As I prepare for my first trip home after almost two years in Scotland, I can say there were many things that surprised me — some in pleasant ways, and others? Well…
Here are just a few.
1. Manners Matter
In Scotland, people have Manners. It comes down to a lot of little things, but, ultimately, it’s about making the world a pleasant place for everyone, not just oneself. And, having come from me-first Los Angeles, it took some getting used to.
Here is a short list of things that can earn you a good, public telling-off:
- Putting the wrong kind of trash into a trash/recycling/glass/food waste bin
- Sitting in a seat designated for parents with children/elderly/handicapped
- Not going to the back of the line at a bus stop
- Failing to allow an elderly/handicapped/parent with child to go in front of you through a doorway or onto public transportation
- Putting your bag — or God forbid, your feet — on a seat in a restaurant or public transportation
- Taking up more than your share of space in a public area
- Speaking loudly
- Not bagging your groceries quickly enough at the checkout
- Not making way for others on the sidewalk
- Not picking up after your dog (it’s a 100 pound fine!)
- Not giving way to a car if you’re a pedestrian (cars have priority in the streets)
As you can see, these are all things that make life easier and more pleasant for everyone. Still, it made me see that, at least where I’d come from, common courtesy sometimes isn’t that common.
2. Getting a Driving License is REALLY Hard
When I got my first driver’s license in Arizona, I read the little booklet while standing in line waiting to take the test. I scored 100%.
Here, I studied for the written test every day for six months. I passed it, but not with 100%. Not even close.
As for the practical, I took professional driving lessons every week for a year and a half and failed three times before my driving instructor and I fired each other. I’m still working on it.
Mind, before coming to Scotland, I drove for 25 years in the United States, had a clean record, and always had the Good Driver Discount from my insurance company.
Which, here, means precisely squat.
Some faults that examiners may mark you down for include:
- Not checking all of the mirrors every time you do anything including signaling, shifting gears, and scratching your nose.
- Giving way to pedestrians (not failing to give way, but, rather, failing to run them down when they illegally cross in front of you)
- Not crossing over the middle stripe to “use all the road available to you” even when there are cars coming in the other direction and parked on both sides of the road
- Not putting on the handbrake every time the car stops for more than a few seconds
- Giving way to other drivers instead of pushing one’s own initiative
- And, I shit you not, failing to shift gears with adequate finesse.
One writer said that getting a British driving license is like getting a PhD in driving. And in truth, only Japan has a more difficult test. To be fair, British roads are statistically much safer than American ones.
Still, it’s a good thing the public transport is top notch.
3. Women’s Haircuts Cost More Than Men’s
A lot more. And hairdressers are sex-segregated. My daughter, for example, who favors a high-and-tight, has to go to a beauty shop and pay 25-40 pounds ($40-$55) for one, while my son can walk into a barber and get the same cut for 10 quid (around $15). The excuse is that women’s haircuts are more complicated, but my son’s cut actually requires more work, as his hair is tightly curled, while my daughter’s is straight.
I’ve not found any unisex chain discount cutters like Supercuts, though it is nice to see huge numbers of independent barbers and beauty shops flourishing all around Edinburgh.
If it’s any consolation, a beauty shop will almost always serve you, and anyone who comes in with you, a complimentary brewed-to-order espresso drink.
4. Scots-Mex is a Thing
“Mexican” food is very popular here. And it is tasty. But if you’re an authenticity snob, you’re going to be disappointed.
Haggis burritos, anyone? Yes, this is a staple. There’s even a vegetarian version. It’s not my thing, but it’s on enough menus that people must like it.
Just don’t expect gooey rivers of cheddar, like at your favorite Sonoran restaurant. As they say here, Tha’s no’ happenin’. Restaurants across the board are…sparing…with the cheese. And that includes pizza places.
And, just so you don’t get your hopes up, when it comes to burgers and fries, don’t bother asking for sauces. A request for ketchup, brown sauce, or any other sauce will net you literally one measured tablespoon. And that’s just cruel. By way of compensation, most food is well-cooked, fresh, and tasty enough that you won’t even miss the sauces.
And people here do love their salsas and chilis.
5. Money and Credit
First, if you’re moving to Scotland, keep your American credit card, because you’re not getting one here. I’m only half joking when I say that it was hard enough to get my bank to trust me with my own money. The same goes for mortgages. If you want to buy a house, make sure you’ve sold one back home, so you’ll have cash in hand. Otherwise, tha’s no’ happenin’. If you can hang onto your American bank account, that’s a good idea as well.
How do people get by? Well, the bank debit card is used a lot more, here. In fact, it’s used like many Americans use credit cards. And there are more security measures in place that ensure that this is safer to do than it is in the U.S.
The only difference is that if you can’t afford to buy something outright, you’re not going to be buying it at all.
But that’s pretty good advice anyway, isn’t it?
Also, interesting fact: Scotland has its own currency, the Scottish pound. It has the same value as the English pound, and it’s accepted in England, though I have had people “down south” ask me if it was “real money.” English pounds are also in circulation across Scotland.
Another interesting fact: Banks issue their own notes, rather than money being issued by a central authority. So there are Bank of Scotland notes, Clydesdale Bank notes, Royal Bank of Scotland notes…and so on.
And finally, a lot of Scottish money has more than just your standard dead white guys. We have Jane Austen, flowers, otters, scientists…. They’re almost like trading cards.
Come See For Yourself!
Scotland has proven a wonderful and welcoming home for me and my family. It’s a land filled with friendly folk, natural beauty, and endless opportunities for adventure. But why take my word for it? Come and see for yourself!
Featured Image CC BY 2.0 by Nicolas Raymond, via Flickr