Scottish Pub Culture – Tips for Tourists Part 1

You notice a few things when you first arrive in Scotland. It’s cold. It rains a lot. And somehow, despite these things, the people who live there are among the friendliest in the world. And because of this excellent national character trait, they love to catch up, gossip, argue, debate and laugh together, and most of this happens at the local pub.

Scottish pub culture has developed alongside Scotland’s national character to be a major reason that visitors make their way to the northern country. But there are a few differences to what visitors might be used to in their home nations, and we’ve collected the most common ones here.

The Round

In other parts of the world like the United States and Australia buying someone a drink is often the way to generate an introduction to someone you found attractive from the other side of the bar. It’s a conversation starter and a low-impact romantic gesture all in one. In Scotland, buying someone a drink is more akin to a handshake. This is especially true when you are in a group of people, whether you are a stranger or a lifelong friends. It works like this: a group of friends (let’s call them Rich, Callum and Angus) walk into a bar. Rich announces ‘it’s my round boys’ which means he goes to the bar and buys three drinks. By custom, Angus or Callum will go to the bar once they have finished their first drink and buy the next ‘round’ and then the final remaining friend will do the same. Once the ritual has gone full circle they can begin again.

It might seem expensive, but the social rule dictates that everyone buys a round, so everyone ends up even. And beware if you think that not buying one will go unnoticed, being seen as someone who dodges their obligation to pay their fair share will go a long way toward losing your Scottish friends. So be social and go to the bar, grab a tray and bring back a round of drinks for everyone!

The Conversation

Often when you meet new people, the conversation is polite, a little hesitant and you stay quiet more often than you might otherwise. If the reverse happens in Scotland, don’t be offended, you must be doing all the right things! Scots are well known for their booming and iconic accents, from the gentle Edinburgh lilt to the deeper highland burr, and if you happen to be interrupted mid-sentence, it’s a compliment; it means the person you’re talking to finds your conversation interesting and worthy of commenting on themselves. It’s their particular way of showing their interest in you, and they love to continually propel conversation forward with interruptions, redirects and additions. It takes a while to get used to, but once you do it’s a great way to get to know complete strangers really quickly!

Read on to part 2 for more tips for tourists to Scotland’s famous pubs.