Survival Guide: Scotland

If you’re a South African with intentions of visiting bonnie Scotland, this page is for you! I’ve managed to make all of the following mistakes (with many more to come, no doubt) so that you don’t have to. I’m altruistic like that.

1. I’ve just survived the coldest April on record but this advice stands in perpetuity: it doesn’t matter if the sun is shining now, chances are you’ll get frostbite or drown in the rain by midday. Never ever leave the house without a waterproof jacket (with hood), a beanie (with ears), gloves and a scarf.

2. Umbrellas are a great idea if you enjoy watching something flick inside-out while you’re being buffeted across the sidewalk. While never as dramatic as a howling South-Easter, the winds here are just strong enough to make you cold, wet and grumpy.

3. When the Scots announce that it’s going to be “a bonnie day”, re-read point 1. Your summer clothes have no place in this country. I packed my favourite flouncy dress and now, every time I open my closet and see it, I laugh.

4. Water resistant is not the same as waterproof and being wet is worse than being broke. Spend the money on proper gear, and then horizontal rain won’t destroy your day!

Raining? Again?! Surely not.

5. If you’re planning on being in Scotland for a while, don’t be too surprised if you find yourself eating everything in sight and sleeping 13.7 hours a day. Your body needs whatever it can get as it adjusts, and you should be back to normal within a few weeks. Apparently.

My weekly cheese intake…(photo by David Bruce)

6. Your ingrained minibus-dodging skills will come in handy when dealing with cyclists in St. Andrews. The difference being that these guys are legally permitted to mount the pavement. Engage your inner ninja.

7. Try all the ciders! They taste nothing like Savanna! Also, if the barman offers you a glass of ice with it, accept. It’s delicious like that but beware the hangover. Speaking of which…

8. Whiskey is always a good idea unless you’re drinking with actual Scottish people. In these situations, I find it best to whimper and hide and pretend you have a disease that precludes you from even being in a bar.

9. If you NEED fresh fruit and vegetables on a daily basis, you may struggle. The Scottish national dish is anything battered and deep fried… And that includes pizza. They also eat organs and god-knows-what-else wrapped in sheep stomach, commonly known as Haggis, as well as congealed blood and pig fat called black pudding. I’ve nibbled on Mopani worms and crunched on chicken feet, but my resolve to “try anything once” has been sorely tested out here.

10. Scotland isn’t cheap and you’ll have to gird your loins to experience the best that this country has to offer. Luckily, to compensate for the prohibitively expensive cost of living, the beautiful walks are free, as are many of the museums and galleries.

Beautiful grounds open for explorations (and picnics!)

11. Smile! I’ve never come across a friendlier group of people and if you show the slightest inclination at being open to chat, you’ll make friends EVERYWHERE. Also: the best advice I’ve received so far has been from cab drivers – be nice and they’ll offer information on the cheapest ways to travel, the best places to eat, which ‘local’ (pub) has brilliant specials on – all topped with ‘colourful’ jokes about the British.


1. “Pitch” is a word reserved entirely for cricket grounds. If you use it in place of “arrive”, you’ll be met with blank looks and then hilarity.

2. Never ever say robots unless you enjoy having a group of people crying with laughter and pointing at you. They’re traffic lights.

3. Tea is tea, but it’s also dinner. Oh, and dinner is also just a posher word for supper.

4. A “nice day” in Cape Town is defined as: not too windy and a good 27 degrees Celsius. A “nice day” in Scotland is defined as: not too windy, not too rainy, maybe a bit of sun for a minute or two, preferably around 10 degrees Celsius by midday.

5. “Ja” is posh for “aye”, rather than slang for “yes”. Also: throwing in “yebo” and then explaining it’s Zulu will make you sound cool.

6. Irony of ironies, the term “gumboots” is barely recognised here. Girl in Wellies? I think not.

7. I spent the longest time thinking that the Scottish highlands were populated by strange beasts called coos. Imagine my delight when I met said beast: the cow.

The elusive lesser-spotted highland Koo (

Quite frankly, the best thing to do is brush up on your lip-reading skills before you get here. A heavy Scottish accent is often less comprehensible than Klingon. Booking something over the phone…? Good luck teryer!


5 thoughts on “Survival Guide: Scotland

  1. Yep – found Savanna fine to drink whilst in SA but never quite seen why we in the UK import quite so many cider brands. “‘C’est Cidre. Not Cider” + “Stella Artois Cidre is a premium crafted Belgian Cider” hmmph!. There’s even an award winning Scottish cider maker – but the strong one on draft needs to be treated with respect!

  2. uh.. my german cider using a french recipe from english ingredients made in scotland is ready soon!
    By the way, most joke I hear are about the english!

    1. Lars-the-guru makes cider?! Of course he does. Will it be ready at the same time as Peanut and Butter?

      We should swap – the ‘jokes’ I’ve heard from cab drivers have left me speechless!

  3. Look, lassie, Black Pudding is proper tasty. And I’m surprised to hear them Scots making jokes about the British…they are British too!! It’s us English they don’t appreciate..

    Hope it’s going well there..Cape Town’s loss is St. Andrew’s gain..

  4. No thank you to Black Pudding, but now that I’ve discovered Jaffa cakes, oat cakes and Hummingbird cake, I’m a much happier import! Nommmm.

    And jawellnofine, someone recently pointed out the whole British/English thing and I realised my error. It’s confusing, okay? And now that I’ve befriended a few Irish folk (Northern and Republic of-), I’m having to really watch what I say!!

    Scotland is treating me well, my friend. Missing you and your fabulous dinner parties though, hope you plan to be around in January. I’m home for the month! Woooo x

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