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When Scots abroad have to bear the cross of being English

We Scots have a fine conceit of ourselves. 

We imagine the whole world knows about Scotland and its distinctive culture and history.  Most of all, we’re quite sure foreigners understand what distinguishes us from the English.  

We’re kidding ourselves. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, if you're Scottish, you’re from England.

I’ve just returned from three weeks in Eastern Europe.  It wasn’t a tourist trip so I didn’t meet bar and hotel staff who’ve learned that referring to Scots as ‘English’ doesn’t generate good tips and high ratings on the feedback questionnaire.

Instead, having dutifully registered my country of origin as ‘Scotland’ and citizenships as ‘British’, I was always greeted by “Ah, so you’re from England.”

Even registering my citizenship as ‘Scottish’ made no difference. After all, I have an ‘English’ passport, don’t I?

The reality is that for almost all foreigners, ‘England’ means exactly the same as ‘Great Britain’ or ‘United Kingdom’.  So why use two words when one will do?

Nevertheless, even I was astonished that very well-educated and very well-informed people routinely use ‘England’ when they are clearly referring to Britain.

I was asked my opinion about the English economy, the English government and the English army in Afghanistan.  When it came to history, I was especially confused about references to the ‘Battle of England’ until I realised it was the Battle of Britain which was being discussed!

Naturally, I protested and delivered my (now very well-practised) lecture on the definitions of ‘Scotland’, ‘England’ and ‘Great Britain.’

For the next day or so, my foreign colleagues made a big effort but it didn’t last. We were soon back to ‘England’ this and ‘English’ that. It’s too deeply ingrained. I was even introduced to a newcomer as coming from England by someone who’d heard my impassioned protest.

Official communications and the high quality media abroad generally stick correctly to ‘Britain’ and ‘British’.  However, informally almost all foreigners refer to what we'd call the UK as ‘England.’  So the people who live in the UK are, to them, ‘English’.

We can’t really blame foreigners for their confusion.  For them, ‘Scotland’ probably has the same meaning that ‘Bavaria’ and ‘Andalucia’ has for us. That is, regions of a bigger entity which have their own distinctive cultures.

But they are indisputably part of bigger entities: in these cases, Germany and Spain respectively.  For foreigners, ‘Scotland’ is part of a bigger entity.  Unfortunately for us, that bigger entity is firmly lodged in the brains of the rest of the world as ‘England’.

This shouldn’t surprise us. Let’s face it, for most Scots, before the collapse of the USSR, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Ukrainians and Georgians were exotic types of ‘Russians’.

We now appreciate that’s the worst possible insult for them. What’s changed? Well, the countries of these people are now on the map. They have seats at the UN. Everyone else’s perspective of them has been transformed.

That’s the reality Scots have to face up to. If your country is not on the map, it’s not in the heads of other people.  We can’t blame foreigners if ‘Scotland’ has the same significance for them as somewhere like ‘Saxony’ has for us.

We can’t have it both ways. We can’t be part of England (sorry, the UK - after three weeks, it’s catching!)  and expect foreigners to recognise the distinctiveness of Scotland.

People around the globe have no interest in getting their heads around ‘Great Britain’, ‘Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ and the ‘United Kingdom’. After all, these are just fancy titles for England, aren’t they?

Unfortunately for us, for the rest of humanity outside these isles, if you’re from Scotland, then you must be English.

Contextual targeting label: 
Travel

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