A few days ago I was reading a blog by a woman from Andorra about whether or not Scotsmen wear anything under their kilts. It dawned on me that despite being one of the finest nations on our wee round planet (no bias whatsoever), there are alot of urban myths about Scotland. So I've decided to take it upon myself to try and explain one or two of my frozen little countrys cultural curiosities.
Firstly, what the hell is haggis? I've sat in a restaurant before and listened to the manager tell her geriatric English guests that the haggis was freshly caught that morning and watched as an inquisitive and somewhat impressed look, creeps across thier wrinkley faces. The manager said no more after that and a few days later the old dears would've gone back south over the border convinced they'd eaten wild haggis. Many Scots will tell you that a haggis is a wee four legged beastie that roams over the hills. Some will even go as far to say that it has short legs on one side and long legs on the other so as to run across the side of a hill with ease. Indeed, go into any tourist nick-nack shop in Scotland and you'll probably find a furry little 4-legged haggis that pipes out Scotland the Brave when squeezed. Thus confusing the tourist further.
In all honesty however, a haggis is no more an animal than a sausage is. A haggis is a dish that probably came about when the lady of the house was toiling away in the kitchen (thats not a sexist comment by the way as we're going back a good few years here), wondering what she could make using the left overs from last nights mutton roast. She's only got a few oats, spices and onions left, as well as the bits of the sheep that even the dog wouldn't eat. "Och bugger it," she thinks "I'll just chop up what's left o' the sheep (namely the heart, the liver and the lungs) and nobody'll be any the wiser." But wait, it dawns on her that she needn't let the stomach go to waste either. So she chops up all the ingredients, stuffs them into the stomach, formerly belonging to the sheep, and boils it for an hour or so before feeding it to the kids. The national dish of Scotland is born. Of course there are more historically accurate accounts of how the dish came to be but essentially, the haggis came about by the people using what resources were at hand. It's status as the national dish, however, belie its humble begginings. As the ingredients suggest, it probably wouldn't have been the first dish you would think about making after you've slaughtered a sheep. In fact, as a result of the unusual nature of the contents of a haggis, Scots in the US have been known to partake in a spot of haggis smuggling as it is illegal to sell animal lungs for human consumption in America. However, as a dish, it has risen through the ranks to be the choice food for traditional Scottish celebrations such as Burns night or a ceilidh.
Secondly, isn't Scotland just a part of northern England? For some, this might seem like a stupid question to answer but I'm sure if you ask any Scot who has travelled abroad whether they have at some point had to say that they were from England, then the answer would almost unanimously be yes. For a nation that almost single handedly invented the idea of the couch potato and thus western culture (we invented the telephone and TV!), there is a surprising amount of ignorance in foreign lands as to its status as a country in its own right. Scotland as a united country has existed for over 1000 years and for the most part has been an independent nation. A couple of cheeky invasions by the English, the thrashings from the Vikings and of course the current political agreement with the English in forming the United Kingdom being the only exceptions.
However, even as part of the UK, Scotland is still a seperate nation with an independent church, education system, legal system, dire football team and now its own parliament. The building of the Scottish parliament, in my opinion, put to rest the idea that the Scots are a nation of penny pinchers (it's a common idea that copper wire was invented by two Scotsmen fighting over a penny!). The building was supposed to cost a mere £40 million but the politicians obviously thought, "bugger it, lets throw the budget out the window" and subsequentley spent another £360 million of taxpayers cash. However, now that the politicians have a shiny new building to call the home of Scottish politics, it's up to them to show what they can do. The creation of the Parliament is seen by some as the natural next step towards a fully independent country. Although to others this idea seems ludicrous. During a train trip between Nanning and Beijing in China, I had a conversation with a Chinese guy who was looking to practice his English. When the subject turned to politics he explained to me the situatuion in Tawain and Hong Kong and I tried my best to tell him about British politics. When I mentioned to him that the second largest party in the Scottish Parliament were nationalists who wanted to be seperate from England, he looked at me as though I was talking to him in Swahili. Complete confusion. Not because he didn't understand my English but because to him Britain is a single country and anybody inside it who wants to seperate must be extremely silly fanatics. However, the future of Scotland is in the hands of the Scottish people again and depending on what they do with it, I might never again have to say in foreign lands that I'm from England.
My final point of call takes me back to where I started, what do Scotsmen wear underneath their kilts? Ask any Scot and they'll tell you that a true Scotsman doesn't wear anything under his kilt. However, it seems that the Scots are simply a nation of voyeurs as historically the kilt was always worn with something underneath. Traditionally kilts were worn with long, tucked in shirts and were, I love this quote, "the means whereby modesty prevailed." The notion of hanging freely apparantley trickled into the mainstream from a small section of the Scottish military. These chaps, it seems, were keen on the loose feel approach and subsequently didn't wear anything to hide their crown jewels. Although it's bizarre that a place as cold as Scotland could have developed a fashion for wearing less clothes, especially in relation to a part of the male body that would need more cover in the chilly months.
I personally think that it's scottish women that invented the myth about no underwear. As any man who has worn the attire before will know, women change when you've got a kilt on. They seem to hunt in packs when it comes to men in kilts and they don't stop until some bit of white flesh has been exposed. Maybe that's why as part of a kilt outfit, you have the sgian dubh (Scottish dagger) tucked into a sock, in order to fend off the women at one o'clock in the morning outside the pub?? Just a thought. However, getting back to the facts, the Scots learned very early in history that wearing no underwear has disadvantages. When the Romans tried to invade the Celtic lands to the north of Hadrians wall they were often met by naked Picts and Celts brandishing spears and the like. I'd imagine that a few Roman swords in the backside would have been a steep learning curve for the Scots. Subsequently by the time the Scots were helping the French to kill the English in the 1500's they had not only the long shirt to cover their modesty but often the material was tied up between the legs to form what would have looked like massive underpants. Despite probably looking like a scene from a Monty Python sketch it would have been very effective during battle and might have helped win as the English would no doubt have been too busy pissing themselves laughing.
So there we have it, some urban myths about Scotland finally put to rest. Now, what's that one about the Virgin Mary at Rosslyn chapel all about...
What lies beneath...?