The Dos and Don’ts of Scotland, according to a one-time visitor

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The third time really is the charm.

After two COVID postponements, my sister and her husband finally celebrated their marriage in Edinburgh’s Signet Library with a wonderful night of dancing, speeches, and of course, drinking.

Way too much drinking.

In fact, it was the kind of drinking where you step into McDonald’s the next day, catch a whiff of the food and rush outside to go lose your stuff in an alley … only to find no such alley existed and vomit instead into a plastic bag you luckily (weirdly?) find in your purse.

And no, of course that wasn’t me. I would never do such a thing. My sister did it.

Second best of all, I finally visited Scotland for the first time after two long years of anticipation.

My family and I went for an 11-day trip across Glasgow, Edinburgh, Alnwick (England) and Luss (Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park). So, without a doubt, I feel that my one-time, two-city visit provides me with sufficient authority and expertise to relay to my fellow Americans four Dos and Don’ts of all of Scotland.

DON’T rent a car.

In fact, just don’t drive at all.

My dad thought it’d be a brilliant idea to rent a car to make it easier to go wherever we wanted … in a foreign country where they drive on the opposite side of the road.

“I drove on the left side of the road for six months as a marine in Okinawa,” he told us. “It’ll be fine.”

Of course, then he ended up driving away about five years of my life, plus my mother’s.

“You’re drifting into the left lane! Move over!”

“You’re on the wrong side of the road! Don’t hit that car!”

“Slow down and move over! You almost sideswiped that car!”

At first, my dad kept drifting left into the other lane, and a couple of times he did in fact drive in the wrong lane. Just as he was starting to get the hang of it a few days into the trip, we then faced our next great challenge: roundabouts. Some had one lane, others had two, and they all had confusing traffic patterns that had us literally going in circles for a while.

I swear we heard the Mordor theme song play every time Google Maps announced we were approaching a roundabout … which seemed to be every stinkin’ mile. We eventually figured them out after irritating most of the drivers in the area.

By the end of the trip, we’d practically put together a list of reasons for why we never want to drive there again. One, the roads are too narrow. Two, rare is the beloved multi-lane highway. Three, city parking just doesn’t seem to exist, and four, we encountered a lot of traffic everywhere we went, which made it difficult to get anywhere quickly.

So, save yourself the hassle, and just use public transportation.

DO try the Indian restaurants.

I thought Indian food in the U.S. was good, but then I tried it in Scotland — and ended up having some of the tastiest Indian dishes I’d ever tried. The naan bread in particular was on a whole different level. Yum.

Now, you don’t typically visit the United Kingdom for a culinary experience, but the Indian food over there is the real, authentic deal. Just make sure to steer clear of the Chicken Vindaloo unless you want to clean out your sinuses.

DON’T get a burger.

On the other hand though, don’t buy a burger in Scotland — and not just because you can get one in the States.

In the beginning, my family and I ordered several burgers at different places across Glasgow and Edinburgh. For the most part, they disappointed us every time, and by the end, we’d learned to just avoid them.

Why? According to our family burger expert (my dad), the cooks likely overworked and overcooked the meat, removing most of the fat. To me, they just tasted more like vegan burgers, or sausage.

So instead, go for some Indian food or even haggis. I tried some haggis, actually, with Cherry Coke & Chipotle BBQ Sauce, and it was pretty good! Of course, it wasn’t the traditional dish, which consists of a sheep’s liver, kidney and lungs boiled, chopped up, mixed with oatmeal, onions, seasoning and spices, and then stuffed into a sheep’s stomach and boiled again.

Most restaurants have adapted it for a modern audience, it seems, and I tried it as a starter called “Haggis Bites.”

DO tell bartenders exactly what you want.

If you’re going to Scotland to revel in and worship Scotch like my dad, then ignore this. But if you’re like me and you don’t particularly like Scotch, make sure to give your bartenders explicit instructions for making your favorite mixed drinks.

Otherwise, when you ask for a whiskey and coke, or a rum and coke, you’ll get more coke than whiskey. Eventually I just had to order coke on the side. Perhaps this is common sense, but I didn’t have the sense to think about it before ordering.

We also noticed that their portions — even for alcoholic beverages — were smaller than what we would have liked. I remember ordering a rum and coke at the bar during my sister’s wedding “welcome event,” with coke on the side. The bartender handed me a coke and a large, tall glass with probably four spoonfuls of rum.

So, I still ended up drinking mostly coke … but at least I could find my way home after it all.

Reporter Victoria Johnson can be reached at victoria@chathamnr.com.

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