You will never feel more welcomed than you will as a foreigner to Scotland. Hospitality is something that comes naturally to these folk.
Scotland, the UK’s northernmost country is exactly the lush green landscape you would hope it to be. With rolling hills as far as the eye can see and crisp spring water that can be drunk from most taps, it is a paradise in many ways. You can find arts, culture and entertainment in big cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow or if you’re more of a nature lover, you can take a hike through the Highlands.
Scotland emerged as a sovereign state in the early middle ages and continued to exist until 1707 where it entered into a union with Great Britain. Even if Scotland shares a border with England today, you best not mix up the two if you want to be well-liked by locals.
Speaking of the locals, you will never feel more welcomed by a people than you will as a foreigner to Scotland. Hospitality is something that comes naturally to these folk who will go out of their way to strike up a conversation with you, be it in shops or just around the streets, they’ll happily take an interest in your visit to their homeland with heaps of suggestions and helpful tips.
As a naturally charming bunch, the people of Scotland also like to tell jokes. It’s best to thicken your skin before your visit as they will enjoy making cheeky jabs at your expense – all in good fun of course! Wit aside, the Scots are also quite famous for their inventions including the telephone, the bicycle and penicillin, just to name a few.
While you’re feasting your eyes on pictures of the wildlife and hilltop castles we’ve compiled a list of some common thoughts that have entered the minds of foreigners in order to prepare you for your next trip to Scotland – oh aye!
20. Do Scottish People Love Dance Music More Than The Bag Pipes?
Yes and no. The younger generations of Scots do love dance music and it definitely dominates the airwaves as a result. Music festivals like TRNSMT have become habitual for local youth and often feature a mix of rock and electronic dance music. Where dance music is the norm, bagpipes are reserved for ceremonial purposes like weddings, balls, funerals and the like.
While many locals appreciate (with an immense sense of pride) the tradition of bagpipes, in most situations, dance music would often be the more appropriate and popular choice. This is why you will hear more Calvin Harris than the ol’ bagpipes when passing through.
19. But Curry Isn’t Scottish!
It’s not their national dish but it really should be because the Scots love curry just that much. If you’ve met a local, they will have mentioned their favourite curry shop to you or recounted nostalgically the first curry they ever experienced moments within having met you.
Their love for curry goes as far back to the 1700s when it was a popular choice for the population’s elite, as the cost of curry powder would be unaffordable for the working class.
Today in the UK, 2.5million people dine in 9500 curry houses every week and many will add a few dabs of curry sauce to their french fries (or chips!) almost habitually.
18. There’s No Need For These Heavy Coins
Sterling pound coins come in denominations of a penny, two pence, five pence, ten pence, twenty pence, fifty pence, one pound and two pound coins. Pence are cents and while many other nations have ditched the world famous penny and made a habit of rounding down at the cash.
In Great Britain, they choose to cling on to their many, many coins. Up until 1984, there was even a half penny coin or a half pence! Not only is it confusing and a bit overwhelming to figure out what all the different coins mean, it’s also incredibly heavy with the one pound coin weighing a whopping 8.75 g!
17. What A Warm Welcome
Every foreigner will be pleased to know that the folk in Scotland are known in particular for their hospitable ways. They will bend over backwards to make sure you are taken care of. If you should stop to ask if you’re able to park on the street, not only will they answer you but they will probably stay to make sure you get in the spot safely guiding you in.
It’s not just their reputation but a statistical fact that they are top-ranked for making visitors feel welcome among the whole of the UK.
The research, based on reviews and rankings from 2,500 travellers, put Inverness in the top spot followed by Birmingham, Bristol, Southampton and Glasgow.
16. You Can Plan A Pretty Picnic But You Can’t Predict The Weather
Scotland is beautiful for many reasons but the unpredictable and disappointing weather is not one of them. While you may experience periods of sunshine that can evoke grande plans for the day involving hikes, picnics, or trips to the Highland Games – just know that it too will pass.
If it is consistently warm and sunny, expect that the majority of the locals will be talking about it because they just aren’t used to it and therefore it is no good! All in all, when packing for the weather in Scotland it’s good to be prepared for everything – pack layers, waterproof jackets and wellies. You can never be too prepared for a day in Scotland.
15. They’re Driving On The Wrong Side?!
It’s quite disorienting when you touch down in Scotland only to realize that drivers sit on the right-hand side of the car. Everything seems a bit like bizarro world and roads can be unbelievably narrow in some regions.
It is important to note too that in Scotland (much like the majority of Europe) most of the rental cars will be manual unless you specify otherwise. This is important information for anyone planning to tour the country by car as it may help to do a wee tutorial with a Scottish local before jumping into the driver’s seat.
Street signs are also likely different from home so it can help to get the 411 on the local laws to ensure a safe journey.
14. Do We Really Need Two Faucets At The Sink?
You will notice this peculiarity in most Scottish homes where there is a separate faucet for the hot and cold water. It may seem over the TAP (ha) but it’s really a result of the plumbing. Seeing as the hot and cold water comes from two separate sources it can be an added inconvenience to combine them into one outpour.
Essentially you will learn to love washing your hands with cold water (located on the right) and navigate delicately around not burning your face off when using the hot tap (located on the left). It can be helpful to use a washcloth as a stop gap to achieve the desired temperature until you’ve managed to navigate this foreign system.
13. And Two Steps To Charging My Phone Every Time?!
It’s true. When in Scotland you don’t just have to worry about remembering to charge your phone, remembering the adapter plug that fits the outlet but you also have to remember to flick the wee switch on so that the power runs through. This can be frustrating if you aren’t informed as you go to receive your device to see that it had never begun charging.
The switch itself is actually a safety feature to prevent accidents with the 220V switch. In Great Britain, they take electrical safety very seriously and place electrical outlets outside of the bathroom to avoid any possibility of getting zapped. So while seemingly annoying, these features are introduced to protect you and your appliances.
12. Scots Really, Really, Really Love Crisps (Which Are Chips)
Cheese and onion, salt and vinegar, prawn cocktail! In the United Kingdom there will be no shortage of chip flavours on offer, and that can make you feel a bit overwhelmed. Oh yeah, and they call them crips, not chips. Chips are french fries here. So if someone offers you some crisps be prepared to have a bag hurled your way and not a plate of warm fries.
With Great Britain consuming over 6 billion packs of crisps a year it’s no wonder that it’s been deemed a UK habit. Walkers, the most well-known brand in Great Britain has 7 plants across the United Kingdom alone. If you’re not used to this much crisp consumption, just chalk it up to a holiday treat.
11. I Miss Coffee
You can pretty well kiss your coffee brewing ritual goodbye when you touch down into Scotland. Here, it’s instant coffee that reigns supreme. In fact, instant coffee accounts for 77% of the market share of coffee that the UK is consuming at home. In Italy it’s 1%, in France it’s about 4% and in the USA it’s 7%, so it’s quite evidently the norm here in Scotland.
It all started when instant coffee was coming through via US Soldiers’ ration packs in WWII, since freshly brewed coffee was simply unavailable. For those who were used to a steady stream of tea, the instant coffee piqued curiosity and caught on from there. If the thought of instant coffee is making you feel scared and alone, don’t worry, you can still find Starbucks and other premium coffees at the local cafè.
10. What On Earth Is Irn Bru?
Irn Bru is the national beverage of choice (after whisky) and while it has been claimed to cure all kinds of ailments, it is mostly just a caffeinated orange fizzy drink. While popularized in Scotland, it was first invented in New York by Maas & Waldstein chemicals in 1889, but due to popularity was quick to be copied.
It is available in a number sizes and even flavours, with the most popular being the original. If you take a shining to it, don’t worry, it might even be available in your home country as well. It’s sold in places like Canada, the USA, Australia, Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong, the Middle East, Norway and Russia.
9. Where Are All The Men In Kilts?
A kilt is perhaps most known to foreigners as a typical uniform of sorts, so it can be a bit disappointing when you arrive to see most men dressed in regular old clothes. The kilt is a knee-length, skirt-like garment which is pleated in the back and originates from Gaelic men and boys who wore them in the Highlands. The material is often wool and the pattern (known as tartan) indicates which clan (family) you come from.
The reason that you won’t see the Scots sauntering around in their kilts is that it’s often reserved for traditional ceremony or sport – Highland Games anyone?
8. Where’s My Change?
One thing to be aware of or that you will become distinctly aware of when traveling to Scotland is that most automated parking machines or buses will not provide change.
Maybe they think that since there’s an abundance of coins in rotation at the mint that you will be able to provide exact change! As travellers, we know that it can be difficult to manage this on the spot. If you’re parking at a public meter there are apps that you can download to your phone which avoid any kind of monetary exchange (in literal terms) and avoids this conundrum altogether.
Bus drivers aren’t known for being super friendly so asking them for change en route won’t usually do you much good but you can buy a day pass if you’re out of small change, or there’s always a taxi.
7. When All Else Fails, Form A Queue
If there’s something that the Scottish love more than crisps it’s probably queuing up in a line. To be fair, they are better at it in Great Britain than probably anywhere else in the world. The act of queuing or lining up has deep resonance with their heritage as it began in the early 19th Century when civilizations were becoming more populated as they moved from outer country into town.
Queuing has also been a symbol of hardship as the impoverished members of society would line up to receive charity.
6. All Hail The Heated Towel Rack!
When visiting Scotland you will notice that Scottish aren’t lured by the appliance we revere worldwide otherwise known as the almighty air conditioner. It isn’t too common to find it likely because they only get bursts of sunshine and heat on a very sporadic basis. What you will find however in scores, are heated towel racks!
Mounted to the wall and inconspicuously appearing as a regular old rack, they are like small radiators that push hot water through them so that when your towel is resting on it, it becomes dry and/or warmed to the touch.
Have you ever heard of anything more luxurious? They are fairly standard here so be prepared to enjoy a nice warm towel after your shower or bath while you’re touring Scotland.
5. Pants Are Not What We Think They Are
In most other countries, pants are the long version of shorts. Here in Scotland pants are your undergarments or underwear. So if you’re telling someone you like their pants, they may look at you funny as if to believe that you have x-ray vision and can see their underwear.
It can be embarrassing to learn this the hard way. If you want to tell someone you like their ‘long-styled shorts’ without making them blush (or run away) you can refer to them as the locals do as slacks or trousers. *Phew* embarrassing crisis averted.
4. Black Pudding Sounds Like A Dessert… It Is Not.
You might hear black pudding and think of dark chocolate pudding or of a chocolate mousse. In the UK, pudding is very seldom in reference to something sweet. Instead, black pudding refers to a type of blood sausage (made from that of an animal) and was first introduced as a way to not waste animal by-product.
It is often pork that is mixed with oatmeal and fat before being packed into the sausage casing. It is a popular breakfast food as it’s high in protein and quite affordable. If you can wrap your mind around how it’s made, it’s well worth giving it a try!
3. WHAT Are They Feeding The Seagulls?
Seagulls in Scotland are oddly classed as part of the wildlife where in most other parts of the world we consider them mostly as a nuisance.
To be fair, Scotland has 6 different species including the herring gull, the black-headed gull, the lesser and great black-backed gulls, the common gull, and the kittiwake. It makes them sound exotic but trust us, they’re just as noisy, confrontational and even as dangerous as regular seagulls.
Despite there being a seeming abundance of these unpopular birds they are rapidly declining as all of the species have been placed on the British Trust for Ornithology Amber list. While these birds can seem menacing (in large part due to their hefty size) it is illegal to willfully harm a gull or destroy its nest so you simply must do your best to tolerate them in stride.
2. So, English And Scottish Pounds Are Not All Created Equally?
Erm, well technically yes they are but the Scots don’t tend to see it that way. If you are covering both England and Scotland in one trip, it would be best to convert the notes so that there are no surprises. While you will not always have a hard time using the notes, by not being aware of their difference and assuming they are the same you could come across as a bit of an ignorant tourist. Most large cities won’t bat an eyelash but if you’re planning on visiting more rural towns, it’s best to convert the notes at the bank beforehand.
1. The National Animal Is… A Unicorn
According to Celtic legend, the unicorn is a symbol of purity, grace, joy, and innocence, as well as power and strength. Seems pretty fitting, doesn’t it? It was declared their national animal in the 12th Century when it’s made its way onto the coat of arms.
Unicorns were believed to possess immense healing powers. The legend goes that a unicorn’s horn had the ability to purify contaminated or poisoned waters. The Unicorn of Scotland is always depicted with a chain around its neck to represent the medieval belief that unicorns were strong and wild animals that could not be tamed. Strangely enough, the unicorn is thought to be the natural enemy of the lion and was believed to be a real animal as written accounts were featured in Roman, Persian, and Greek texts.