Scotland is a quaint country adorned in a serene beauty. She has a population of about 5.3 million people. As a former Houstonian, I have to compare that to the city of Houston’s 5 million people. I imagine taking that populace and spreading it out over an area about the third of the size of Texas. Now, 5 million is not so stifling when you do that.
What I’ve found in the less populated countries like Iceland and Scotland (the only two I have first hand knowledge of) is their cleanliness. Even in the more bustling cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow, the streets and sidewalks are not littered with trash and spilled junk food and they don’t smell of piss. The public restrooms are virtually spotless. As I’ve said about Iceland, it can’t be hard to keep things clean when you have less people to clean up after.
Also, fewer people means fewer cars. When we were on the road I would recoil at passing traffic because their car seemed so close to ours, and it was. The streets are more narrow and most were only two way roads. I wished their roads were wider and thought of the constant construction being done on our roads back in the States. They are always widening the roads and adding lanes. That’s because we have far more cars on the grid than Scotland. They don’t need to widen the roads!
The other thing, my children noted as we walked the streets of Edinburgh, were that there were very few homeless. This again is in part to having a smaller population. There are less people vying for jobs and also the UK has a very generous “benefits” plan, i.e. Welfare system.
One night Aaron and I watched a show on TV about Romanian’s who are coming to the UK to live off of their benefits. There were 2 or 3 families that they followed. One was a Romanian guy who had no legs. He got around on his skateboard. The other was a family of about 11. Their daughters were married and grown but they all lived together with the grandkids to boot. The third was a guy who used to be a builder in Romania. The legless man could not get work and he later figured out that he could get more from the system if he had a family and so he had his parents move to the UK to live with him. The family of 11 has been there for 4 years living off of benefits. One week they received less than they usually get and so the mama went to the translator and had him come with her to the benefits office to find out why.
“Ma’am you and your family have lived here for 4 years and you have not tried to learn our language or even apply for work. You don’t show us any efforts being made to becoming a functional part of our culture and society.”
She was shocked and offended! For four years their family was cared for by the government and now they want her to do “her part?”
The third guy who used to work construction, moved their with his family with a goal.
“I want to get 40,000 pounds in benefits. That’s what I need to take care of my family.”
To give you an idea of how much that is, it is roughly $68,000. The average American household EARNS $55,000 a year and this Romanian is planning on getting 40,000 pounds in benefits a year from the UK government. They asked him how he figured he could obtain that and he said because his friends have.
“I have a free house, free food, free health care, and free money. Sometimes, I don’t quite have enough and so I steal to eat.”
Here they show him preparing a salad.
“This is the best salad I’ve ever had! It’s delicious! I stole every ingredient.”
The landlord of their home came and told them he was going to replace the carpet and make some sort of plumbing repair…
“All for free,” the Romanian said. “We didn’t even ask for these things. But…I have some work I have to do too. My wife does not like this here and so I’m fixing it. I know how because I used to be a builder.”
We couldn’t watch anymore after that.
So the few “homeless” we did see were dressed like everyone else in clean clothes and were most often found begging by the ATM. I think we saw 4 in the city of Edinburgh but one of them might have been the same guy but he just moved to a different ATM.
Since they drive on the left side of the road, they also walk on the left side of the street. I figured this out after playing chicken a couple of times with fellow pedestrians and seeing aggravated glares given to my children. To my credit we only had to walk about 2 blocks before the light bulb came on and I explained it to the boys and the rest of the trip we were no longer annoying tourists.
One thing I love to see in my travels is the difference in fashion. In Paris all of the up and coming trends were being set. The high heeled tennis shoe and high top come back was all over. Very retro! The genie pant was all over the place 2 years ago in Paris. One thing I noticed that Parisians and the Icelandic people did not do was pierce and plug their face and ears like crazy. Also they are not as tatted up and their hair was more natural, no kool aid dyed colors. Which was kind of surprising of Iceland because they have a very funky style there that is all their own. Think Bjork.
Scotland is more like the Midwest of Europe. It’s not that they dress bad they just…don’t have any noticeable style. It’s like when you watch Napoleon Dynamite and you’re not really sure what year the movie is set in. Is it the 80’s? The 90’s? Who knows! Scotland is like that. They just dress for comfort and to be clothed. No statements of self are being made. No attempt to attract. There were a stylish few who were classically chic. Again, there is nothing about their attire that would date them but they did look too take a little more care and consideration in their dress than the general population. They had the cute plaid pencil shirt, hemmed at the calf, tights, sensibly cute shoes, a cardigan and blouse. Very nice. Very tasteful. Not anything that will transcend oceans but certainly will transcend time.
There were a few more “punks” in Scotland then I saw in France or Iceland. I swear it was the same 8-10 kids in both Edinburgh and Glasgow. They were very goth and they loitered outside of the store or lounged around at the park.
There were, of course, gentlemen in kilts. Why is this look so gosh darn sexy? There were gents dressed more formally with the button up shirt and the flashes on their socks. And then there were the guys with a concert t-shirt and boots. Hot. Both ways. Very hot.
Scotland’s food is also very Midwestern. Meat and potatoes and very little spice or flavor. The most flavorful things I ate there was the Haggis (sheep guts) which was OK, and the black pudding. Black pudding is not anything Bill Cosby endorses, rather it is made of blood pork. Just try not to think about it and eat up. It’s very good! Those are about the most exotic things you’ll get there. Otherwise it’s shepherds pie (meat, potatoes, peas in a pie crust), or meat pie (like a chicken pot pie but with steak), or a fish pie (like a steak pie but with fish), or fish and chips (French fries). This sort of thing. Fries are chips and chips are crisps.
We kept laughing because macaroni and cheese was on every menu and Buddy kept ordering mac and cheese. We insisted that he must try something new!
Then one afternoon we had lunch at Sloan’s in Glasgow. It’s the cities oldest restaurant. The menu was posted outside and we noticed they bragged about their macaroni and cheese.
“You’ve got to be kidding me! We’ve been trying to steer Buddy away from this all week and now it says you don’t want to miss out on it!”
“You really should order it,” a man said as he exited the restaurant. “It’s incredible!”
So we gave Buddy permission to have at it. It was quite good, I have to agree. Sloan’s also hosts SMAC, Scottish Mac and cheese Appreciation Club.
One real bummer about Scotland was that most restaurants and pubs did not allow kids in after 7 p.m. Some held out to 8 p.m. It was the oddest and most frustrating thing! The kids could dine there for lunch but then not for dinner. The fare was no different, the bar menu did not change and there was no inappropriate entertainment after 7 in these places but we were often told, “No under 18’s allowed.”
I asked a couple of severs at a couple of different places as to why this was. One gal said it was just the way they were licensed. K. That….does not answer the question. Another server told me that, “Honestly, some places don’t want the children their because they want to maintain a certain ambience for dinner.”
As one well travelled friend told me, “Yes, the Brits really prefer for kids to be seen and not heard.”
I’d say they don’t even want them to be seen either. We did not see many children around, which was something I noticed in Paris as well. Where are the children? I guess with their Nannies? Also, in Paris there were very few pregnant women. I’ve been told they still practice the old tradition of hiding an expectant mom away for months before delivering.
So, simple enough problem to solve, just eat before 7, right? Well…it was not always that easy. Since we were bouncing between cities and sight seeing along the way and (getting lost in the initial entry into town), we often were not checked into our hotel until about 6 or 6:30. On other days we just didn’t think to eat early because we had just had tea at 3:00.
We would try to ask the locals where they would recommend we eat and no one really knew what to say. Man and I finally came to realize that it was likely due to the kids. No one knew which places served children. Once it was suggested we try Pizza Hut or McDonald’s because they served kids after 7. Sorry. Didn’t come all the way to Scotland to feed my kids at American fast food places that we don’t even eat at at home!
These things about Scotland are odd and different but the important thing to remember when you travel is that the rest of the world does not roll along the same way your part of the world does. I had to keep telling my kids this as they would ask why they drove on the wrong side of the rode.
“Is it the wrong side or the left side? Just because it’s different it is not wrong.”
So another cultures nuances may be bothersome but the longer you are there and the better attitude you keep in regards to it the better time you’ll have!
Scotland is so beautiful! Very green! Lot’s of wild flowers. Pasture land, rolling hills and mountains. Lochs and firths (lakes and bays) sparkle blue all over. We would walk from the hotel/castle/B&B in a small town to the beach in 5 minutes.
We loved every spot except Glasgow. Glasgow was dirty in comparison on the other places we visited and we were in a sketchy part of town. The best thing to do there is shop which they boast about. I didn’t really see any stores there though that we don’t already have in any large metropolitan in the States.
The people are quiet and easy going. Life there seems simple. Maybe that’s because we had breakfast served every morning when we awoke but the lifestyle there just seemed very chill. We really loved the castles and gardens and the beer and the scotch! Great country! We miss it already!