Monday, 5 May 2008

Just Scotsman Destroying A Myth

Along the way in the sands of time there has been a myth perpetrated that Scots are a friendly people who are welcoming to visitors. I suspect this myth was first penned by a Scot who wasn't feeling very good about himself after the Scottish national football team had performed badly at yet another World Cup.

I can't be sure, seeing as I wasn't there when the first person got the myth under way but I have a feeling it went something like this -after a particular humiliating game in the history of Scottish sporting achievements (or lack of) a few whiskies were drunk, sorrows drowned before someone stood up at the back of the publican house and said with much slurring "Och a ken we'll never win the World Cup, but see us, we're great we are, we know how to have a good time, we know how to have a party. We might not be able to play a game of fitba but we're the friendliest people in the world we are." This was heard by someone who worked at the old Scottish Tourist Board sometime before it was renamed Visit Scotland who thought 'Ooh I can use that and get myself a nice bonus from the chairman and use the money to see some Spanish sun for two weeks.'

Like all myths it could have died before it took hold and was believed but this myth was helped to survive by reporters from Scotland Today running off to Glasgow Airport on a slow news day and shoving a microphone under the noses of American Tourists and asking the question "Well what did you think of Scotland then?" The unsuspecting tourist suffering a little from stage fright and eager just to get home by this stage had to think up something quick - "Scatland?".... (spelling deliberate).... "well it rained a lot but the people were friendly enough, even if I didn't know what they were saying and there was that day I walked into the pub toilet when they were shooting Trainspotting and Robert Carlyle beat me up, but I think he was only acting...." Scotland Today being the professional news show that it is ended the transmission at "Scatland? .... well it rained a lot but the people were friendly.." and so the myth grew and took hold.

I have deliberately used the word myth not because I'm too lazy to use a thesaurus, I do have other words in my vocabulary, but because I am a cynical bugger and don't much go in for the 'Wha's like us?' attitude of some Scots. I tend to think that one nationality is as good and as bad as one another. On a bad day we can all can all throw rocks and missiles at one another and on a good day can all hug and kiss one another - especially after a few whiskies have been drunk by one and all. I also think as far as Scotland is concerned its a lot of crap to be honest.

Let's face it, if we were really that friendly wouldn't we have a much easier to understand accent? Would the BBC have felt the need to use subtitles when showing the Scottish film Ratcatcher on the national televison network a couple of year ago if we as a people had learned to slow down when talking to the uninitiated ear?

And what about our place names? Our place names aren't all that friendly to the visitor either. Many people find it difficult to pronounce Scottish place names. At one point this probably had a purpose, for hundreds of years the only visitors likely to come calling were marauding English and Viking armies so in the days before GPS it was probably a good way to identify whether a stranger was friend or foe if they could or could not pronounce the name of the place they were asking directions for. Today though marauding armies have more sense that to come to Scotland, they get as far as Hadrian's wall, conveniently built by the Romans, and head south for somewhere drier.

Despite this though, we haven't renamed our place names to be more accommodating to the visitor. I'm Scottish and even I have had some trouble getting from one place to another. For years I lived just 5 miles from my great aunt who lived in Milngavie but at the age of 8 if I had wanted to visit her on my own and were to go asking the oh so friendly Scottish staff (don't make me laugh) at the bus station information desk the number of the bus to Milngavie they wouldn't have been able to answer me for laughing. Because at that age I didn't pronounce it in the correct manner, I pronounced it as I saw it written down and broke it into easy to say pieces Mil-in-gav-eh only the correct pronunciation is in fact Mill-guy. How you get Millguy from Milngavie to this day I have no idea, is it any wonder that Blogger as a little red line under it?

You may well think that the correct pronounciation matters not but there are a surprisingly large number of ill prepared tourists who begin their Scottish holiday in Milngavie before walking in their khaki shorts, in the rain, along the West Highland Way. We may not be able to do much about the rain or our most terrifying beast - the dreaded midge - but we could surely, if we were a friendly bunch of people, make it easier for the visitor to get from one place to another by making them easier to say. It's not only Milngavie that's difficult to say - apparently Edinburgh our capital city isn't that easy either nor are our much visited Lochs or just a few miles from the English border the town of Kirkcudbright, which is not pronounced Kirk-cud-bright but more like kir-could-bree. And then there is the charming remote little town on the West coast of Scotland where I worked for 3 months of last year but could not tell anyone because I could not say - Ardrishaig.

Pfft, Scots? Friendly? Aye to a point maybe. Just don't ask us to change our place names.


Just a Girl said...

The Scots were friendly when I was there.

The Irish were friendlier though...

Mentok said...

"If we were really that friendly wouldn't we have a much easier to understand accent?"

Ha, ha, what's that old gag ... the Gaelic (and Gaelic accent) always sounds like someone trying to clear his throat.

Maybe its just b/c of the heavy historical Scottish settler population in Canada, but when I was in the UK I perpetually felt on edge in England but in Scotland I felt like I'd come home.

As I concluded afterwards, the English (by North American standards) have a culture that's normal looking on the outside but disguises eccentricity on the inside. Scottish culture, in contrast, is externally weird but internally very steady and easy-going. Does that make any sense? It's meant to be a compliment, anyway.

The accent isn't so unwelcoming. Most North Americans find it charming. And Canadians find it useful... by some quirk, even the most thoroughly bilingual Quebecois can't understand a word spoken in a Scottish accent, which is good to know when you want to talk behind their backs (which is just fair, since likewise no one really understands Quebecois French either.)

Sorry, I'm rambling. Scottish good.