This entry is intended as a guide for the benefit of Scotsmen or Scotswomen who intend to emigrate across the border to England, although the advice given may also apply, at least in part, to those of Irish or Welsh descent who may wish to emigrate.
Whether it is to study at university, start a new job, tread the boards on the London theatre circuit, become a street artist after graduating with an arts degree or merely beg on the streets in potentially more lucrative surroundings, a huge number of Scots decide to migrate south every year. This annual migration maintains a high-level of ingenuity and alcohol-resistance in the British gene pool, and ensures that the population of Scotland itself never exceeds 5 million.
The advice given herein is of a general nature and contains many generalisations. Perhaps most importantly, it should be noted that the cultural differences between the Scots, or the Celts in general, and their English brethren become more and more distinct the further south one goes, particularly if one ventures beyond the imaginary line that stretches from the river Severn in the west to the Wash in the east, separating the north and south of England.
At one time, this line separated the Celts in the north and the Anglo-Saxons in the south; now the divisions relate mainly to political leanings, social etiquette and house prices. Nevertheless, the boundary is undoubtedly still there, and many have speculated that it represents a far more distinct wedge between cultures than the border itself.
In fact, if you are moving to Cumbria or Northumberland or perhaps as far south as the Midlands, you are unlikely to notice any cultural difference at all other than the hugely diverse variety of unintelligible accents. This entry is thus largely geared towards London and its suburbs, the M4 corridor, home counties and other parts of the south such as Norfolk, Sussex and Dorset.
Note: no offence is intended to any Cornish people, living or dead, or any others who may regard themselves as citizens of something entirely different.
Rules of Engagement
Firstly and foremostly, there are a number of fundamental rules that every Scot must obey when moving to and living in England:
Rule 1 – Move in Summer
Winter is depressing at the best of times, but there is nothing more depressing than making the massive effort to uproot and travel south only to find that the weather is just as miserable as from whence you started. English winters are technically slightly milder than Scottish ones, but in reality all that means is less snow and more rain.
The difference in summer is more remarkable. There is nothing like a pint in a sunny beer garden shaded by exotic palm trees to reassure yourself that you made the right decision.
There is one caveat to this – don’t on any account move south near the beginning of the new University term (unless you’re a student and have no choice). You will not get a representative perspective of your new home if it’s chock-full of freshers falling around drunk, and there will be nowhere to stay.
Rule 2 – Avoid trouble
Say you were brought up in the Gorbals and decide to move to Surrey. During your first few weeks, you will be acutely aware of how posh everyone sounds, and will naturally assume that no-one with such an near-comical stereotypical upper class accent could possibly be a threat. This is a mistake. Everyone talks like that, and many will be just as likely to chib you as your fellow Wegies. In fact, having fewer natural enemies they may be even more likely to kick off.
Secondly, it should be noted that the further south you go, the harder it gets to pick out the nutters. Scottish hardmen have football tattoos, scars, Pringle jumpers, wild, vacant eyes and probably a bottle or two of hard liquor on their person. In England it is not nearly as simple. Nearly everyone is tattooed, and the real basket cases are likely to wear the same as everyone else and be indistinguishable from every other member of the building trade. It would be wise to play it safe and assume that everyone is hostile until they prove otherwise.
Rule 3 – Don’t overplay your own accent
No-one thinks you are Sean Connery or Ewan McGregor. There are already loads of Scottish people in England; probably more than in Scotland in fact. Half the Government are Scottish after all. To the average southerner, your accent is nothing special and you may have to modify your accent just to be understood – if you’re from Glasgow you’ll need to slow down, and if you’re from Edinburgh you’ll have to speak clearly for once. Accents originating from north of Perthshire or the Western Isles will be more comprehensible – but only because everyone will think you’re Irish.
Over time you may receive the odd compliment on your accent, but put this in perspective – a cute accent does not automatically guarantee limitless success with the opposite sex. Accent sits just below 2nd-to-3rd-toe length ratio on the grand scale of attractive qualities.
Rule 4 – Don’t bang on about Scotland the whole time
The Scots have achieved things out of proportion to their modest numbers over the years. Scotland is a beautiful, sparsely-populated and largely unspoiled country with plentiful natural resources and a diverse, fair and friendly culture.
But the English have heard all that before. They will pay no more attention than they would to a Frenchman harping on about how crap he considers British food to be. Any argument citing the Scot’s achievements in science, medicine, engineering, mathematics, politics, law and economics is likely to be countered by their relative underachievement in sports, music and the arts. If your opponent is really switched on, you may be forced to recite the names of all the good bands that have come out of Scotland in recent years. Or perhaps the number of times Scotland has won the World Cup. Then you’ll really be in trouble.
Rule 5 – Don’t slag off the Sassenachs
No matter how tempting this may be, they’re bored of hearing it. There will aspects of your new life that you will like, and there will be some that you don’t. Don’t blame it all on the natives. The Scot’s inability to say anything good about the English is well known and as well documented as the English’ antipathy towards the French. English patriotism is however on the rise, and there is an increasing tendency not to take good-natured jibes in the friendly spirit in which they were intended.
Rule 6 – Don’t get sucked into a niche
Never forget you come from a basically classless society. When starting a new life, you will probably start off with a limited circle of friends, be they workmates, classmates, neighbours or residents of the adjacent shop doorways. Chances are that all members of this circle all belong to the same social class, and will actively avoid places frequented by lower classes while simultaneously slagging off, and aspiring to be, the higher classes.
Although you will inevitably slot straight into the same niche, never limit yourself to a single horizontal slice of society. Classless people can be accepted happily into any circle (with a few caveats that we shall discuss later); an ability that you should make the best of. If you don’t, you will miss out on a well-balanced life and many fruitful friendships.
Rule 7 – Don’t perpetuate the myths
Everyone knows the story of how copper wire was invented1. The tightness of the Scots is perhaps their strongest stereotype. In reality, being a fair people, the Scots are merely averse to being ripped off; a trait that wealthy southerners who tend to wear their bank-balances on their sleeves do not always understand.
It only takes a single individual trying to scrounge “50p for the bus home” to imprint an opinion of an entire race in someone’s mind for life. The Scots must therefore try extra hard not to appear miserly, and each one has a moral and patriotic not to sustain this vile and unjustified stain on the nation’s character. You must always get your round in, no matter how ludicrous the price.
This depends largely on the size of your budget and the quantity of stuff you need to take. If the answer to both questions is small, hitchhiking is pretty foolproof. There will be many lorries heading south for the big cities or the ports, and the drivers may be glad of some company.
Alternatively, there are trains – the east coast Aberdeen/Edinburgh to London route is probably the nicest and quickest. Avoid the west coast main line if at all possible, unless you have a great deal of spare time on your hands.
If you can’t afford the train, you can fly from most of the main Scottish airports to most of the main English ones. Journeys take less than an hour, and the only real downsides to flying are not being able to carry much stuff and having to endure airports.
If you have a car, take it. You can take all your stuff, and all the main roads are helpfully signposted “The South”. But beware; the journey can be long and arduous. Neither of the two main routes south, the A1/M1 and M74/M6, are known for their free-flowing qualities. Traffic jams that would span the entire width of the central belt are not unknown on English motorways. If in doubt, travel during the quiet period; around 3.47 on a Tuesday morning. And never forget that you will need to unload at the other end – it might be tempting to fall out of the car into the nearest pub after such a long journey, but don’t expect your stuff to be there when you get back.
Note: whatever route you choose, try not to cry when you cross the border: see it as an opportunity.
You are going to find this expensive, regardless of whether you’re headed for the Connaught or the campsite. Hopefully, the extra income from your new job or begging patch will cover this. If not, you will find many fellow Scots at night in shop doorways that would be glad to chat to a fellow ex-pat and share a few sips of their Special Brew.
Chances are, you’ll start off in a Bed and Breakfast for the first few days while you look for a more permanent abode. Inns are highly recommended for this purpose – not only do they give you a good, solid, food-and-drink-serving base from where you can explore your new surroundings, but it is considerably less embarrassing sitting at the bar on your own when you’re a resident.
You may then decide to rent a place for the first few months or years. The easiest option is a shared house, which may come with bills included and, housemates aside, will be relatively hassle-free. Quality obviously depends on budget: if you want to share a suburban semi with three attractive lawyers, rather than a top floor flat with a bunch of soap-dodging first-year students who stay up all night smoking dope, you will have to pay for it.
If you decide to buy, learn the procedure first; it is very different to the Scottish one. Property-buying laws positively encourage people to be the worst back-stabbing, money-grabbing capitalist scum their consciences allow them to be, and consciences tend to take leave when large sums of money are involved. The phrase “trust no-one” is never more important than when buying a house.
On the upside, in England at least you are given a vague idea of how much the property costs before you put in your offer. You will also be informed pretty quickly whether your offer has been accepted, and if not you should have the opportunity to make another offer. Just remember that there is no such thing as a verbal contract down here, acceptance of the offer means nothing, and you have no legal claim to anything until both parties have signed the contract, no matter how protracted and expensive the process has been up to that point.
Note: even if you don't buy, it's worth swotting up on local house prices - the subject is the staple of a surprising proportion of polite conversation in some circles.
Culture and Entertainment
There is nowhere in Scotland from which you can move to London and be disappointed with the quantity and variety of entertainment venues. The local events magazines and tube make it dangerously easy to do something very interesting and card-maxingly expensive almost every single night. You will need some seriously commitment though and anyone who grew up on Barra will tire very, very quickly.
The rest of England is less so. Facilities are generally in proportion with the size of the place. For some perspective, the 10 largest UK cities after London are: Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow, Sheffield, Bradford, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, Cardiff2. For quality and variety however, remember that Glasgow is renowned for its culture3 and your capital hosts the biggest arts festival in Europe, so many destinations are unlikely to measure up. One notable is exception is Liverpool, which has a nightlife that is nothing short of astounding, and way out of proportion to the city’s size.
Clearly things get less good the further down the tree you go, but it is worth mentioning that some of the smaller, wealthier cities in the south have an innate conservatism that actively stifles culture. There is an obvious trade-off here – really nice areas are really nice because they’re not packed full of drunks pouring out of the bars, clubs, restaurants and venues at 4.00am on a Saturday night.
People and Social Etiquette
England is busy. OK, we all know that compared to Scotland there are roughly ten times as many people in roughly the same area, but this doesn’t come close to explaining how busy it can get. The English have an almost gas-like ability to swell up and occupy every available cubic millimetre of space. It would take you longer to walk past all four shops in the High Street of Soddington-under-Dogweed in Oxfordshire than it would to traverse the entire length of Princes Street or Suchiehall Street on a Saturday afternoon.
London is slightly different. People are packed in so densely in London that they take on a sort of frictionless, superfluid state and seem to move about fairly freely. One of the wonders of the modern world is the sight of an entire platform-load of people somehow getting on a tube train that is already packed to capacity. The first few times you witness this you’ll probably mutter something to yourself, give up and find a pub until things calm down a bit, but eventually you’ll lose any pretence of preserving personal space and accept that the human body is in fact quite compressible.
Queuing in London is a way of life. There are no basic activities that do not involve a queue at some point. Luckily, the natives are very experienced at this and tend to wait in line politely, so the queues tend to move quickly and efficiently. This does not apply in all parts of England however. England is closer to the continent after all, and in many areas queue-jumping is rife.
As regards behaviour, in more northerly parts of England just act normal and polite and you will have few problems. In the south however, things are slightly different. Don’t assume that everyone shares your natural Glaswegian camaraderie for example: if you happen to be waiting in a taxi queue after a night out, don’t try to chat to the couple in front or offer to share their taxi. If you’re very lucky they might find it endearing and brush you off politely, but more likely they’ll just assume you’re a nutter and call the police. Likewise, never, ever go up to an attractive stranger during Hogmanay celebrations and attempt to kiss them unless you really want a mention on the sex offender’s register.
When shopping, you must always wait politely while the checkout assistant finishes chatting to her colleague or reading her gossip magazine, looks at you disapprovingly and eventually, reluctantly, gets round to serving you. If possible, pretend to be doing something else yourself, like reading your own magazine or talking on your mobile. Smiling is neither expected nor appreciated. Do not be tempted to complain to the management; just regard yourself privileged to have been served at all. This behaviour is perfectly normal and you will encounter it everywhere.
Note: in England, neds are known as chavs. They are, for all intents and purposes, identical.
If you move from Shetland to Cornwall, you’ve gone south by a whole 10 degrees of latitude but are only a paltry 100-odd miles closer to the sun. It may not seem like much, but it makes a noticeable difference to the weather. England is generally only a couple of degrees warmer but is conveniently shielded from the Atlantic by Ireland, resulting in less cloud and a disproportionate number of sunny days.
But again, this is a generalisation. The west is still wetter than the east, regardless of latitude. The south can be unbearably hot and sticky in the summer, and a few days of unbroken sunshine is usually a pretty good indicator that a thunderstorm is on the way.
Note: England has less weather than Scotland.
The transport infrastructure is not designed with weather in mind, and both roads and railways can grind to a halt if the climate is too cold, hot, wet, dry, foggy or clear. The prevalence of large 4x4 vehicles down here is not purely down to a display of social status. It is also worth remembering that the gritters are not held financially liable for keeping the roads clear, so tend not to come out until after 6 inches of snow has fallen and turned straight into black ice.
The main differences you will find in the south are in the gastropubs: you can’t drive more than 5 miles down any A-road in England without coming across a large and inviting family-friendly hostelry with a nice beer garden and a Michelin-starred chef. It is becoming quite difficult to find bad pub food these days. The restaurants are even better, and are improving all the time. Scotland is catching up, but is not quite there yet.
Sadly the same cannot be said of their chip shops, most of which were apparently bypassed by the fast food revolution.
You will not be in and out in under a minute or be able to view a vast variety of tasty deep-fried treats in batter before buying. If you’re lucky there might be a couple of lonely looking cod fillets on display but you’ll have to wait for everything else. There are no haggis suppers, fried pizzas / chocolate bars or stonner kebabs here. That said, the fish can sometimes be quite good. The default fish in England is cod (though haddock is also available): widely available despite being on the verge of extinction - now is the time to try it.
Note: a fish supper is known down here as “fish-and-chips”.
Given their relative proximity, the stark difference between Scottish and English pubs is still surprising. You are unlikely to obtain a pint of your beloved 80/- anywhere, so you’d better get used to drinking bitter. This is not necessarily as bad as it sounds, and don’t be put off by that first pint of weak mass-produced ale that tastes just like IPA mixed in equal proportion with Hunterston cooling water. There is a large real-ale movement in England and there are a load of pubs offering a variety of guest ales or at least good, strong and tasty alternatives, if you can be bothered to seek them out.
But the best news is reserved for lager drinkers. Even the bog-standard (excuse the pun) Carling, Carlsberg and Fosters4 are much better than their Scottish equivalents (yes, really), and nearly all pubs have at least one decent strong lager on draught, maybe several, and many more in bottles. Often the real-ale pubs also serve very good German or Czech lagers.
Note: although served in similar quantities (i.e. a pint) beer comes without a head as standard; you’ll have to ask for it.
Wine-drinkers are also well catered for, and are not limited to stereotypically dreadful chrome, neon and glass wine-bars; although there are still a few of them about to cater for the type of people who enjoy that sort of thing. Most pubs, whether traditional real-ale or trendy, also serve a good selection of wines. Much of it is even drinkable, though stay alert as many pubs would think nothing of charging £4.50 for a glass poured from a three-day-old open bottle.
Good whisky is not hard to find - many pubs have a standard selection of single malts on offer - though usually just for display purposes since only premiership footballers can afford to drink it.
One of the many things you may tell yourself before you move is your improved proximity to the south coast and the continent will lead to more frequent trips to the seaside and abroad. This is a bit of a myth; it is just as easy to hop on a plane in Aberdeen as it is to drive to a south coast ferry port from London.
As for the seaside, English beaches are generally nice now they’ve all been cleaned up. They are however very, very busy; the nicer ones being busier still.
Note: due to the higher temperatures, people on beaches wear less. Sometimes nothing.
Never, ever be temped to head for the coast on a bank holiday weekend. On English bank holiday weekends, the natives all hitch up their caravans, head for the nearest motorway, point south and wait for the rest of the weekend for the queue to disperse. The M1, M3, M5 and M6 become vast columns of steel stretching the length of the country. There is a good reason why bank holidays fall on different dates in England - if these queues had the additional weight of Scottish traffic pushing from the top those at the bottom end would probably fall into the Channel.
The subject of entomology may seem like a rather obscure topic for a rough guide such as this, but no guide to Scotland would be complete without a mention of the dreaded Highland midge so it is only fair to redress the balance. The news here is all good: there are no midges in England to speak of. There are many other insects – some of which can grow to alarming sizes – but none are particularly dangerous.
Note: insects aside, there is very little wildlife in England, there being nowhere for it to live.
The difference in attitudes can be daunting. After a few months you may conclude that anyone who wasn’t actually born in your street will never be accepted there. You will find that many people don’t make eye contact or acknowledge your presence in any way even though they live next door and you see them every morning.
In actual fact, people from the north and south are actually slightly out of phase. In effect, you are completely invisible to a southerner. The phase-shift wavefunction collapses on formal introduction, whereafter all parties will be fully corporeal and your presence will be fully acknowledged. This is one of many distinct cultural differences that you will have to get used to.5
Maintain your patience, and don’t expect a rampant social life until you have been introduced to sufficient people. Follow the rules above and everything will sort itself out. Pubs, evening classes, clubs or any other social gatherings will enable you to meet new people, and you may even meet a load of ex-pats or other aliens in the same boat. Give it time, and you will discover that the English are in fact just as friendly, or at least once you’ve been formally introduced.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. You friends and acquaintances will be just as friendly as their Scottish peers, but strangers will continue to be hostile. This has nothing to do with your own ethnicity; they are simply hostile to everyone. There is no such thing as an ‘unidentified contact’ on an Englishman’s radar; they are all hostile until proven otherwise. There is a general undercurrent of distrust and paranoia amongst southerners that leads to a underlying assumption that everyone else is either stupid, evil or generally out to them. It is worth remembering this, as it dictates behaviour in many social situations. When someone rear-ends you at a red traffic light for example, the guilty party will immediately assume it was YOUR FAULT, and will often produce a remarkably convincing argument to justify their apparently untenable position. You will be expected to mount a very articulate defence to avoid being punched in the face.
The Class System
The class system was touched on above, and you need to be aware of where you sit in the hierarchy. Ignorance is bliss, and you may feel perfectly happy wearing jeans to the neighbours’ cheese and wine party or going to a football match without shaving all your hair off first. But sooner or later you will notice people looking at you in a funny way. While you should never, ever, limit yourself to a single stratum of society, some level of effort is expected if you want to integrate successfully.
Your home, for example, should reflect your chosen self-appointed social standing, regardless of the location, size or value of the property itself. At the extreme ends of the scale, this is normally achieved by way of a shiny new 4x4 or rusty washing machine on the drive. Never confuse ostentation with bling though; England is not completely devoid of taste. A cheap concrete render designed to make the façade of your 1970’s house look like genuine Georgian stonework will be recognised as such.
As well as your social standing, it is important to ensure that your possessions, particularly house and car, are commensurate with your wealth. You should always buy the best you can afford. Forget the understated affluence of the Blackhall and Morningside millionaires and their modest homes; people in the south expect to be able to estimate your disposable income to the nearest penny by the time they’ve reached your front door.
You’ll also need to suppress any of those peculiarly Scottish notions like practicality or pragmatism - there are NO other considerations when selecting possessions other than maximising the ratio of actual cost to apparent cost. It doesn’t matter if your plasma screen television is so big and your living room so small that your eyes cannot take in more than four pixels at a time. It doesn’t matter if you have to drive a car that could comfortably accommodate an entire weightwatchers group despite having no family of your own (it has been known for the English to knowingly buy cars that are too wide to fit down their streets). Likewise, the number of people in your family has no bearing on the number of bedrooms your house should have - the cost of cleaning and heating 13 unused bedrooms is negligible in comparison to the social status that a 14-bedroom house engenders.
Despite all this, many Scotsmen live fulfilling and satisfying lives in the south. The advice provided here is based on many collective years of experience of the subject. Many of the cultural differences are extremely subtle; so much so in fact that many ex-pat Scots may never even notice them. This is testimony to the fact that the Scots and the English are more alike than not; the populations have intermixed for hundreds of years and the border itself has moved a few times. Scotland has endured years of government from London and the English have tolerated years of disproportionate Scottish representation in their government. In these days of extreme political correctness we should be thankful that we are free to point out differences, in both positive and negative lights, thereby giving new immigrants the best possible chance of success.