How to be More Scottish: An Insider's Guide for the Bravehearted by Anne and Carolyne Spackman

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"How to be More Scottish: An Insider's Guide for the Bravehearted."

by Anne and Carolyne Spackman

c Copyright 1999

Table of Contents:

Author's Note
Chapters One through Twelve:

1. Why the Scots left Scotland
2. Who are the Scots, Anyway?
3. Arrival in Scotland
4. Living Scottish--Know Your Surroundings
5. The Average Scot--his garden, his ways
6. Think Like Us:
Etiquette, Shopping, Golf--we invented it, after all, New Year's--an experience unto itself, and Scotch-subject of world renown, "The Pub", the new gathering place
7. Proud to be Scottish, and Famous Scots-Americans
8. Scottish Fare
9. Five Old Scottish Recipes: Living Scottish at Home, or How to Subject Others to Your Heritage
10. Scotland by Region
11. How to Speak like One I' Uz
12. Scots as Spoken: Five Sample Dialogues

Scots-American vocabulary
Scots Idioms (Scots as it's REALLY spoken!)
Common Scottish Names
Test for would-be Scots
Bibliography and Suggestions for Further Reading

(Photo courtesy of Electric Scotland)

Tae oor Gran, Jane Heron Green Neilson who said:

"You can take them oot a' Scotland,
but you canny take Scotland oot a' them"


This book, How to be Scottish: An Insider's Guide for the Bravehearted, has been designed anyone interested in the Scottish people, their culture, or how to speak simple Scots, including tourists. In it, you will find almost everything you ever really wanted to know about Scotland and its people but couldn't find in other books. You won't find much concerning politics here, or modern history, which in our opinion deals as much with politics as with national character, but after reading this book, you should be able to watch Scottish movies without needing subtitles! This book is a handbook for the uninitiated, a small window into the Scotland of the Scots. Having lived in both Scotland and the United States, we have tried to expose the aspects of Scottish culture.

Any one of Scottish descent who wants to know about present Scottish life should also have a copy of this book. According to the 1980 US census, there were more than 10 million of you in the United States alone, and Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have also long been the chosen destinations for hordes of emigrating Scots. Tourists to Scotland will find the Scots remarkably hospitable toward distant kinsmen. Because hundreds of thousands of Scots were forced to leave their homes throughout the nineteenth century as part of the Highland Clearances, millions of Americans, Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders can trace their ancestry back to the Highlanders of Scotland. Still more Scots have emigrated to these countries in this century. For example, more than half of the new Scottish population in the 1920's left looking for a better life. Yet the many who left for a new life never forgot Scotland to their dying days.

We found proof that the Scots living abroad haven't forgotten their heritage on a recent trip to Charlottesville, Virginia, a state where a large portion of Scottish descendants live today. On a stop in Richmond, we met a Mr. Thomas MacLeod, whose mother had been a Highlander from the Isle of Skye before her familty emigrated to America. We had an interesting discussion with Mr. MacLeod, who, as it turned out, not only plays the bagpipes but keeps active in the MacLeod clan and returns to Dunvegan Castle on Skye for clan meetings. We also learned that other members of the MacLeod clan return to Skye from such far away places as Texas and Australia. Mr. MacLeod was friendly and warm, and told us where we might find his friend's Celtic shop in Charlottesville when we seemed interested in investigating the Charlottesville area. He then invited us to the yearly gatherings held all over Virginia. Our trip to Virginia proved to us that Scottish pride and traditions are kept alive in lands far from Scotland and that ex-pats and Scottish descendants abroad greet others as old friends despite differences of clan, religion, or old regional disputes. Mr. MacLeod also knew his Scottish history and tradition to the letter and even spoke some Gaelic to us in the old way of the Isles.

However, one sad fact had struck us all: none of us could help but lament the fact that many Scots descendents abroad mistakenly think that they're Irish, or they just don't know much about their ethnic heritage. We hope somehow that this book will wander into their hands.


Far away in the mountains, far where the father lie,
Who shall blame us if ever our hearts must roam,
Hearing in the towns the wash of the waves that break on the shores of Skye--
Far away, where the West is waiting her children turning home.

--Lauchlan Mac Lean Watt, Islands of Mist

Scotland at a Glance

What is Scotland really like? For those who haven't been to Scotland, the country may conjure images of kilt-clad pipers in lonely, mountainous terrain or notions of rustic villagers with lilting, incomprehensible accents and antiquated ways. To others, Scotland is the birthplace of golf and the source of fine whiskey, Scotch. And to some Scotland is merely a cold, backward territory located somewhat to the north of England. Yet whatever image outsiders may have of Scotland, it is a land rich in history and cultural traditions. For hundreds of years, Scotland's mist-enshrouded Highland peaks, heather-covered mountains, ruined castles, and striking Celtic culture have continually captivated the imagination of the world. Every year, Scotland tempts new visitors from far and near to her rocky shores. Those who have been to Scotland find themselves forever changed, haunted by breathtaking images of her jagged, mist-shrouded hills and by a country steeped in heroic legend.

However, foreigners to Britain might well wonder how it is that England, Wales, and Scotland were ever politically united under the banner of "Great Britain". Are these three countries distinct countries or merely counties of a "united kingdom"? Americans might in particular be tempted to imagine the separate nations of the United Kingdom as little more than "states", especially given how small each country is. Scotland alone is a territory smaller than the state of Virginia in the United States and has been a part of Great Britain since the Act of Union of 1707.

However, to its almost six million inhabitants, Scotland is and shall always be a distinct country, with a long, proud, and independent history and tradition. Though Scotland's cultural identity bears affinities to the other Celtic areas of Ireland, Wales, the Isle of Man, and Cornwall, Scotland retains its own church, flag, and legal and educational systems which distinguish it from England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

At its narrowest point, Scotland runs only thirty miles from east to west, and it is only about one hundred miles across at its widest point. From the northernmost tip to the southern border are two hundred miles of rugged terrain, mountainous regions known collectively as "the Highlands", fertile Lowland meadows, winding roads, and numerous cold, deep lochs, lakes gouged from the land with the retreat of glaciers at the end of the last ice age nearly 12,000 years ago.

For thousands of years regarded as a mist-shrouded "no man's land", even by the conquering legions of Rome, Scotland took on a romantic glamor at the close of the eighteenth century with the popularity of James MacPherson's Celtic Ossian Tales, with the rugged, nostalgic settings of Sir Walter Scott's Waverly and Rob Roy, and with the stirring patriotic poetry of Robert Burns. Even Napoleon Bonaparte was said to have carried his Ossian Tales with him into his final exile on the island of St. Helena! Scotland's romantic glamor has carried right through to the present day era of Braveheart and kilt-wearing Celtophiles. We would also like to clarify Scotland's prominent contributions to the Industrial Revolution, contributions which England has often taken credit for. Notable figures such as Adam Smith, James Watt, Sir James Simpson, and Henry Bell made Scotland a center of scientific, medical, and philosophical excellence, which it has been for three hundred years, since the time of the Scottish Enlightenment.

Yet Scotland's impression on the visitor is as a land of people possessed of great generosity and a passionate pride for their country. The Scots today have no love for the English, and many Scots harken back to the history of battles between the two countries as a source of great pride or deep resentment, as though these events were in fact personal recollections rather than the events of many generations past. When visiting Scotland, remember the country's ground rules.

Some Scottish "Faux Pas"

1. Never, never, ever refer to a Scot as "English". Not only is this wrong, but you'll offend any Scot hears you. This is like calling a Southerner a "Yank". Don't do it.

2. Don't refer to a Scottish person as "Scotch". "Scots" or "Scotsmen" is acceptable. Use "Scotch" when referring to products such as whiskey, tartan, tweed, beef, or ale.

3. Never wear a kilt in public unless you're hoping for a lot of attention.

4. Never, ever try to pass yourself off as a Sean Connery impersonator or one of his relations.

5. Don't complain endlessly about the weather or the water pressure.

6. Never ask for iced tea or tea with lemon; the Scots, who drink their tea just short of boiling with a pot of milk and perhaps some sugar, will think you're strange. Furthermore, chances are they won't be able to comply.

7. Never drive on the right side of the road, not even on single-lane roads.

8. Remember that passing places on single-lane roads are not parking spots.

9. Unless you want to advertise your tourist status, never eat anything with your fingers, not even pizza or chips (French fries), unless you're eating on the run.

10. If you enjoy life, never tell a Scot that the Act of Union really means that the English won

Chapter One: Why the Scots Left Scotland

This chapter is meant particularly for the wanna-be and Scots descendants and for all those who ever wondered why so many people in the US and Canada are named "MacDonald."

In light of the romantic movement of the eighteenth century, which brought wild and beautiful Scotland to the attention of the world through the poetry of Robert Burns and the novels of Sir Walter Scott, one might easily wonder why so many Scots have left Scotland for foreign shores. It has been argued that since the dawn of the industrial age, beginning around 1750, that overcrowding and limited opportunities drove many immigrants to the New World and to Australia seeking better fortunes; however, although this may be true for some, as we shall shortly explain, many Scots were, in fact, driven from their homes without actually wanting to leave. From about 1780 to 1860, a political agenda known as the "Highland clearances" operated in Scotland. This was a time when thousands were forced to leave their ancestral homeland for the Americas and Australia by large landowners and greedy clan chiefs who wanted to take the land for themselves to raise sheep for profit. What is a clan?

Clan or "Clann" means family or children in Gaelic; each clan was once led by a chief, the chief of all minor chiefs and usually the military leader; the hierarchy began with him, then after him came his relations, the order descending down to the clan warriors. The way of the clan had ended with Culloden, a famous battle fought on April 16, 1746, but the clans still exist today as societies with hereditary chiefs. Why is Culloden so important to the Scots, even today?

To the Scot, Culloden is the symbol of nationalism, the embodiment of Scottish national pride and the last great hope for Scottish freedom. Culloden was in fact the last major land battle held on British soil, fought between the government troops, including conscripted lowland Scots, led by the Duke of Cumberland (a region in England) and the Highlanders of Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Young Pretender to the British throne and last of the royal Stuart line (who had once ruled Britain: Scotland, England, Wales, and Ireland). Culloden brought to an end the Jacobite Rebellion. What is a "pretender", and what was this Jacobite Rebellion?

Many outsiders find the Jacobite Rebellion a confusing subject. Suffice it to say that the end of the Jacobite Rebellion also ended the Highlanders' hope that the Stuart Kings would be restored to the throne, a throne taken from them because they were Catholic and not of the Anglican faith. James was the Stuart at the time, and his name in Latin is Jacob, hence his followers were "Jacobites". The Pretenders, (not a musical group here) were in fact those who claimed the throne by right of succession, but whose Catholic, non-Anglican faith and a silly English law kept them from being crowned King. How did the defeat at Culloden affect so many Scots and Scots descendents worldwide?

After Culloden, the old fighting tradition passed, and the clan chiefs had no more need of their clansmen and clan warriors. What they did need was sheep pasture lands. The many woolen mills in England at this time provided a ready market for wool. The chiefs had been given title over the clan lands and found that they could make more profit turning the land over to sheep-farming than by maintaining the clansmen in the old way. So some of the clan chiefs decided to evict their clansmen and clan warriors. In a century's time the Highlands were quite literally cleared out, hence the term "Highland Clearances". In point of fact, the Highland inhabitants themselves were given no choice in the matter and were told not to pay their rent but instead to simply vacate the land they loved, often at a mere week's warning. Why was it so wrong of the landlords to evict their clansmen?

The horror of the Clearances lies in the fact that by old Celtic law all clansmen own and have a right to the soil where they lived. Under this traditional law, the clan chiefs were only caretakers of the people and the community. However, clansmen who refused to leave found their houses set on fire by their own clan chiefs; some even got burnt along with their houses, the ruins of which can be seen today in the Highlands, lonely relics of once thriving communities! Where did the Highlanders go?

Though the Highlanders were strongly attached to the Scottish soil, they had no choice but to seek new homes abroad. Some were sold into indentured servitude in the New World. However, many didn't know where to suddenly go. Thousands died, some of exposure and starvation, others on ships under horrific conditions. Some Highlanders remained in Scotland, however, or moved to the Lowlands. Today's Scots remember the clearances and look upon their estranged brethren with great camaraderie. In 1883, Alexander Mackenzie said, "a Highlander loves his past and the story of the great wrongs of the days of the clearances is still deeply imbedded in his mind."

The famous writer Sir Walter Scott perhaps said it best: "the Highlands have been drained of a whole mass of inhabitants, dispossessed by an unrelenting avarice, which will one day be found to have been as shortsighted as it is unjust and selfish." In Glen Garry alone, a northern spur of the Great Glen where 20,000 lived before the clearances, only a handful of people remained afterwards. This illustrates the enormity of the clearances which occurred throughout the Highlands. Given the circumstances of the Highanders' departure, it was in part our intention to reacquaint the Highland descendants living abroad with their ancient heritage. Today the Highlands seem lonely and empty, but the sheep, however, live up and down each hillside of the Highlands. When you go, just try to imagine each one of them as a person who might still have been living there were it not for the Highland clearances.

Find the section on Scottish names if you suspect you might be a Highland descendant.

Chapter Two: Who are the Scots, anyway?

This chapter is recommended reading for the Scots descendant who wants to acquire a basic history of Scotland. Anyone planning to go to a Highland Games or Gathering in his own country should know the basics of Scottish history. If you claim to be of Scottish descent, ex-pats and Scottish descendants will expect you to pass an oral history exam on sight to prove your claim. Some of these descendants have a better understanding of Scottish history than the average Scot himself, who lives there.

Who are the Scots? How do they differ from the other peoples of Great Britain? There have been many different peoples throughout history to inhabit the area, peoples which today compose the present Scottish population, and they left behind a lot of ruins that people in Scotland like to visit whenever they have foreign guests.

Traces of the Earliest Caledonians

Scotland's earliest inhabitants arrived sometime during the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age more than 5,000 years ago (3,000 BC) and perhaps as early as 4,000 BC, at the beginning of the Neolithic period, a time before iron or bronze were used by people, so they used wood and stone. It had to have been easy to get to Britain from Europe back then, since the British Isles were not islands but connected to the mainland of France until 1800 BC! These aboriginal Neolithic peoples left no written records, but their burial tombs, or cairns, are among the oldest relics of ancient Britain. What were cairns?

Archaeologists identify cairns as piles of upright stones, domes set over burial chambers with long, low entrances, sometimes encircled by standing stones. More than 500 ancient cairns can be found today all over Scotland. They look like piles of stones set on top of a hill. The earliest inhabitants also left circular henges, enclosures made of banks and ditches, and stone circles such as Stonehenge in England. Stone circles made of standing stones date from the Late Stone Age and were likely used as religious or astrological centers.

Then, beginning at about 1500BC, another people seems to have arrived in Britain, a technologically advanced warrior tribe wielding bronze weaponry, who left behind rectangular cairns and "hut circles", or a ring of earth and stone, later often used within hill-forts. These "Beaker people" were fond of metal-working, used in bronze weapons and jewelry, and buried beaker-like objects among their dead. However, by 700 BC, at the beginning of the Iron Age, the Celtic tribes had arrived in Britain, bringing their iron weapons, ornate jewelry, and warring, stock-raising way of life. These people built the "hill forts", or enclosures of earthen or dry-stone ramparts, and "duns" or D-shaped stone hill-forts. The influence of the "dun" is found today in words such as "London" itself!

Celtic Homes and Monuments

The Celts left behind more than 500 "brochs", a kind of hollow, dry stone, two-walled round tower, only found in Scotland. They fashioned "crannogs", or artificial islets made in the middle of lochs, accessed by a sunken causeway of submerged stones, or else by boat. "Wheel-houses" or round, stone houses with radial partitions, some using existing brochs as a foundation, are scattered across Scotland. These Celts also left behind "earth-houses" or "soutterains", structures typically made of underground, walled chambers, either used as dwellings or for storage, reached by curving stone stair. Because some "souterrains" show traces of Roman influence, we know that they are only about 2,000 years old. At that time Rome had conquered most of the known world, but not Scotland! (Although they did defeat the Scots in the battle of Mons Graupius in 84 AD, which may have been in near the Grampian Mountains, inadvertently re-named after a copying error by Medieval scribes). So why are there Roman ruins in Scotland?

Scotland was never fully occupied by Rome, but that doesn't mean that the Roman armies didn't try to conquer the country a few times and did occupy the south for many years. There is little evidence of Roman presence in northern Scotland, but there are ample Roman remains in the southern part. Rome built two border walls to protect their territory from the fierce Caledonians in the north. The first was Hadrian's Wall, which marked the boundary of Roman occupation, and then the defensive Antonine Wall after Emperor Antonine. The ruins of Antonine's wall, a wall abandoned by 186 AD, were but a short drive down the road from our grandparents' home in Dunipace.

The Antonine Wall

The Antonine Wall was a wood and turf wall built by the Romans between the Firth of Forth and the river Clyde on the west coast of Scotland. The Romans dug a huge, deep ditch all the way across the narrow waist of the country, and used materials from the ditch to raise a wall on its southern side, forming it into an even more formidable barrier. Defensive pits were dug just outside the wall, and were disguised by brush and grass mats. The bottoms of these pits were lined with sharp wooden stakes to impale unwary travelers. A military road ran along the top of the wall and forts were set up at intervals along this road to provide military security along the entire frontier. These precautions give evidence that this group of fierce, formidable Celtic warriors once defied even the legions of Rome who had conquered all of southern Britain. Yet who were they?

The Celts (Please pronounce this as "Kelts")

According to most historians, this group of invading warriors, called keltoi by the Greeks, or the Celts by us today, arrived in Britain from the 6th to 7th century BC. It seems clear that the Celts had been on the move a long time. The Celts had originally come from the Celtic homeland in the steppes of Southern Russia, but they passed through the region of the upper Danube in eastern Europe in about 1000 BC. Though most people don't know much about the Celts today, they were well-known in ancient times. The Celts arrived in France and Spain perhaps as early as 1500 BC, and formed a kingdom in modern-day Turkey called Galatia, to whom, as newly converted Christians, Paul the Apostle later wrote his great epistle! (And which is why a chapter in the Bible is called Galatians) Celts from Cisalpine Gaul sacked and almost took the city of Rome in 387 BC but made a treaty with Rome and left it alone. History as we know it might not been if they hadn't spared Rome, before the city went on to found an empire! Even Alexander the Great of Macedonia, who conquered most of the world before Rome, received Galatian Celtic Ambassadors in his court in the fourth century BC. There is evidence that he even allied his armies with the Galatian Celts several times to defend his borders.

A Celt by Any Other Name is Still the Same

The Celts were called galatoi or gauls in France, brittani in Britain, and belgae in the area of Belgium, and had even more names for each little tribe, much as the Native American Indians, such as the Cantii and Parisii. (Think of Kent in England and Paris, France.) In Caledonia (or modern-day Scotland) the Romans designated them by the name of "Picts" or pictii, meaning "painted ones", for the blue woad and tattoos they used in battle, though nobody knows what they called themselves. Evidence of their reverence for hunting and battle can be found in scenes carved on the singularly Pictish "symbol stones", which also depicted animals, birds, and strange symbols. What these might have meant also remains unknown, since the Pictish languages were never recorded by other societies. All we know was that the first Scot (though not called Scots then) to be recorded in Western history by the Romans was a Celtic tribal chief called Calgacus, probably because he managed to keep Caledonia from Roman rule.

Celtic Languages

Pagan Celts spoke an ancient Indo-European language relating them in history to the other early developed languages of Greek and Hindu, though some of the Picts probably still spoke the language of the beaker people, who had joined them. The most ancient languages of these beaker folk have disappeared, but people still speak in Celtic tongues today. By the time of the Roman invasion of 50 BC, the Celtic language had developed into branches: goidelic for Irish Celts and brythonnic for Britons, similar to that spoken across Gaul (modern-day France). Back then all of these Celtic nations from Britain to Galatia appear to have been able to understand each other, just as today most Americans and British can understand each other (with some exceptions). Yet what had happened to the Iberians and beaker folk when the Celtic Picts arrived?

Historians believe that the first wave of Celts to arrive in Britain conquered and merged with the indigenous population of mysterious Iberians, the aboriginal inhabitants, and the beaker people. Back then, the Celtic conquest seems to have been less violent than the subjugation (or annihilation) of the Native American Indian, since the two races, the conquered and the conquerors, eventually became more or less one group of people. These first Brittanic Celts were called Goidelic or Gaelic Celts and spoke predominantly goidelic, which has since branched into modern Irish, Scots Gaelic, and Manx (an extinct Celtic language from the Isle of Man). They moved into the interior of Britain, Ireland, and north as far as the Highlands of Scotland, where they still live. The second wave of Celts who arrived shortly before the Roman invasion of the first century BC were called Brythonnic or Brittanic Celts and spoke a language which has developed into modern Welsh, Breton (still spoken in Brittany, France, where the population has a strong Celtic heritage), and Cornish. This is why so many minorities in Great Britain speak so many Celtic languages. Caesar's contemporaries place these newer Celts predominantly on the coasts, implying that they had not yet fully assimilated with the established Celts, in particular those of the northern regions, who are described as "redder-haired and larger limbed". Unfortunately, like their Highland descendants, the Celts didn't always get along with each other, and united only when other invaders tried to take Britain.

Lesson 1: How to be Celtic Today ( or at least a Celtic Wanna-be )

1. Die your hair red or dark brown.

2. Adorn yourself with Celtic jewelery (which you'll recognize by the swirling curves, symbols of eternity, or by the label "Charles Rennie Mackintosh" or "Ortak"). Amber is optional; pewter and silver are preferable.

3. Start learning Scots Gaelic or Irish (but don't try using it on any Scots because they won't understand you). At the same time, start thinking of yourself as a minority, and/ or an English doormat.

4. Buy banners and bumper stickers that read "Scotland the Brave" or "Scotland forever". If your last name is Davis, Evans, or Jones, buy banners that read "Cymru am byth!" or "Wales forever!" If your last name is O'-anything, they will read "Ireland forever!" or "Erin go Bragth!"

5. Start composing poetry, but don't call yourself a bard until you're good at it.

6. Remember that in Wales, they still call England "Lloegyr", or "the lost land".

7. Reserve blue face paint for costume parties and Halloween.

8. Start taking lessons to play the bagpipes

9. Get yourself a real kilt, which should be made with at least nine yards of tartan wool, and attend all gatherings in your area

10. Develop an unreasoning nostalgia for wild landscapes, heather, thistles, and cold, rainy weather

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