Life around the world

Tuesday, 1 May, 2012 - 11:00

Scotland: not just tartan and bagpipes

by Rebecca Low

“So, do you have ice cream in Scotland?” I paused, my spoon half way to my mouth and just blinked. Was I hearing things? My neighbour repeated her question. No, definitely wasn’t hearing things. I tried not to laugh and answered her as seriously as I could, which only opened up the floor to a barrage of other queries about life in the Scotland: “Do you have to drive through the mountains to get to school?”, “Can you say something in your own language?” and other questions which, to me, seemed utterly bizarre. I was fourteen and on a Guide holiday in Bournemouth, camping with lots of other girls from around the UK. My friend and I were the only two from Scotland, and it was the first time in my life that I’d experienced my nationality being approached with such outside interest. It wasn’t the last. Thanks to television and film, Scotland is often seen by the rest of the world as a remote, magical country, a land of misty mountains and crumbling castles, with the odd Highland cow wandering across the heather-covered moors. As a result, Scotland and Scottish people are sometimes seen as a curiosity, a strange Celtic people with their odd checked skirts, red hair and that weirdest of musical instruments, the bagpipes. It’s a double–edged sword. Although this mysterious Braveheart-esque side of Scotland is where most of the stereotypes emerge from, it’s also what attracts people to the country. Don’t get me wrong: Scotland, in my opinion, is beautiful, and parts of it really do look like they’ve been plucked from the set of a Hollywood movie, be it the dramatic peaks of the Cairngorms National Park, or the winding streets of Edinburgh’s Old Town, overlooked by the imposing castle. But Scotland is more than a series of real-life postcards. It’s dynamic and cosmopolitan, with a colourful history of invention and innovation. It’s the home of big businesses, a centre of new medical and scientific development, and at the forefront of advances in areas such as renewable energy. Each year, we play host to the world's biggest arts festival, have hosted the Commonwealth Games (and will do so again in 2014), and we're home to many world famous musicians, artists and designers. Scotland is a modern and exciting place to live in, particularly as a young person. We may be small, but we’ve got a lot going on. On the other hand, I’ve also met people who don’t know a thing about our wee country. Scottish people are fiercely proud of their identity, and are eager to show our country to the rest of the world. This is why I always find it disheartening when people don’t even know where Scotland is, or when they just assume you are English or even American. I don’t know about you, but I think Scottish accents are quite distinct, and it makes me laugh to think how many times I’ve been asked by an American person which state I’m from. I’ve come to deal with it with a friendly smile and a kind shake of the head as I explain that yes, we do speak English, and no, we don’t keep haggis as pets. At least on the whole, people are interested, and I’m sure I’ve been guilty of asking stupid questions about other cultures; it’s a learning process. I’m happy that people are willing to learn about my country, and equally happy to tell them all about bonnie Scotland and all it has to offer. And that includes ice cream.

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