrifty Scot 

It has been said that Poverty is the first fact in the history of Scotland. It follows that the Scot, coming from a long line of forebears blessed with but little material wealth, has never been able to tolerate waste in any form. Show him the majesty of the Eiffel Tower, and he asks " What fool built that thing ? " Put him down on the banks of Niagara and his main concern is for the " perfect waste of water. "

In a country in which it had been historically difficult to acquire a surfeit of " stuff " he has had to make the most of hard circumstances and if he was to survive to remember always to ask his wallet what he could buy. A Scot never pays cash without reflection. In a word, thrift is in his blood. As the cynic has it " A Mactavish is never lavish. "

Thus, over the years, prudence and thrift have come to be regarded as peculiarly Scottish characteristics. It was, however, from this somewhat somber background that there emerged within comparatively recent years the grotesque myth, now almost a world myth, of Scottish Meanness. To an American, it is said, money is round that it may roll. To a Scot, it is flat, that it may lie still. With just the necessary grain of truth to give color to the caricature, it has for a time been the fashion to portray the Scot as a niggardly, grudging tightwad, a man who will only cast his bread upon the waters if the tide is coming in. At this moment nothing much need be said about this libel, beyond reminding the reader that Scots donate more per person to charity than any nation in the world. And yet no Scot could deny that when he sets about it he has an eye for a bargain and will always ensure that he gets value for money.

*  *  *

John MacDonald, who was getting on in years had unexpectedly been appointed bell-ringer in the Parish Church much to the surprise and delighted satisfaction of his wife. She made no secret of her pleasure and lost no time in advising all and sundry of the good news.
" Have you heard of the job my man has just gotten, " she asked her neighbors.
" No, " replied one, " what is it ? "
" The ringing of the Church bell, " replied the proud wife.
" And what wage comes with that ? " came the vital question.
" Oh, he's very well paid, " said Mrs MacDonald, " he gets an excellent wage and a free grave!  " 

*  *  *

A Scottish prayer - "Oh Lord, we do not ask you to give us wealth. But show us where it is!"

*  *  *

Andrew was a really good at odd jobs around the house. One day he found it necessary to call at the home of his friend and neighbor on a small matter of business. His knock at the door was answered by his friend's wife.
" Is Donald in ? " asked the visitor.
" Yes he's in, " was the reply.
" Well, can I see him, " continued the caller.
" No you can't see him," returned the wife.
" But I want to see him on a bit of business," persisted Andrew.
" Well, you can't see him. He's dead ! " came the announcement from the door.
" Was it sudden ? " asked Andrew.
" Yes very sudden, " he was informed.
" Well," continued Andrew, " did he say anything about a pot of green paint before he passed away ? "

*  *  *

Two brothers, both Scots, named Jock and Sandy, go into business together. At the end of the first year they try to balance their account books, but were $10.00 short. They tried again and again, but no matter which way they tried to do it, they always came out $10.00 short.
"Tell me the truth, Sandy," asked his brother, "Are you keeping a woman on the side?"

*  *  *

The Practical Scot

It has been rightly said that there are as many sides to the Scottish character as there are checks in a plaid ( a tartan kilt ). History, climate, and physical features have combined to produce the proverbially undemonstrative and thrifty Scot with his strongly developed sense of independence. But there are other equally prominent features in his make-up; and all the reliable estimates of the character of the Scot portray him also as a severely practical man, hard-working, competent, educated and hard-headed.

In moving about his world, he is concerned primarily with the practical use of things. When the Scot was shown St. Paul's for the first time his only comment was, " Man, it would hold a terrible, lot of hay. " And when the mayor of a major Scottish city was asked to express an opinion about the Pyramids his summing up was simply, " What a lot of masonry work and no rent coming in. "

There is a pungency and penetration in much of his humor, confirming that first and last he is a realist, with a homely grip on fact. This severely practical aspect of the character comes out in instances like these:

*  *  *

" And how is your new Minister getting on ? " the villager was asked.
" 0h fine, I think, " was the reply, " but he's hardly settled in yet. "
" But they tell me he is one of the kind that doesn't believe in Hell. "
" Well, " came the grim rejoinder, " He'll not be here long before he changes his mind. "

*  *  *

The day of the funeral had come and gone and the old widow was receiving a visit of condolence from some of her friends in the village who were reminding her life was indeed brief.
" It's just the way of the world, Mrs McKay, " said one of them with some word of comfort.
" Here today and gone tomorrow ! "  was the matter-of-fact reply, " just like the Circus ! "

*  *  *

Andrew had been busy for a long time in clearing some very rough ground as an extension to his garden. After months of toil he was at last seeing some of the fruits of his labors and, with pardonable pride, was admiring the display of blooms and vegetables when the Minister approached with a smile of approval.
" Well Andrew, " he began, " I must say that you and the Creator have between you have done a grand job on this ground. "
But Andrew was not too pleased about the division of credit.
" Maybe so, " he replied, " maybe so -- but you should have seen it when the Creator had it all to Himself. "

*  *  *

One day, young Andrew was making very poor progress with his rice pudding, and his mother was doing all she could to encourage him to empty his plate.  As a final inducement, she reminded him that, in China, there were millions and millions of children who would be thankful for even a small plate of rice.
But the matter-of-fact Andrew was not yet convinced.
"  Well, " he challenged, "  name one of them ! "

*  *  *

A Scotsman was shipwrecked and finally washed ashore on a small island. As he regains consciousness on the beach, he sees a beautiful unclad woman standing over him. She asks, "Would you like some food?"

The Scot hoarsely croaks, " Yes, please, I haven't eaten a bite of food for a week and I am very hungry !"
She disappears into the woods and quickly comes back with a basket of food. When he has choked it down, she asks, "Would you like something to drink?"
" Oh, yes ! That food has made me very thirsty and I would very much like a drink!"
She goes off into the woods again and returns with a bottle of 75-year-old single-malt Scotch whiskey. The Scotsman is beginning to think that he's in heaven when the unclad woman leans closer and says, "Would you like to play around?"

" Oh, you beautiful woman, don't tell me you've got a golf course here too!"

More Humour

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