11 Scottish Stereotypes that are Blatantly Untrue
Want to know how to really annoy a Scot? Well, trotting out any of these tired old Scottish stereotypes is one way to do it: here are 11 of them to get you started…
Everyone has red hair
Er, so, I actually DO have red hair, so this possibly wasn’t the best example to start off with, now I come to think of it, but hey, that’s just me: and, well, quite few other Scots, actually. OK, OK, we DO have our fair share of redheads here, but we’re still very much in the minority compared to other hair colours, so if you’ve ever wondered why all of the Scottish people you see in movies and on TV are redheads, it’s just lazy writing, and the perpetuation of one of the biggest Scottish stereotypes.
And the men all wear kilts
Sorry, tourists, but if you’re expecting to come to Scotland and see lots of men wandering around in kilts, you’re probably going to be disappointed. It’s like expecting Dutch people to wear wooden clogs, or Germans to always be in Lederhosen – it just doesn’t happen, other than at tourist attractions, or other very specific occasions where you can expect to see a range of Scottish stereotypes out in force, to please the visitors.
In the case of kilts, they’re a type of traditional dress (er, skirt) which are now only really seen at weddings, or other events with a similar level of formality. I guess you might see men wearing kilts as daywear if you head further north (The last time I visited Perthshire, I saw a couple of men wearing them as “casual” wear – i.e. with Doc Marten boots and hoodies. It was less strange than it sounds…), but here in the central belt, at least, kilts are strictly reserved for weddings/people who work in the tourist industry – and even then, they’re often only worn by men who are actually in the wedding party, as opposed to just a guest.
I don’t know anyone who’d wear a kilt just out and about, and I’m pretty sure that if they did, they’d be ribbed endlessly about it – or, at the very least, would have to endure similar kinds of questions to the ones a woman would get if she turned up at the pub in a bridesmaid’s dress. Awkward.
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Scottish people are mean
I have absolutely no idea where this stereotype comes from, but there are tons of jokes out there (you can see some of them here) centring around the idea that Scottish people are stingy, and will do anything to avoid spending money. I know Terry definitely wishes that were true, because if it was, I probably wouldn’t be the proud owner of a room full of shoes by now, but I can’t see I’ve ever seen any evidence of this: in fact, if I was in the habit of attempting to stereotype entire nations (which I generally try to avoid), I’d probably say the opposite was true – I might just be lucky, but most of the Scottish people I know are pretty generous!
Deep fried Mars bars are a staple part of the Scottish diet
Honestly, up until a couple of years ago, I’d never even SEEN a deep friend Mars Bar, let alone eaten one. According to Wikipedia, this was something that was really just a novelty item, until the media got hold of it, at which point people started rocking up at fish and chip shops and asking them to deep fry confectionery. So it’s a “tradition” which was almost completely manufactured by the media, in other words. These days, it’s a little more common to see deep fried Mars Bars on the menus at takeaways, but I’d be surprised if they sell a lot of them: like the kilted bagpipe players you see on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, I suspect they’re mostly there for the benefit of tourists. We do like our fish n’ chips, though. Or, in my case, chips n’ chips.
(Yes, I have tried a deep-fried Mars Bar – once. Yes, I was very drunk at the time. And yes, it was horrible…)
(We do have a lot of mountains, though: that’s one Scottish stereotype that’s actually true…)
Scotland has a similar climate to the Arctic circle
Look, Scotland is cold, I’m not going to lie to you – sometimes it gets REALLY cold. It’s also wet. Like, really, really wet. Contrary to popular belief, however, it’s not like like being in the Arctic, and, here in the central belt, snow isn’t particularly common (although we have had a few bad winters lately). I’ve noticed that a lot of my southern friends, however, seem to think Scotland is more or less like the North Pole (Which, as we all know, isn’t even a real place...), and that the second they cross the border they’ll see us all living in igloos, and cutting holes in the ice in order to get fresh water. Er, no, not so much. Obviously the further north you go, the colder it gets, but Arctic it ain’t. (Well, not ALL of the time, anyway…) Our weather is colder than places further south, but our winters are nothing like the ones you get in Canada, say, or even somewhere like New York.
Most people live in castles or ancient stone cottages
When we were buying our house, I remember blogging about visiting some newbuild properties, and getting a comment from a reader who was surprised to hear that we HAD many brand new houses in Scotland: why would we need them, after all, when we have all of those ancient stone dwellings to live in?
It’s certainly true that Scotland has its fair share of castles, and other very old buildings, but we also have a lot of new towns, in which the oldest buildings you’ll see will be from the 1960s. The town we used to live in was one of those places – most of it didn’t even exist before the 60s, and although the surrounding villages are much older, vast areas of them are relatively new. That’s not to say there aren’t lots of old buildings, obviously, because there are – but there are lots of newer ones, too.
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Scottish people often use the phrase, “Och aye the noo!”
No, we don’t. Because that would translate as, “Oh yes just now.” What does that even mean? This is just gibberish, which is used to mock Scottish people, but not actually used by Scottish people. Actually, now I come to think of it, the only people I’ve ever heard say this have been non-Scots, doing their best to trot out some “hilarious” Scottish stereotypes for us. Please, don’t be that person…
Scottish people speak Gaelic
According to my old friend, Wikipedia, only 1.1% of the population can speak Gaelic, which isn’t a lot. Most of those speakers live in the far north of the country, or in the islands, so it would be very rare to hear Gaelic spoken here in the central belt: I don’t know anyone who can speak or understand it. Despite this, a lot of our road signs are displayed in both English and Gaelic, which allows you to have the unique experience of feeling like a foreigner in your own country as you whizz past signs you can’t actually read…
(True story: until recently, I didn’t even know how to say the word “Gaelic” – apparently it’s “Gallic” not “Gae-lick”. WHO KNEW? Not me, or most of the people I know…)
We’re all obsessed with Clans…
One of the most common questions I’m asked by visitors to Scotland is what clan I’m part of… which I have absolutely no idea how to answer, because, well, it’s not the 18th century any more, and no one cares about clans. Well, no one I know, anyway: I realise there are people who are interested in Clans, and in tracing which one they belong to, but, contrary to what Outlander would have you believe, the clan system isn’t really a big part of modern Scottish culture, and we’re not all constantly feuding with each other over centuries-old rivalries, or whatever is it that people think we do up here: that’s just not a thing. Nevertheless, it’s still one of the biggest Scottish stereotypes out there – so it should probably have been number one on this list, actually…
(And no, I don’t have a special tartan either. Please stop asking…)
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Scottish people listen to bagpipe music and do highland dancing on nights out
This one is inspired by an English person of my acquaintance who once visited at New Year, and was very surprised to find that we weren’t all sitting around the fire, listening to the bagpipes and singing folk-songs about sheep, or haggis, or something. We had to explain to her that we don’t do that, because – again – it’s not the 18th century, and now we have TV, and that newfangled “popular music”, and central heating and everything! Actually, a lot of the main Scottish stereotypes I see come up again and again are things that people did in the 17th or 18th century, and it’s always interesting to me that so many visitors to Scotland expect things not to have changed from then . (I’ve even heard of people being asked if we have the internet and electricity over here, which makes me die a little bit inside…)
With that said, schoolchildren do get taught some traditional Scottish country dances (or at least, they did when I was at school, which was just slightly later than the 18th century), and its not uncommon for weddings to have a ceilidh afterwards, at which people will get up (in their kilts! OMG!) and dance to more traditional music, so that tradition does still exist. Speaking for myself, I forgot everything I ever knew about those dances (and honestly, it wasn’t much to start with) the second I left primary school, so you won’t catch me at a ceilidh, but that’s just me, and I know lots of people who love them: horses for courses. Or something.
Scottish people are always drunk
It’s frequently said that the Scots “like a drink”… Well, I have to admit, I am fond of a glass of wine or two, but, I mean, I’m not drunk NOW, if that helps at all? Seriously, though, from the highly-scientific, and yet totally subjective study I’ve made on this, my conclusion is that the Scottish people I know don’t drink any more or less than any of the English, American or other nationalities I’ve met, so take from that what you well. I will admit that my data pool here is possibly slightly skewed at the moment, because most of my friends have young children, and drunk-parenting is apparently frowned on here just as much as anywhere else, but I know just as many people (Maybe slightly more, actually…) who don’t drink at all, as I know people who do, so I don’t see a lot of truth in this one either, fun though it sounds.
Any other Scottish stereotypes you can think of?
(P.S. If you’re interested in Scotland, please follow me on Instagram for more insights into Scottish life…)