Friday, May 13, 2011

Touring Scotland for Americans

I am often asked, mostly by Americans, where to visit in Scotland. Many people will only visit the cities - Edinburgh, Glasgow... and miss the highlands, islands, villages and the stunning scenery. Where to visit also depends on what your interests are, how much money you can spend, and how long you'll be here. If you like seeing countries by coach tours and prefer to see touristy shops instead of seeing the real country, then by all means do so. However, if you want to experience the culture and see beyond the tacky souvenirs then you need to be adventurous.
A few tips on language/culture:

  • Don't say fanny pack, say bum bag - only females have a fanny!
  • French fries - chips
  • Potato chips - crisps
  • Coffee with milk - white coffee
  • Iced tea - you won't find regular iced tea but may find bottles of flavoured iced tea
  • Pants - underwear (what you call pants are called trousers here)
  • Restrooms - the term is not used here - ask for the loo or toilet (toilet refers to the room, not the toilet bowl), or ask for the ladies room or men's room
  • Never refer to a native of Scotland as Scotch! Scotch is a drink and only a drink. Use the term Scot or Scottish.
  • Hen - being called a hen by a store clerk is not an insult. It simply means a woman... take it as an American clerk calling you hon or dear.
  • Gas(oline) - petrol; gas station - garage
  • A fag is a cigarette, not a derogatory term for a gay person (over here that term is poof). So don't be surprised if someone says they are stepping outside for a fag! A faggot is a type of food.
  • Taking the piss (pish) - roughly translated as teasing, joking, having a laugh at your expense. If this is done it usually means you've been accepted. Everybody does it to the extreme!
  • Pissed (pished) - drunk. However, pissed off means the same as in the US.
  • It may appear that many people are on the streets smoking joints. They aren't (well, probably not). Cigarettes are very expensive here so many people roll their own.
  • Please do not say Glass-cow or Edinborough (or worse yet, Edinberg)! It is Glaz-go and Edinbra (Edinbruh) or Edinburra.
  • Unless you or your parents were born in Scotland, don't tell natives here that you are Scottish or Scottish-American. 
  • Loads more differences but everybody here watches US TV shows and movies so usually know what you are talking about.
  • It feels very strange at first to sit on the right side of the car and drive on the 'other' side (do not call it the 'wrong' side), but you'll adapt to it within a few days. Just repeat to yourself (stay on the left, stay on the left).  Unless you specifically ask for an automatic, you'll be given a standard transmission car (and need to use your left hand to shift).
  • Single track roads: these are one lane roads but are not one way. You have to pay attention at all times and not look at the scenery. There are frequent spots called passing places for you to pull over so oncoming cars can go past.
  • Big city multi-lane roundabouts will be your only stressful driving, especially if you're unsure where you're going. Otherwise you'll be on motorway or two lane roads (easy peasy).
Eating out - shopping:
  • All public places are non-smoking so you never have to worry about eating in a smoke-filled restaurant or pub.
  • Never tip more than 10% for a meal and never tip a bartender.
  • Pub food (pub grub) is usually quite good with good portions and very reasonable price.
  • Wetherspoon chain of pub-restaurant has edible to good, but certainly not gourmet, food and good range of beers.  Great prices!  Good for budget-watchers.
  • VAT (Value added tax) is tax on goods. This is already included in the price marked on goods. Therefore, £9.99 on an item = £9.99 at the till.
  • It is very common to have to ask, often more than once, for your bill (check) after a meal.
  • You'll never be asked how your want your fried eggs cooked, so if you have a preference you'll need to describe it. The terms over easy and sunny side up will not be understood.
  • Pudding - means any dessert. Also called 'afters'.
  • Entree - means starter or appetizer, not the main dish.
  • Sweeties - candy

There are many areas of Scotland I haven't been to yet, so I can only recommend places I've been to or have been given reliable personal recommendations.

I have done travelogues on 3 of the islands I've been to --Skye, Islay & Colonsay--and are on this blog:
Scottish Islands.
Photos are

Adventure: take a boat into the world's 3rd largest whirlpool, the Gulf of Corryvreckan or any of these other tours:  Seafari tours  (advanced reservations required).

Edinburgh Military Tattoo and Edinburgh Arts & Theatre Festival (throughout August)

The Outer Hebrides are breathtaking.
The Isles of Mull and Iona are in Argyll. They most definitely have my personal recommendation.
Glencoe has stunning scenery and is fabulous for easy walks or challenging hikes or just a beautiful drive through on the way to Fort William.
Inveraray is a village in Argyll and I take all my visitors there for a day trip. All find it charming and usually include a tour of the castle and the jail.
Kilmartin is one of my favourite places. Also in Argyll it's the home to more than 350 ancient monuments, such as stone circles, burial cairns, etc.
Perthshire is simply lovely. From the mountains, winding roads through well-preserved historic villages, to the lochs, waterfalls, woodland walks, it's totally charming and full of character.
Inverness is a popular destination and is in close proximity to other area of interest such as Loch Ness, Culloden.