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No True Scotsman punches an American in the face.
March 31, 2010 9:51 AM   Subscribe

A few years back, my friend Russell (mid-twenties, American, white, male) was in Scotland, at a bus stop. It was late at night, he'd been drinking, and some guy (mid-twenties, British, white, male) came up and angrily asked him "Are you of Scottish descent?" Russell raised his hands and eyebrows in a confused "Whoa, no idea what you're on about" gesture and said, "Buddy, you got the wrong guy." The man then punched Russell in the face. WHY?

It is, of course, perfectly likely that this particular British dude was just some individual lunatic, or way drunk, or methed up, or some combination of the above. But are there generally a lot of young Scotsman who go around getting angry at Americans sullying the soil of their homeland? Or are there a lot of young Englishmen who hate Scottish-descended folk so much that they're willing to inquire into the ethnicity of an American to see if they should be punched for it? Does there exist a seething undercurrent of nationalism in Scotland that's frequently used as a halfhearted excuse for getting one's violence on?

Note that I have no idea what part of the UK the puncher hailed from; Russell thought he was Scottish, but then, Russell was in his cups and may have misheard dude's accent.

I guess what this question boils down to, ultimately, is: in the event that I take a trip to Scotland: A) what's the likelihood of finding myself in a similar situation? and B) would it generally be safer to say "yes", "no", or simply try to sucker-punch the other guy first and take off running?
posted by Greg Nog to Society & Culture (48 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is this a question, or a statement? a) Scotland doesn't usually punch people in the face, no. b) why not just take off running and avoid the question completely?
posted by circular at 9:57 AM on March 31, 2010


Uh....my in-laws were just in Scotland a few summers ago. Neither were punched in the face. As I recall, they had a very nice time and were received quite warmly by the various people they encountered.

So, while we have beat the anecdote-isn't-data-horse to death around here, I'm going to say this situation of your friend's was likely a one-off incident and is something that could be encountered pretty much anywhere in the world late at night when drinking has been done and is not a reflection at all on the culture or the general population.

Assholes, sadly, exist everywhere.
posted by zizzle at 9:57 AM on March 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


B) "Lo siento, no hablo ingles"

Seriously, if you speak some non-english language switch to that. I have avoided similar situations overseas (people wanting to fight an American) by pretending to only speak something else. Mrs. Procrastination has also done the same in other situations. It is generally easy to tell Americans by clothing and shoes, but it sows some confusion if you can deny it.

Also known to work in the face of anti-american aggression:

"Hey, I am Canadian, eh."
posted by procrastination at 9:59 AM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


My wife went to Scotland recently and was not punched in the face. I did notice in her snapshots, however, that people in the background looked annoyed. She also walked up the driveway of the former home of a relative and a lady came out and yelled at her. She also mentioned that there are some amazing Italian restaurants there.
posted by mecran01 at 10:00 AM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


2nding zizzle. It sounds like your friend ran into a random lunatic. My folks were there last year and had a lovely time driving around all over the place.
posted by jquinby at 10:00 AM on March 31, 2010


I should note that I don't mean to imply that Scotland is, on the whole, a terrible land of terrible people or anything; I just wonder what on earth the "correct" answer to the guy's question might have been, and if there's some (sub)cultural factor I, as an American, am unaware of that may have caused him to ask this.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:01 AM on March 31, 2010


While there is a growing right-wing political presence in the UK, mostly under the auspices of the British National Party, it sounds to me more like your friend got jumped by a semi-drunken loon with a beef against non-locals.

But then again, hanging around a locals bar after dark anywhere in the world while looking conspicuously out of place can be a quite effective way of getting your ass kicked. I mean, odds were pretty good they were gonna kick somebody's ass, so it may as well be the ass of the person they don't know.

It's been my experience that while the British in general have a sort of condescending-yet-affectionate attitude towards the US--sort of like you'd have for your kid brother, whether or not said brother is all grown up or not--there isn't all that much militant anti-Americanism. Enough Scots emigrated to the US in the last few centuries that there may well be more people of Scottish descent in North America than there are in Scotland.
posted by valkyryn at 10:04 AM on March 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


If your question is really "Am I likely to be randomly punched in the face in Scotland" the answer is, of course, "no, you are unlikely to be randomly punched in the face in Scotland". So I wouldn't worry too much about it. This guy was probably just a drunk asshole.

That said, there are a lot more drunk assholes in Scotland than in most places; the number of physical assaults in Scotland would be shocking to most people. Scotland had the highest level of physical violence (short of murder) of any Western nation a couple years ago and I doubt it has dropped all THAT much since. We're talking something like triple the rate in the USA.

So, no, you aren't likely to be punched in the face. You are, however, more likely to be punched in the face there than elsewhere.
posted by Justinian at 10:06 AM on March 31, 2010 [6 favorites]


Dunno about why Russell got coldcocked, but I've noticed whenever I travel to the UK that, if I present Scottish money to pay for something in England I always get a snide remark of some sort. Perhaps there is some sort of rivalry between the two countries - I'm sure our UK Mefites can clear up that mystery.

My own unusual Scottish encounter happened in a pub in Inverness while on my honeymoon. Mr. Adams has longish hair (it was almost to his shoulders at the time), a beard and a moustache. He was also wearing a camouflage jacket at the time. A patron sitting at the bar approached Mr. Adams and asked "Where's your bike, then?" "Excuse me?" "Your bike, is it out back?" "We came here on the bus," replied a confused Mr. Adams. Another gent joined the first and said "You're an American, you're a biker, he just wants to see your Harley-Davidson." Mr. Adams explained that he wasn't a biker, but agreed that Harleys were cool and bought the two men a drink to diffuse the situation. The first man then kissed Mr. Adams squarely on the lips in gratitude. We think.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:07 AM on March 31, 2010 [13 favorites]


I am an American who has been living in Scotland for over two years, and I have not been punched in the face yet. To the best of my knowledge, none of the other Americans I know who live here have been punched in the face, either.

I have no idea what the correct answer to your question is, but I reckon there are pubs in most big cities where pretty much any answer to any question will earn you a punch in the face.
posted by alopez at 10:08 AM on March 31, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'll never forgot this article I read a few months ago.
posted by goml at 10:11 AM on March 31, 2010


I don't think it's that common, but based on anecdotal experiences of friends (from the UK themselves or visiting from elsewhere), random alcohol fueled fist-fights are far more common in the UK than elsewhere. I don't think nationalism has much to do with it.

For the record I was in Scotland for two weeks last year. I spent a lot of time around drunken Scots and didn't even see a fist fight much less participated in one myself.
posted by MillMan at 10:13 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


In the 23 years I lived in Scotland I got punched in the face a few times. I didn't always deserve it. I never once though was asked 'Are you of Scottish descent?' It's a strange way of phrasing it. I've been asked 'you from around here?' or 'who are your people?' or even 'are you Scottish?' It's a weird way of asking the question. Could he have heard wrong? Was he wearing something that could have been mistaken for football colours and had there been a big game on that day?
posted by IanMorr at 10:15 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's the sad part about all of Britain - note, I said Britain - drunk louts brawling after pubs close is a national epidemic. It happens absolutely everywhere - London, Glasgow, Cardiff, any metropolitan area with pubs, and even some small villages. You've heard of the soccer hooligans that overrun Europe? Well, this is a phenomenon just like it. I'm not saying it doesn't happen in other countries, but here it's truly some kind of epidemic. I doubt the guy who punched your friend needed any excuse, and I doubt he would remember in the morning why he punched somebody or even if he punched. Trying to divine what his reasons were are a pointless exercise. They've tried keeping pubs open longer, and open shorter. It ain't helping. Young people like to get drunk, and then brawl outside. I don't know what can be done about it, but in general, it's a good idea to avoid the scene and not walk along certain streets after certain hours - which incidentally many locals know and will warn you about.
posted by VikingSword at 10:16 AM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


if I present Scottish money to pay for something in England I always get a snide remark of some sort

Scottish bank notes are printed by the national banks (Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland, and Clydesdale) and are not considered legal tender elsewhere in the U.K. though they are often accepted. When traveling in England I have found that the reaction amongst merchants to Scottish notes ranges from unquestioning acceptance to outright refusal (usually the former, though). Anecdotally, it seems that people most unlikely to accept them are usually workers from elsewhere in Europe who are less likely to be familiar with them, especially in the south.
posted by alopez at 10:16 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's a weird way of asking the question. Could he have heard wrong?

Very weird, yes! But no, that's what the guy asked; in fact, in the version of the story I heard from Russell, it was asked twice:

Guy: "Are you of Scottish descent?"
Russell: "What?"
Guy: (angrier, louder, clearer) "Are you of Scottish descent?"
Russell: (confused) "Buddy, you got the wrong guy."
BAM
posted by Greg Nog at 10:18 AM on March 31, 2010


Does there exist a seething undercurrent of nationalism in Scotland that's frequently used as a halfhearted excuse for getting one's violence on?
Yes, but it's only held by a very small section of the population, and it's only held against the English. I live in Scotland. I'm English. I've lived here for several years, heard a lot of anti-english sentiment and have not been punched in the face. Trust me, English people are hated more than Americans.

The "Are you of Scottish descent?" part has me going 'wtf?'. The correct way to start a fight in Scotland is along the lines of 'whareelukinayabassart?' or similar.

There is certainly some anti-American sentiment (usually along the lines of "Just because your great great grandmother was Scottish it does not mean you are Scottish, stop being loud and patronising and bugger off home"), but it normally manifests itself as in mecran01's example with dirty looks. Even if it did proceed to violence, the question still strikes me as bizarre - if it was "You! Y'c--t! Y'think yer Scottish?" that would be a fighting question.

Was this in Edinburgh by any chance? The phrase sounds more 'pissed Rah' (as in posh person) than anything else. And they're weird. Who knows what they start fights about.

@ mecran01 She also walked up the driveway of the former home of a relative and a lady came out and yelled at her.
I would have the same reaction to strangers bloody well thinking they can come into my garden! Sorry, but you have no bloody right to wander into places just because someone you were related to once lived there.

A) what's the likelihood of finding myself in a similar situation?
That particular one? Almost nil. Very weird. Post-pub violence in general is possible, but avoid known dodgy areas and you'll be fine.

B) would it generally be safer to say "yes", "no", or simply try to sucker-punch the other guy first and take off running?
Again, not really relevant since I don't think it will happen. But in general, assess the drunkenness of your opponent. Some are so pissed that a simple sidestep as they swing a punch into a lamppost is sufficient.
posted by Coobeastie at 10:18 AM on March 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


Mrs. Pecinpah and I were in Edinburgh two years ago, where we spent a good amount of time in pubs. Neither of us were punched in the face, though a cabbie did spit a mouthful of beer on me after I told him a joke he really liked.

Mrs. Pecinpah is black and I am white, and while we have both spent some time in Britain (she went to school just outside of London for 5 years when she was a pre-teen, and I was born in Edinburgh but moved to America when I was 5), we both have American accents.

I think your friend got clocked by a looney. What did he do after he got punched, anyway? What did the looney do? Is there any kind of 'ending' to the story?
posted by Pecinpah at 10:23 AM on March 31, 2010


I'm American and lived in Scotland for about a year. I never witnessed, heard of, or encountered anything remotely like what you described. All in all, the Scots are pretty friendly people.
posted by schmod at 10:24 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


There was recently a post about buckfast wine. Popular in Scotland partly because it's strong and partly because it's cheap. It's high caffeine content is blamed for often making people aggressive while also getting them drunk quick.

If I wanted to punch a non-local (American or not) I'd just ask them the time and listen to their accent.

If he were Scottish he might have been ideally looking for an Englishman to punch (or vice versa). But my guess is he'd have punched whoever happened to be standing at that bus stop. At least he could then claim not to be a prejudiced aggressive arsehole: just 2 out of 3.
posted by selton at 10:26 AM on March 31, 2010


I have anecdotally heard that some Scottish folks are severely horked off at Americans coming to Scotland and claiming to "be Scottish," instead of being "of Scottish ancestry," and that in the wrong bar at the wrong time, this can earn one an ass-kicking... but this doesn't sound like that, either.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:27 AM on March 31, 2010


Or are there a lot of young Englishmen who hate Scottish-descended folk so much that they're willing to inquire into the ethnicity of an American to see if they should be punched for it?

Not that I've ever met or heard of, and I'm an English person who's been living in Scotland for years. And Americans being overenthusiastic about their Scottish ancestry is a low-level cultural running joke, not something that people would get violent about. Sounds like your friend just ran into a random drunken lunatic - and while we're not short on those here, even they don't usually do much more than babble at you strangely. (My favourite, a few years ago: "Hey! You! Girl! Girl with the boots! You, girl, with the boots! Hey!"
"...Yes?"
"Your boots!"
"...Yes?"
"They were made for walking, weren't they?"
"...Yes?"
"Mine weren't! Happy Christmas!" - and he walked off singing.)
posted by Catseye at 10:27 AM on March 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


Scottish bank notes are printed by the national banks (Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland, and Clydesdale) and are not considered legal tender elsewhere in the U.K.

Scottish notes aren't legal tender even in Scotland. They are acceptable, legal currency in the UK. But shopkeepers don't have to accept them, just as they don't have to accept £50 notes. It's not an anti-Scottish thing. For those that hold their nose it's largely because they run a higher risk of getting a counterfeit note because they, the person accepting the note, is unfamiliar with it.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:31 AM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


They probably thought Russell was English. There is a certain type - mercifully extremely rare - that when they get really lummed up, blame every grievance on England, and go looking for fights with anyone looking insufficiently Scottish.

Though I'm from Scotland, and lived the first 30+ years of my life there, this never happened to me, and didn't happen to anyone I know. Then again, I did have the nous to avoid angry shitfaced people.
posted by scruss at 10:34 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


By the way Greg Nog, it's possible that your friend Russell encountered a lesser spotted variant of the genus Ned.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:42 AM on March 31, 2010


If I wanted to punch a non-local (American or not) I'd just ask them the time and listen to their accent.

What if he didn't want to punch an American of Scottish descent?!?
posted by Modus Pwnens at 10:48 AM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


A British friend of mine once said that their national passtime was "casual violence." Nthing that it was just some random drunk dude.
posted by nestor_makhno at 10:50 AM on March 31, 2010


@MuffinMan - not a Ned. Neds aren't that eloquent, or even comprehensible.
posted by Coobeastie at 11:02 AM on March 31, 2010


I'm American, live in Edinburgh and have done for six years, and have never been asked such a question or heard of anything like this happening.

I have heard of any other variety of drunken asshole stories happening, and I suppose if you had told me that a pack of stag-goers had wandered around punching people, or indeed a pack of teenage girls had wandered around beating up old guys, I'd believe that. But my guess is that guy was just a random asshole.

I've never had problems with drunken louts, probably because I learned quickly to avoid eye contact and say "no thanks mate" to whatever nonsense they come out with.
posted by ukdanae at 11:04 AM on March 31, 2010


Was there a soccer or rugby or some other sports match going on at the time? Maybe it was an enraged supporter who took your friend for a supporter of a rival team.
posted by MsMolly at 11:23 AM on March 31, 2010


Perhaps it was done on a dare.

A bunch of drunk guys goading one another to ask that fellow over there if he's Scottish, and if he's not, punch him in the face.

I can imagine a bunch of inebriated morons thinking this hilarious.
posted by thisperon at 11:32 AM on March 31, 2010


Random drunken lout. Probably any answer would have gotten him punched. Nestor's casual violence comment rings true to my experience growing up in the Midlands.

There is anti-English feeling in Scotland. It's especially prevalent in the Aberdeen area where we are accused of stealing Scottish jobs, and there's a transient drunken population from rig crew changes. I was offshore once when a roustabout came up to me and told me to fuck off and stop stealing Scottish jobs. I politely pointed the Norfolk coast out to him and he fucked off muttering under his breath. Not all the North Sea oil is Scottish.
posted by arcticseal at 11:35 AM on March 31, 2010


A good friend of mine is Scottish and he has never punched me in the face. But he hasn't lived in Scotland since the 1908s, so perhaps that's why. I guess what I'm getting at is don't extrapolate the behavior of one individual to an entire country.
posted by tommasz at 11:37 AM on March 31, 2010


nestor_makhno and articseal are on the right track I reckon. Of course, I wasn't there when your friend got lamped so there may have been other factors, but the bottom line is that there's an undercurrent of violence that's part and parcel of the lives of lots of young men in the UK - either as one of the smaller group of perpetrators or the larger group who have to bear it in mind as they go about their business.
It won't have had much to do with your friend being American is my surmise - my brother once got punched in a pub by someone who'd looked him up and down for about five minutes trying to think of any flimsy excuse to have a go before finally settling on the fact he had army surplus combats on to announce "Reckon you're a solider?" before taking a swing.
As well as navigating this sort of shite behaviour most of my youth, I used to work in a pub where I had to throw such people out on a regular basis.
posted by Abiezer at 11:53 AM on March 31, 2010


But he hasn't lived in Scotland since the 1908s

He might just be getting feeble.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:58 AM on March 31, 2010 [7 favorites]


To answer the second part of your question - there was no right answer. The drunken idiot wanted someone to punch, and maybe in his beer-soaked brain he felt that he could only justify it if someone had said something to "deserve it". So he asked a question that would guarantee an answer of some kind, completing the little drama he wanted to play out.

"Yes" and "no" would both guarantee getting punched, because your friend played along with the game. The correct response would have been simply to leg it as fast as possible and trust that he was able to outrun a drunken idiot, but really there's no foolproof method. Idiots are idiots the world over, and you can't always avoid them.

Sorry to hear your friend had such a bad experience of the UK - for what it's worth, I've lived here all my life and have yet to be punched by a random idiot.
posted by ZsigE at 12:43 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


If I wanted to punch a non-local (American or not) I'd just ask them the time and listen to their accent.

But then how would they know, when looking back on the incident, that they were punched for being English/American/A non-local?
posted by Mike1024 at 1:16 PM on March 31, 2010


Scottish notes aren't legal tender even in Scotland.

That is true, but I've never seen nor heard of a Scottish shopkeeper turning down a Scottish nor English note (or the occasional Irish note, for that matter). When in Scotland you needn't worry about who printed the notes in your wallet. When in England I do. I have heard the occasional odd grumbling remark about it from others living north of the border, and I suspect it just contributes in some tiny, unconscious way to a lingering sense of antipathy. At least that's my impression as an outsider.
posted by alopez at 2:10 PM on March 31, 2010


sucker punch the other guy is your best bet.
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:08 PM on March 31, 2010


I'm left wondering if your friend was very large - not fat, but physically imposing, either by virtue of height, build, or visible buffness. I've had a few male friends who were very large, and it seems like they were always being threatened with drunken physical violence.

There's a particular variety of drunkard who sees another man half a foot taller than him, and takes it as a direct challenge to his own masculinity. The line of thinking (such as it is) being something like, "You are twice my size; therefore I must punch you in the face."
posted by ErikaB at 5:23 PM on March 31, 2010


Nope! Russell's a pretty wiry, average-heighted guy!

What did he do after he got punched, anyway? What did the looney do? Is there any kind of 'ending' to the story?

He crumpled to the ground, and the looney strolled off. Months later, he told the story to me, and I was like, "Dang! That's fucked up!" and Russell laughed and said, "It sure fuckin' was!"
posted by Greg Nog at 5:41 PM on March 31, 2010


He crumpled to the ground...

Damn, sounds like a hell of a punch. I'm sorry for your friend.
posted by Pecinpah at 5:55 PM on March 31, 2010


If you're really concerned about it you might want to check out this previous askme.
posted by alms at 5:56 PM on March 31, 2010


It appears your friend got off lightly with a punch. If this guy had really meant business he would have given him a Glasgow kiss
posted by SueDenim at 7:01 PM on March 31, 2010


Yes, he was almost certainly at some level just looking for someone to punch. As for the question, I agree that it was probably a random enquiry designed to elicit a non-local accent, which is a common way of sourcing people to punch in the UK.

Another possibility is that Russell was wearing tartan or something else that the attacker felt should not be worn by a non-Scot. In that case, the question would make some sort of sense.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 10:09 PM on March 31, 2010


Yob culture.

I mean, it's my impression that this is why there is a fighting and "non-fighting" version of Pulp's "Common People". Dance, and drink, and screw -- because there's nothing else to do. Whatever existing drinking tendencies might be there are magnified and entrenched by structural unemployment.
posted by dhartung at 10:41 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is nobody else somewhat tickled by the fact that the drunken Scots lout phrased the question "Are you of Scottish descent?"? As a Scotsman myself, I would expect my fellow countrymen of those not burdened with an overabundance of education to open with something along the lines of "Whit ye lookin' at ya cunt? Wantin' yer go?".

As to the original question, there's no cultural subtext that your friend missed. The guy was just a drunken ass. Starting fights is their way of dealing with sexual impotence.
posted by Biru at 12:23 AM on April 1, 2010


Are you of Scottish descent?
What?
I said, are you of Scottish descent?
No! I'm Jewish!
Then I'm the luckiest Palestinian in the whole of Scotland.
(ba-dum-ching)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:00 AM on April 1, 2010


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