The Guide: A Crash Course in Scottish Culture

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YOUR Guide to: make the most out of your study abroad experience by travelling, learning, and living

I think it’s safe to say that any place that appointed a mythical, magical creature, such as the unicorn, as its national animal, and a place where one of the nation’s most celebrated poems is literally an ‘Address to a Haggis’, is a place that deserves profound and sincere cultural recognition and appreciation.  That place, you might have guessed it, is Scotland.  Moving to a place as culturally deep-rooted and long-established as Scotland is immensely exciting, but it can also be a wee bit intimidating, especially for us Americans whose cultural history dates back just a few hundred years.  Now, that’s where I come in!  Today is Crash Course 101 in Scottish Culture: What to expect, Do’s and Don’ts, and a wee Scottish Slang Translator.

What to Expect

Culture and Traditions:

  • Music: Bagpipes!  But really, traditional Scottish music is truly unbeatable.  Whether you’re in the bustling cities, or what seems to be the middle of nowhere in the Highlands, you are bound to stumble upon some traditional Scottish folk music playing live in the pubs.  Many pubs in the cities have nightly sessions, and you can be sure you’ll stumble upon traditional Scottish tunes during your travels throughout the country.  Check out this guide for some of the best locations to listen to live traditional tunes in Scotland!
  • Food: It’s not all Haggis and Black Pudding.  Although these are some staple Scottish
    Haggis, Neeps, n’ Tatties

    delicacies, Scotland does offer a vast assortment of foods from all around the world.

    • Expect traditional Scottish dishes, such as, ofc, Haggis, Neeps, & Tatties (haggis, turnips, and potatoes), Shepherd’s Pie, Steak & Ale Casseroles (or any type of casserole or savory pie TBH), Bangers & Mash (sausage and mashed potatoes), Fish & Chips, etc.  Vegetarians – don’t worry!  Although, basically all of these dishes include meat, the cities in Scotland tend to be very accommodating to most dietary requirements!  For example, you may be able to sub a steak pie with a sweet potato and veggie pie.  Also, be sure to try some traditional Scottish desserts, such as Scottish tablet, fudge, and of course, shortbread.
    • You can also expect an array of foods from around the world, especially  European, Asian, and Indian cuisines.  However, I hate to break it to you, but great, traditional Mexican food (the type us Californians are used to) is in minimal supply here in Scotland, so load up before you arrive!
    •  Lastly, expect lots of tea. That’s all.
  • Ceilidhs: A Ceilidh is a traditional Scottish gathering during which traditional Scottish music is played, while attendees can learn and perform traditional Scottish dances to each song.  It is comparable to square dancing in America, but instead of plaid button downs and cowboy boots, its kilts and bagpipes.  Whether it’s your first Ceilidh, or you’ve been attending these events your entire life, everyone is welcome as there are often experts on stage teaching the moves before each dance.  My advice – attend as many Ceilidhs as you can during your time abroad in Scotland, some of my best memories are from these occasionally chaotic, but nevertheless, always entertaining events.  Check out your university events website to find out when/where the next Ceilidh will be held.
This image is copyright Fiona Hanson 2017©


  • Basically, the number one rule when contemplating what to expect in Scotland as it related to weather – don’t expect anything.  You may wake up, look out your window only to see clear, blue skies all around, happily expect that a t-shirt and shorts will do, only to walk into lecture 20 minutes later soaked to the bone from a rainstorm that came from nowhere.
    • When in Scotland: Always be prepared! Carry a jacket, umbrella, etc. etc. so you don’t get caught in the rain unexpectedly.  P.S. GIRLS – this goes for unexpected wind as well! If I had a pound for every time I’ve been too tragically optimistic with a flowy summer dress that all but flew straight over my head from that unanticipated Edinburgh wind..


  • Fact: You will miss the sun.  Although I do love the gloomy, overcast classic look the Scottish skies flaunt most of the time, basking in the sun in a park on a clear, warm day is always a highlight of (let’s be real, it’s ~rare~) my month.  Here, you can expect to see locals appreciating the sun during its infrequent appearances, causing them to flock to warm grass with blankets, BBQs, and frisbees.


  • In my experience, Scottish people are some of the nicest, and truthfully, funniest people I’ve experienced throughout my travels.  Take and appreciate any chance you get to befriend the Scots, not only because you’ll cherish interactions and friendships with the locals of your host country, but also because they are a great, honest, friendly, silly, and culturally proud people (I’m clearly biased, but it’s true!)
Note: Strategic Bunny Ears


  • Scotland’s natural landscapes are arguably unsurpassable.  From green rolling hills, to vast, sparkling blue lochs, to the rigid, soaring mountains of the Highlands, Scotland seems to tick all the boxes on my ‘Natural Beauty Bucket List’.  Although traveling Europe and other countries on this side of the pond is an incredible opportunity study abroad allows students, one of the best opportunities you can allow yourself to experience abroad is exploring your own host country.


Cultural Do’s and Don’ts


  • Get involved with your host uniLeanne 5
    • One of the best ways to meet locals is to join a club or society at your host uni.  There are hundreds of different clubs and societies at each host uni in Scotland, and immersing yourself in the culture and interacting with the people truly gives your time abroad a profound purpose.
  • Maintain an open mind
    • You are abroad! This is your time to open your mind to new cultures and experiences and to try things you may not have tried at home.  But remember, always stay safe, first and foremost.
  • See as much of your host city, and the rest of Scotland, as you can
    • Trust me, you won’t regret it.
  • Immerse yourself in Scottish history, culture, and traditions
    • One of the most common regrets students often have is not experiencing enough of their host country.  Make it a priority to learn about and see as much of Scotland as you can.
  • Find a Highland Coo, and send us pics.
    • We love highland coos, and so should you.



Rather than listing off a bunch of things you shouldn’t do (because what’s the fun in that?), I’ll simply list some things to be aware of, culturally, as an American living in Scotland.

  • Etiquette: British, and Scottish, people are very polite – keep this in mind as you interact with them
    • This translates to volume levels as well – it’s no secret that us Americans are well-known for being the loud ones on the block.  Just be aware of this in public places.
  • Stereotypes: Be careful about outwardly reducing aspects of Scottish (or any country, for that matter) society and culture to stereotypes.
  •  Actually… I will inform you of one thing you shouldn’t do – DON’T LOOK THE WRONG WAY CROSSING THE ROAD AND GET SQUISHED LIKE A BUG BY A DOUBLE DECKER BUS
    • Pedestrians don’t always have the right of way like at home – buses here may not always stop, so please be aware and make sure you are looking the right way for oncoming traffic.
Cute, but D E A D L Y

Scottish Slang Translator

Obviously, I still have quite a bit of Scottish slang to learn myself, so this list may not be as comprehensive as the type of slang you may encounter during your time abroad – but it is a start!

  • Ah dinnae ken” = I don’t know
  • Aye” = Yes
  • Ben” = Mountain, e.g. Ben Lomond
  • Blether” = chatting, talking, etc.
  • Bonnie” = Beautiful
  • Braw” = Good, nice
  • Coo” = Cow
  • Fizzy Juice” = Soda, e.g. IRN BRU (you must try it at least once)
  • Hen” = A woman (human, not chicken)
    • AKA “Lassie
    • Bloke” = A man
  • Neep” = Turnip
  • Tattie” = Potato
    • e.g. “Neeps n’ Tatties
  • Tea” = ofc tea, but can also mean dinner
  • Wee” = Tiny, small

Hope you enjoyed your Crash Course on Scottish Culture!  If you have any stories, pictures, or experiences you want to share to be featured in this series, please don’t hesitate to email me at!