Tuesday, May 24, 2005

I am going to rasp rhapsodic for a few moments about Scotland as I see it today. Hopefully, I will shatter any romantic vision you might have had about it in the process. As I see, many people have this Braveheart vision of Scotland along with Burns' Suppers and St. Andrew's day. All of course with a tartan and a Highland clan associated with it.

Guess what? You just bought the marketing hook line and sinker. Scotland is a modern country with modern problems just like anywhere else. Highland hospitality is a myth. It is much like anywhere else in the UK, where getting someone on the wait staff to even notice your existence can be a huge problem.

Braveheart the movie was impossibly wrong with its history. Most of it came from a guy named Blind Harry who would tell stories in the pub for some food. He exaggerated his stories so that people would give him more food. Nothing more; nothing less. Basically, you are listening to some guy's meal ticket, which became Mel Gibson's meal ticket, but not really history.

Robert Burns is the poet of Scotland. Well, ask any modern Scot about him and you will either get a blank stare or they will roll their eyes at you. This is stuff that they are forced to learn in school. As much as we were forced to learn Paul Bunyan in school. Other than those that make a living off of his legacy, they do not really care about anything he ever wrote.

St. Andrews day here is just another day. You might see an article about it in the Scotsman but other than that not much. You can go without any of these things in Scotland or even hear about them in some parts.

The tartan, the symbolic dress of Scotland. Well, guess what? Tartans were never historically attached to any one clan. It was myth made up by a Welshman who wanted to cash in on the Celtomania of the Nineteenth Century. Historically, the more complex the tartan; the more a person would want it to show off his (and I do mean his) material wealth. Today, a tartan is hideously expensive (to the amount of £500) and you use it at most three times in your life (graduation, wedding, and funeral) unless you are like my German friend who seems to wear his every single weekend.

What about those romance novels based in Scotland? Many of them play on the Romantic/Noble Savage myth. There is a story in How the Scots Invented the Modern World about an Englishman in the Highlands in the Eighteenth Century. He was watching a woman doing backbreaking work in the field while her husband sat on a stool watching her. He asked the old woman sitting next to the man, why was he not in the field? She said, "Then he would not be a gentleman, would he?" As you can see, savage yes; romantic no but honestly every society or culture is like that in certain ways. Most of the time you turn a blind eye to it.

Now that I have slagged (another interesting term, which means the same as "dis" (to disrespect) in American English) off all these myths about Scotland, what is there left? Truly generous and nice people who go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. People who have seen the worst that life can throw at them but continue on. Building, history, and landscape that can take your breath away. A learned scholarly tradition that lay low anything America has to offer. A literary tradition that makes even the best American novel seem like it was written by a five year old child. All these things and more are on offer in Scotland.

Please come to Scotland but recognize that modern people do live here and it is not frozen in some sort of stasis field just waiting for you.

posted by Chris  #9:36 AM | 0 comments |