are many pessimists
among us who will insist that in the fast moving, globalized,
internet-world of today all things are becoming unified, and
that all races are becoming standardized into a kind of gray
and drab uniformity. They will tell you that even if there did
exist in an earlier day certain qualities and attributes which
were accepted as typically Scottish or Spanish or Native American
or any other cultural minority, they have long been eroded by
the evolutionary tide and global capitalism. We are asked to
accept the hard fact that all traces of these traditional and
distinctive marks of the Scots, and others, have now been lost
and forgotten, and that nothing can wile them back. It is an
More than a century ago, my forefathers were lamenting that
the peculiar features of Scottish ways and customs were daily
melting and dissolving into those of her sister and ally, England.
Scotland, they declared, was losing much of the pungent wit
and dry humor of sayings in her native dialect. Only the slighter
shades of national characteristics remained, and Scottish life
was becoming every year less and less distinguished from the
rest of the world. If, on reflecting upon the effects of enlarged
connections with " England and the Rest of The World " my forefathers
could feel so disturbed, I wonder what they would have to say
today if they could return to find themselves confronted with
the unending " noise "of radio, cable and satellite television
and the prolific internet. Imagine their alarm if they could
have foreseen that in Scotland's largest city, Edinburgh, or
on the remotest Scottish Hebridean Isle, the Scot would read,
hear, and see what was being read and heard and seen in Paris
or Pittsburgh, Sydney or Seattle; or if they would have thought
it credible that Scots today would communicate twenty-four hours
a day with folks from all over the world at the speed of light.
Well, it's " good to dread the worst, " as the old Scots saying
goes, " for the best will be all the more welcome." But fears
are often liars, though no Scot would deny that there have been
changes in the domestic and social life of Scotland as elsewhere.
But the physical conditions of the country and her unique history
of unremitting struggle, have, for good or bad, left their settled
Nature has been a stern foster-mother. But the adversity of
climate, physical geography and history has had its compensations,
and it is almost inevitable that there should remain enduring
lines on the spirit of each succeeding race of Scots. The examples
of national humour in this presentation should prove that there
remains a distinct Scottish character with a well-developed,
though often dry, sense of humor.
A race unconquered,
by her climate made bold.
The Scot has never
been very servile or " supple at the knee ", and it has I
always been one
of his striking characteristics to regard independence as the
first of earthly blessings. His love of liberty has never been
subdued. The past has taught him to stand firmly on his own
legs and to look the world steadily in the eye. He has " a very
good conceit of himself " and is quick to resent rebuke or even
the mildest criticism.
But first, the
most asked question:
worn under your kilt?"
to which the reply is,
is in perfect working order."
It is said that all Scots have a sense of humor
- because it is a free gift !
has been said that
Poverty is the first fact in the history of Scotland. It follows
that the Scot, coming from a long line of forebears blessed
with but little material wealth, has never been able to tolerate
waste in any form. Show him the majesty of the Eiffel Tower,
and he asks " What fool built that thing ? " Put him down on
the banks of Niagara and his main concern is for the " perfect
waste of water. "
In a country in which it had been historically difficult to
acquire a surfeit of " stuff " he has had to make the most of
hard circumstances and if he was to survive to remember always
to ask his wallet what he could buy. A Scot never pays cash
without reflection. In a word, thrift is in his blood. As the
cynic has it " A Mactavish is never lavish. "
Thus, over the years, prudence and thrift have come to be regarded
as peculiarly Scottish characteristics. It was, however, from
this somewhat somber background that there emerged within comparatively
recent years the grotesque myth, now almost a world myth, of
Scottish Meanness. To an American, it is said, money is round
that it may roll. To a Scot, it is flat, that it may lie still.
With just the necessary grain of truth to give color to the
caricature, it has for a time been the fashion to portray the
Scot as a niggardly, grudging tightwad, a man who will only
cast his bread upon the waters if the tide is coming in. At
this moment nothing much need be said about this libel, beyond
reminding the reader that Scots donate more per person to charity
than any nation in the world. And yet no Scot could deny that
when he sets about it he has an eye for a bargain and will always
ensure that he gets value for money.
who was getting on in years had unexpectedly been appointed
bell-ringer in the Parish Church much to the surprise and delighted
satisfaction of his wife. She made no secret of her pleasure
and lost no time in advising all and sundry of the good news.
" Have you heard of the job my man has just gotten, " she asked
" No, " replied one, " what is it ? "
" The ringing of the Church bell, " replied the proud wife.
" And what wage comes with that ? " came the vital question.
" Oh, he's very well paid, " said Mrs MacDonald, " he gets an
excellent wage and a free
A Scottish prayer
- "Oh Lord, we do not ask you to give us wealth. But show
us where it is!"
a really good at odd jobs around the house. One day he found
it necessary to call at the home of his friend and neighbor
on a small matter of business. His knock at the door was answered
by his friend's wife.
" Is Donald in ? " asked the visitor.
" Yes he's in, " was the reply.
" Well, can I see him, " continued the caller.
" No you can't see him," returned the wife.
" But I want to see him on a bit of business," persisted Andrew.
" Well, you can't see him. He's dead ! " came the announcement
from the door.
" Was it sudden ? " asked Andrew.
" Yes very sudden, " he was informed.
" Well," continued Andrew, " did he say anything about a pot
of green paint before he passed away ? "
both Scots, named Jock and Sandy, go into business together.
At the end of the first year they try to balance their account
books, but were $10.00 short. They tried again and again, but
no matter which way they tried to do it, they always came out
"Tell me the truth, Sandy," asked his brother, "Are
you keeping a woman on the side?"
It has been rightly said that there are as many sides
to the Scottish character as there are checks in a plaid ( a
tartan kilt ). History, climate, and physical features have
combined to produce the proverbially undemonstrative and thrifty
Scot with his strongly developed sense of independence. But
there are other equally prominent features in his make-up; and
all the reliable estimates of the character of the Scot portray
him also as a severely practical man, hard-working, competent,
educated and hard-headed. In moving about his world, he is concerned
primarily with the practical use of things. When the Scot was
shown St. Paul's for the first time his only comment was, "
Man, it would hold a terrible, lot of hay. " And when the mayor
of a major Scottish city was asked to express an opinion about
the Pyramids his summing up was simply, " What a lot of masonry
work and no rent coming in. "
a pungency and penetration in much of his humor, confirming
that first and last he is a realist, with a homely grip on fact.
This severely practical aspect of the character comes out in
instances like these:
" And how
is your new Minister getting on ? " the villager was asked.
" 0h fine, I think, " was the reply, " but he's hardly settled
in yet. "
" But they tell me he is one of the kind that doesn't believe
in Hell. "
" Well, " came the grim rejoinder, " He'll not be here long
before he changes his mind. "
The day of
the funeral had come and gone and the old widow was receiving
a visit of condolence from some of her friends in the village
who were reminding her life was indeed brief.
" It's just the way of the world, Mrs McKay, " said one of them
with some word of comfort.
" Here today and gone tomorrow ! " was the matter-of-fact
reply, " just like the Circus ! "
been busy for a long time in clearing some very rough ground
as an extension to his garden. After months of toil he was at
last seeing some of the fruits of his labors and, with pardonable
pride, was admiring the display of blooms and vegetables when
the Minister approached with a smile of approval.
" Well Andrew, " he began, " I must say that you and the Creator
have between you have done a grand job on this ground. "
But Andrew was not too pleased about the division of credit.
" Maybe so, " he replied, " maybe so -- but you should have
seen it when the Creator had it all to Himself. "
young Andrew was making very poor progress with his rice pudding,
and his mother was doing all she could to encourage him to empty
his plate. As a final inducement, she reminded him that,
in China, there were millions and millions of children who would
be thankful for even a small plate of rice.
But the matter-of-fact Andrew was not yet convinced.
" Well, " he challenged, " name one of them ! "
was shipwrecked and finally washed ashore on a small island.
As he regains consciousness on the beach, he sees a beautiful
unclad woman standing over him. She asks, "Would you like
The Scot hoarsely
croaks, " Yes, please, I haven't eaten a bite of food for
a week and I am very hungry !"
She disappears into the woods and quickly comes back with a
basket of food. When he has choked it down, she asks, "Would
you like something to drink?"
" Oh, yes ! That food has made me very thirsty and I would
very much like a drink!"
She goes off into the woods again and returns with a bottle
of 75-year-old single-malt Scotch whiskey. The Scotsman is beginning
to think that he's in heaven when the unclad woman leans
closer and says, "Would you like to play around?"
" Oh, you beautiful woman, don't tell me you've
got a golf course here too!"