10 Things To Do In Scotland To Make You Feel Scottish
As an incomer to Scotland, it’s useful to know a few things to do in Scotland to make you ‘feel Scottish’. I know this because I was once an ‘incomer’ myself, when I moved over the border to Scotland from England, over thirty years ago.
I also know from Scottish experience that however welcome you are made to feel by the inherently warm and friendly Scottish folk, it still takes at least ten years of living in Scotland not to be considered an incomer anymore. No offence is meant. It’s simply a matter of commitment. My children, being born and bred here in Scotland are truly Scottish, with the accent and everything.
Unfortunately, no matter how hard I’ve tried – using all the Scottish slang and everything – I still speak Scottish with an English accent. Incidentally, I’m told by my French friends that the same is true of my French language skills. I still sound inherently English.
Right now, the backpacking husband and I are back in Scotland, after selling our Scottish home and everything we owned seven years ago to go off travelling and have adventures abroad. Scotland is still our homeland – not through birth – but certainly by choice. Wherever we may wander, our hearts will always belong to Scotland, and it’s true that you don’t always have to live in Scotland to belong to Scotland.
We are currently renting a house near to where we once lived. Two of our three sons still live in Scotland. Our eldest lives in Edinburgh and the youngest in Glasgow. The middle one, having graduated his Scottish university, went off to teach English abroad seven years ago and didn’t come back. He is now a Proud Scot living in South Korea, where he has his own family.
So, now that the backpacking husband and I are living back in Scotland, I feel qualified to tell you all about the things you can do in Scotland as an incomer to feel Scottish and to behave like a local whether you are just visiting Scotland or you are relocating here and planning to make Scotland your new home.
1. Be Friendly: The very first thing that impressed me when we first moved to Scotland was the genuine friendliness of the people. Everyone speaks freely to everyone else and that’s whether they know each other or not. It’s lovely rather than invasive. Although, I was terribly embarrassed at not being able to fully understand the English/Scottish dialect at first. So, when you are out and about in Scotland, whether hiking hills or walking on the street – do say a cheery ‘hellooo’ with a passing comment on the weather that day – it’s always an icebreaker – as Scots love to talk about the weather.
As it’s usually grey and raining in Scotland, a remark about the day being ‘dreich’ (dreary) and ‘dour’ (dark) or ‘bonny’ if the sun happens to be shining, always evokes an enthusiastic response.
2. Talk like a local using Scottish slang: A sandwich is called ‘a piece’. Children are ‘weans’. An affectionate term for a woman is to call her ‘a hen’. If someone says ‘ken’ then they didn’t get your name wrong as it’s the same as saying ‘Yes, I know’. If something is ‘mingin’ then its disgusting. If something is good then it’s ‘braw’ but ‘pure dead brilliant’ is very good indeed. ’ A ‘bampot’ is an ‘eejit’ and an ‘eejit’ is an idiot. ‘Steaming’ is being very drunk. A hat is always ‘a bonnet’. ‘Auld Reekie’ is an affectionate term for Edinburgh. If somewhere is ‘hoachin’ then it’s very busy.
If you are ‘scunnert’ then you are fed up, finished, or beat.
3. Food & Drink: Scotland is often touted as the land of ‘fried food’ with deep fried pizza and fried chocolate bars on the menu – and it’s true – but its also true that there are many Scottish food that will intrigue and delight you rather than escalate your cholesterol levels. Scottish seafood is world class. Clams, mussels, lobster, oysters, loch fresh salmon, smoked salmon.
For meat lovers, free-range grass-fed Scottish beef and lamb is also considered world class quality produce. My personal recommendations for fine Scottish produce would also include haggis, scotch pie, clootie dumpling, Tunnock’s teacakes, Irn-Bru, Scottish whisky (if it’s spelled as ‘whiskey’ then it’s Irish or American) and a cup of tea using tea specially blended for the soft waters of Scotland.
Having travelled all over the world, I now really appreciate Scottish water served straight from the tap – as it tastes of nothing but cool freshness – and that’s truly wonderful.
4. Holidays: Burns Night. In Scotland, Burn’s Night is celebrated with a ‘Burns Supper’ on the 25th January, to honour the birthday and the life and poetry of Scotland’s Bard: Robert ‘Rabbie’ Burns. The supper is always a menu of haggis, tatties, and neeps. Haggis being a blend of meat and oats and spices. Tattie being potatoes and neeps being turnips. A Burns Supper is something of a ceremony.
People dress for the occasion. Men in highland garb and ladies with a sash of tartan. The haggis, on a silver platter, will be piped into the room by a piper on the bagpipes as everyone is standing. A speaker will ‘address the haggis’ in dramatic prose with a poem of Rabbie Burns and then stab it with his Sgian-dubh (knife).
There will be toasts with whisky. Lots and lots of whisky. There will be speeches and jokes and music and dancing, with traditional ceilidh dancing. I have attended many a Burns Supper and they were all wonderful!
I would recommend you read a few Burns’ poems to get up to speed on your Burns!
5. Holidays: Hogmanay. Another important holiday in Scotland is Hogmanay. In other parts of the world the holiday is called ‘New Year’ but in Scotland ‘Hogmanay’ means the last day of the year and the festivities originate in the winter solstice and it is a big annual celebration. Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city, famously holds the world’s biggest Hogmanay party on Princes Street beneath the castle over which the greatest firework display is lit at the stroke of midnight on the last day of the year. Also famously, it’s Rabbie Burns’s poem, ‘Auld Langs Syne’ that is sang in the streets.
To feel truly Scottish you need to learn all the words of Auld Lang Syne!
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And days of auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For days of auld lang syne!
6. Fringe and festival. Eight months after the biggest New Year’s Eve party in the world, Edinburgh hosts the biggest arts festival in the world. During August, in Edinburgh, there is the Fringe and the Festival including the Royal Military Tattoo held at the castle. Edinburgh is crazy and busy during this time and the atmosphere is incredible. There are street performers and buskers and entertainers everywhere from the world’s best known to the as-yet unknown. Comedy, music, drama, and everything in between is on offer in Edinburgh during this time. Check out the official Fringe and Festival app to book back to back shows while on the move and so you don’t miss out on the two for one ticket opportunities.
Festival like a local by wearing comfy wearing shoes, always take a raincoat, and be spontaneous.
7. Go to the pub. In Scotland, a lot of socialising happens down the pub – the public house – the place with a bar and a cosy and comfortable nook with tables and chairs and a real fire. There is no better place to meet up with friends and partake of a ‘heavy’ (a pint of beer) or a wee dram (a measure of whisky). In Scotland, the weather is often dreich and dour, and so the pub is a place of warmth and solace. You might find a local band playing. There could be someone on the fiddle or the pipes. Or, a wee lassie singing a mellow Celtic song or even a full-blown ceilidh going on.
Go to the pub… it’s the spirit of Scotland.
8. Appreciate the History. Everyone in Scotland appreciates the past and celebrates their proud history. Whether it’s in recognition of Robert the Bruce, William Wallace, or Nicola Sturgeon’s efforts for Scottish Independence, or the hundreds of ancient castles and battlegrounds that remain here, Scotland is a place of living history.
To feel truly Scottish you should familiarise yourself with all of this and a very good start would be to read my posts on Edinburgh Castle – as many have never seen it before – and check out my own select list of favourite Scottish Castles in Dumfries and Galloway.
To feel truly Scottish look up your family tartan – everyone has one – even if you’re not Scottish.
9. The Great Outdoors. When the Scots are not having fun in the pub or kicking up their tartan heels in Edinburgh or nursing epic hangovers from their national holidays then they are outdoors – fully dressed for the occasion – walking The Southern Upland Way or exploring the fantastic Scottish scenery and Munro Bagging. There really is nowhere in the world (in my opinion) like Scotland for misty moorlands and scenic lochs and majestic mountains.
A Munro is a list of Scottish mountains all named after Sir Hugh Munro, who surveyed and catalogued them all in 1891. Munros are classed as mountains over 3,000 feet (914.4m) and there are 282 of them in Scotland. The highest Munro is Ben Nevis at 4,411 feet (1,345 m). The most challenging are the 12 airy peaks of the Black Cuillin on Skye and the narrowest ridge walk at the Aonach Eagach in Glen Coe.
Munro Bagging is An Actual Thing and it’s nothing to do with Haggis Hunting which is Also A Thing.
10. SHOPPING. The final way to feel truly Scottish is to shop for warm woollen clothes and tartan themed outfits in Glasgow’s Buchanan Street or Edinburgh’s Princes Street. From high street store to Harvey Nicks and designer names names names – it’s all there and more. My top tip for feeling properly and stylishly Scottish is to shop in Morningside as that’s where all the best pre-worn- pre-loved – second-hand – charity-shop finds are to be found.
For example: I have a gorgeous soft and comfortable cashmere sweater from a Morningside charity shop that cost £10. It’s my favourite and most precious possession. It’s accompanied me all around the world and I love it and… actually… well, I’m wearing it right now.
Scottish city people love shopping and are both well dressed and stylish.
I hope these tips on how to feel more Scottish have been helpful to you.
Have you ever visited Scotland?
Do you live in Scotland?
Do you want to move to Scotland?
Leave a comment and haste ye back!’