Today was lots of time on the bus, making our way from Loch Ness back to Edinburgh. We stopped in small towns every half hour or so, typical Scottish villages set amidst amazing mountains. Highland hospitality was impressive: an upscale whisky (Scotch) shop in a small city had a huge sign our front proclaiming “free tasting every day.” Obviously poor tourists very unlikely to buy anything even nearly as expensive as their cheapest whisky, Mike and I asked the mom of the shop about the free samples. Smiling, she gave us a choice of several pricy Scotches and happily answered our questions. On our way our right after taking advantage of their generosity, we thanked the pop of the shop. Smiling widely, he replied “no problem. It is our pleasure.” Somehow, I don’t see that shopping experience happening to me back in London or Wilkes-Barre any time soon.
I felt like a stupid, typical American afterwards, but I had to ask one of our Scottish guides to imitate Fat Willie from “Austin Powers 2.” Confused but obliging, she let out an “I’m dead sexy. I eat babies.” Far better was our other guide’s “Braveheart” imitation, complete with a plastic sword, wig, and charge into the crowd while yelling “they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!” These imitations, the Loch Ness monster shop, a good half of the stores in every town we stopped in: yeah, they’re proud people pandering to tourists, but tourism’s definitely providing tons of income in a country that’s slow and late in transitioning from an unsustainable reliance on timber and other finite resources to a modern economy.
It seems like Scotland’s in a very strange state. As we walked around one of many battlefields, I thought about how sad it was: in just this 1 battle, over 1,000 Scots died fighting the British to be commended by piles of rocks marking mass graves, 2 flags in a field, and a country still under London’s control. The guy at Loch Ness in traditional highlander garb joked about finding a British person in the crowd to demonstrate battle techniques on and the captain compared Margaret Thatcher to Nessie, but the resentment is definitely more than just jokes. The Scottish national anthem wanes poetic about how the brave Scots “sent them home to think again.” It adds midway through something about how “those days are gone now,” but ends with a line about Scotland rising again. Talking to a tour guide, I learned Scotland got its own parliament by a large majority in a 1997 referendum. This parliament’s subordinate to the English parliament, but gets a significant amount of power. In case you were as ignorant as I am, Great Britain is just Scotland, Wales, and England, while the U. K. is Great Britain plus Northern Ireland. She noted that Scotland would be the fifth richest country in the world (per capita, I’m guessing) if Scotland were its own country and that people are divided on the issue of independence: some feel Scotland couldn’t handle it. As to whether Scotland will ever be independent, I think my tour guide’s right in saying it’s just a matter of time. A country whose history seems nearly entirely based on violently rebelling against invaders just doesn’t seem too fond of being subordinate.
Basically, today I took advantage of highland hospitality through free alcohol and found that traveling’s an excellent replacement for history classes. Sad part is I have now probably seen and learned more about Scotland than the U.S.; I feel like I should take a tour when I get home to catch up!