This is part 2 of a series of articles on some things that are particular to Scottish pub culture that every visitor should know.
Meeting New People
The Scots are friendly people, let’s say that first up. However, if you walk up to a stranger in a bar or pub and say ‘Hi my name is…’ it is not likely to get you a warm handshake and a return of that person’s name. The Scots are naturally a little cautious of outsiders, and this is reinforced by the fact that at most bars there is a group of regulars who know each other and the bar staff by their first name. Quite often, this will extend to knowing details of each other’s lives and families. It’s not uncommon to hear the person ordering a drink asking about the welfare of the bartenders wife or husband, or how their children are doing at school.
Scots are a welcoming bunch, you just have to ease your way in. A simple way to do it is to find something you have in common to talk about. Whether it’s the particular sport on the bar TV, (always popular, the Scottish are very passionate about golf and football), the city or even the pub you are in, all are likely to start a conversation. Once you’ve been chatting for a while is the best time to offer up an introduction, and quite often, you’ll be invited to share a drink with the locals!
Football (do not, under any circumstances, call it soccer in Scotland) is more than a national pastime or passion: it is a religion. The major cities are divided along centuries old tribal lines, Glasgow between the giants Celtic and Rangers, Edinburgh between Hearts and Hibernian, as well as clubs from every region of Scotland. The premier competition the Scottish Premier League runs for most of the year, and chances are if you are in a pub, it will be affiliated with one of the teams.
It definitely pays to do a bit of research before you venture into these pubs. For example, on game days, wearing the opposition teams colors into a rivals pub will draw a lot of attention, and likely, a fair bit of banter and ‘sledging’ in your direction. Knowing which clubs part of town your are in is worth knowing, and showing an interest (in the right team) is likely to get you an in-depth commentary into their fortunes and history, so be warned!
Much like football, scotch is taken very seriously in Scotland. The importance to the country of their national drink is to the extent that there is a law in place that regulates what may be classified as ‘Scotch’. There are literally thousands of blends and varieties, most of them from the local areas, and asking the bartender to choose one for you is seen as a compliment to his skills and knowledge. There is one golden rule though: never ever ask for your scotch to be mixed with ginger ale, or worse, coca cola. The Scottish take serious pride in their national drink, and diluting it with a sugary soda is not something that they encourage. So drink it like a local, with soda water or ice, or even better, ‘neat’ and appreciate how good the authentic product is.
Scotland’s pub culture is an essential part of the national fabric, and a great part of any trip there. The differences that you’ve just read about may seem quirky and a little strange, but knowing them will put you in a great position to make the most of the unique experiences that you can have in the Scotland’s fantastic pubs.