10 Handy Tips for Visitors to Scotland

With the plans underway for the next clan gathering in 2014 we are aware that lots of people will be preparing for their first ever trip to the ‘home land’ of course there are many useful visitor guides out there that will give you lots of practical advice but what about the things the guide book doesn’t cover? We’ve put together a little ‘survival guide’ for new visitors to Scotland. Tongues placed firmly in the cheek, here goes…

Ten useful facts you need to know if you are coming to Scotland/UK

1.We drive on the LEFT.

If you are driving be particularly careful turning right at traffic lights and at roundabouts. I remember watching in horror at a large roundabout under the M9 motorway as a car full of Italians in front of us turned right and went round the roundabout anticlockwise and headed up the exit ramp onto the motorway the wrong way!


The Bealach Na Ba, Applecross

Scotland also has a few single-track roads, mostly in the far North. These are very narrow roads, normally through spectacular scenery. Every 50 yards or so there is a passing place where you can squeeze past the tour bus that’s heading towards you while your passengers stare with wild eyed terror at the 200 foot drop that your wheel is caressing the edge of. One really handy passing place tip is that it’s also to let people overtake! Keep an eye on what’s behind you and pull in to let them past as soon as its safe to do so. I’ve spent a good hour stuck behind a tourist round Ardnamuchan flashing lights and peeping my horn as they dodge along at 10 miles per hour. You DO NOT want to know what they were told when they finally did pull over! Also they are called PASSING places (there is a clue in the name) not PARKING places.

2.If you order a Pizza in a fish and chip shop it may well be deep-fried and folded in half.

In fact most things are deep fried, Mars Bars being the infamous example. In the Film ‘So I Married an Axe Murdered’ the character Charlie McKenzie played by Mike Myers said, “I believe all Scottish cuisine is based on a dare”. You should also beware of something called an Aberdeen Buttery. This has been described as 30 croissants covered in lard and compressed in an industrial press. Eat one of these and you may not need to eat for a week!

That being said Scotland actually has some great cuisine. You will get some of the best seafood ever In the highlands and in fact posh London restaurants actually buy water from Scottish sea lochs to cook with.

3.Scotland has two great divides; The highland line and the M8 Motorway.

A geological fault line called the Highland Boundary Fault runs from Arran in the south west up to Stonehaven in the northeast. This line has traditional separated highland from lowland and so very different cultures have emerged. The fault is inactive now so don’t panic about earthquakes but its quite noticeable particularly on the relatively small island of Arran where the scenery north of the port at Brodick is wild compared to the more arable south.

Scotland also has a more recent divide called the M8 corridor. This motorway links Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh with Scotland’s largest city Glasgow. A fierce rivalry exists between the two cities each considering itself to be superior to the other. We can let you into a secret though, as Residents of Edinburgh I can confirm Edinburgh is OF COURSE the winner.

There is of course that other divide which is based on more religious grounds than geographical ones. This one harks back to the end of the old Stuart dynasty and despite being over 300 years old its still part of Scotland’s less attractive culture. If someone in Scotland asks you which school you went to its not to find out if you are upper class or not, its to find out which ‘foot’ you kick with (whether you are catholic or protestant, most Catholic schools being called ‘saint’ something or other.

4.’Scotch’ is a drink, ‘Scottish’ is a nationality.

Nothing is going to wind a Scotsman up faster than the phrase ‘I just love you SCOTCH people’. Scotch is a drink, a type of clear tape and part of the name of a children’s game. It’s not a way to refer to the locals!

5.The Scots are not tight fisted!

The legendary Scots reputation for thriftiness is a bit of an urban myth. In fact we tend to be quite generous and hospitable. In Scotland these jokes are normally reserved for Aberdonians (residents of Aberdeen). There are some great jokes though such as how wire was invented (two Aberdonians fighting over a penny).

6.If the Eskimos have 50 words for snow, the Scots have 50 words for rain.

In Scotland there’s a great word called ‘Smirr’ it’s a sort of weather that’s not quite rain but a bit more than mist. Normally very cold it’s the sort of weather where you are instantly very wet even though it doesn’t seem to be raining. Other words describe the intensity of the rain and including words like ‘plump or plunk’ which has nothing to do with fat but more a sudden heavy shower ‘its coming doon a plump ootside’ and of course that all purpose Scots word; pish (or pash if you are from the Northeast), ‘its fair pishing doon man’.

All in all the Scots have a dry wit when in comes to most things and weather is no exception. A few months ago when winds of over 100mph hit Scotland the locals gave it the nickname Hurricane Bawbag! This led to the hysterical case of foreign weather reporters innocently picking up on the name and using it, unaware of its use as a term referring to the male scrotum.

7.Its called Football, not Soccer!

Scotland Fans Enjoy a Quiet Game of Football

Scotland Fans Enjoy a Quiet Game of Football

It’s hard for anyone outside Scotland to understand how we can be so obsessed about a sport we readily accept that we are not very good at. It’s like pygmy tribes being obsessed about basketball! Soccer is some game played by women in America and maybe the odd big European superstar trying to milk the last few pennies from his dying career. Football is a game played in Scotland in the rain on red ash pitches (also known as ‘blaize’ it’s a sort of mining waste product that has the consistency of layered razor blades). If you are good though you get to play on grass!!!

Its safe to say that football is a national obsession and children at an early age can understand the complexity of ‘goal difference’ before they can count to ten. Our national side last qualified for a major tournament in 1998. Which means there are children leaving school now who cant remember what its like to see Scotland in a world cup. Being old enough to remember Argentina 1978 I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.

If you find yourself in a crowded pub while a game is on here are a few useful phrases you can use to blend in.

  • ‘Go wide!’
  • ‘Offside my erse’
  • ‘get right intae him’
  • ‘just pass it ya big muppet’

8.Scotland invented everything.

Broadcast television, pneumatic tyres, tarmac roads, the telephone, penicillin, Canada, ginger pubic hair. The list is far too long to commit to this article. If it exists it was probably invented or discovered by a Scotsman. Ignore this fact at your peril. I remember a cousin of mine had gone over to Florida and the very helpful bellboy took her bags up to her room “oh your from Scaaatland, that’s great” he then proceeded to explain the rooms many fantastic technological features, like the phone and the TV.
“So do you know how to work these madam?”
“Listen wee man, I should do we bloody invented them’.

9.We like the French but we don’t like the English!

This good natured (mostly) ribbing of our cousins unfortunate enough to be born south of Berwick of course stems from centuries of bloodshed and slaughter. The somewhat strange obsession with the outcome of battles fought 700 years ago have been nurtured by the Hollywood styling’s of a short Australian with a painted face and turned into a massive industry. Not that we are going to knock that since it keeps a lot of us in employment!

The Controversial 'ABE' T Shirt

The Controversial ‘ABE’ T Shirt

For much of this period of constant battles with the English the Scots formed alliances with the French, known as the ‘Auld Alliance’ it resulted in a lot of French customs becoming part of Scottish Culture, many French phrases formed part of the Scots tongue, the most famous of which was the Edinburgh phrase ‘gardyloo’. Adapted from the French ‘regardez les eau’ or ‘look out for the water’ this was when the woman of the house would empty the ‘chanty pot’ (a receptacle kept in the bed chamber used for the deposit of bodily waste) out the window and into the street below. If you heard the phrase ‘gardyloo’ then locals would duck as far away from the gutter as possible. If you didn’t understand the phrase you were in for a nasty shock.

Now of course our rivalry with England is mostly sporting, in that it’s about supporting ANY team that happens to be playing them. During the last world cup an enterprising person came up with a t-shirt with, in large letters ABE that stood for ‘Anyone but England’ needless to say they sold by the bucket load. The slightly put out English responded with t-shirts saying SDQ (Scotland didn’t qualify) but that’s just stupid, isn’t it?

Never take yourself too seriously.

The Scots are notorious for taking the wind out of the sails of any ‘big blawhard’ (boastful person). We Scots are very good at this and are quite open to having a laugh at ourselves (as long as its us making the joke mind! Anyone else does it and they’ll get the malky). 

Theres a great story about the late British entertainer Roy Castle. Roy was a famous TV presenter but also a very accomplished musician. One night he was playing the infamous Glasgow Empire theatre, a place where many a star met with the blunt end of a Glaswegians wit. So Roy was reaching the climax of his act. The stage was littered with all types of instruments and Roy frantically ran from one to the other as he played along with the house band; the trumpet, trombone, drums, guitar. The routine was reaching a crescendo as a loud voice from the back of the auditorium boomed out ‘aww Jesus Christ, is there nae end tae his bloody talents’.

So if you happen to be a rather large Texan for example, try not to fall into the trap of banging on about how much bigger everything is in the US of A. this will probably fall on rather unreceptive ears. Just bite your lip say ‘awright wee man, ye fancy another wan in there?’ (would you care for another drink), and you’ve made a friend for life.

Enjoy your visit to Scotland when it comes!



About rodger moffet

Rodger is the Director of ScotClans. Expert in all things clan and tartan.

View all posts by rodger moffet →

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7 thoughts on “10 Handy Tips for Visitors to Scotland

  1. anilori

    as an old scots soul from glasgow these are even helpful to me hahahah as i will be visiting with my bagpiper gransson in aug

  2. John Cochran

    These are absolutely bloody brilliant! I laughed so hard on the 50 words for rain that my wife and daughter came in to see what was going on. I can’t wait to make it back to Scotland.

  3. Ginger Buchanan-Sotelo

    I look forward to your blog weekly. They usually give me a chuckle and some useful info. And living on the North coast of California we have plenty of rain………and smirr! Thanks for the new word. Have a great holiday.

  4. Kiwi

    Here in New Zealand when it’s raining we say it’s ‘pissing down’. I always thought that came from the obvious imagery, but now I know it’s a phrase from our Scottish heritage which has evolved into a Downunder version. Great list!

  5. Roxana

    I live in argentina and the next weeks I’ll go to Scotland, I am very excited!!
    Thanks for your tips for visit!


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