About Scottish People 

What do you know about Scottish people?

If you can bring any stereotypes to mind you might think that they're mean.... or miserly or bad-tempered.... or a bit too fond of a drink.... but you'd be wrong (well on the first two anyway!)

Okay, so what does a Scot look like?

I'd hazard a guess that the movie 'Braveheart' has colored your views on that, and again you would be wrong... at least at this point in history.

As a born-and-bred Scot myself (Glasgow is my home town) I'm happy to share what I've learned about our people's origins, and a little bit about our looks, personalities and characteristics.

Woman sitting on a mountainside contemplating Scottish highland scenery

Jump To.....

Scotland is the birthplace of a whole host of famous people - heroes, politicians, artists, scientists, performers and more.

For a little country, we've produced some BIG names! 

Click on either of these links to learn more - Famous People  or Scottish Inventions

Scottish People - The Original 'Melting Pot'

Unless you've done your research on this little country's history, you might not know that today's Scots are the descendants of three specific groups... the Britons, the Picts and the Scots, as well as people from other countries.

The people who were native to Scotland in it's very early days were the Picts.

The name translates to 'Painted People - a reference to their custom of painting/tattooing their bodies.

This was a warlike Celtic tribe descended from this area's indigenous Iron Age inhabitants. 

The Picts were conquered by the first invaders to land on their shores - the Irish Celts. 

Pictish culture left no written records, only some eerily impressive stone monuments and carvings. 

This means that a lot of what historians believe about the Picts is based on a few artifacts, scant records, and a fair amount of conjecture and guesswork. 

So, here's another real-life taste of Scotland's magic... an almost mythical war-painted race who disappeared into the mists of time leaving hardly a trace of their existence. Perfect.

The Irish were the first invaders, but they most definitely weren't the last. 

Viking settlement on a river bank

Over hundreds of years, Scotland was invaded by Vikings (from Scandinavian countries including Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Also known as the Norse).

Then there were the Romans and the English.

For a long time this was believed to be the melting pot from which all present day Scottish people are descended.

But recent DNA research done at Edinburgh University and St. Andrew's University shows a much more diverse genetic pool.

They found DNA from African races (most likely due to the 18th century slave trade) as well as Asia and several other European countries, and now believe that today's Scots are descended from almost 100 different ethnic groups. 

'Astonishing and unique' is how the University spokesman described it. I'll just say 'melting pot!'

The Scottish clan system (a 'tribal' structure) spread across much of Scotland from the Highlands centuries ago. Most Scots can trace their ancestry back to a specific clan. 

It's fascinating stuff! Learn more on our Clans of Scotland page.

If you're researching your genetic history or have Scottish ancestors, your family tree may just have got a whole lot more complicated (and interesting).

You can see the influence of many countries and cultures in Scottish names, both 'first' names (forenames) and 'last' names (surnames). 

Scots Don't All Have Red Hair...

While it's true that all hair colors are represented,  Scotland does have more redheads than any other country (Ireland is in second place). In fact around 13% (or one in every eight people) of Scottish people have some shade of red hair. Researchers with the Scottish DNA Project believe that as much as 40% of the population may carry the gene for red hair even though their own hair is of a different color.

Of course people from specific countries often share some physical characteristics in a very broad sense (ie. skin color, eye or lip shape, hair texture and so on) but there's so much more to physical looks than those basic elements.

Interesting Info!

Mainland Scotland is divided into three separate areas:

The Highlands
The Central Lowlands
The Southern Uplands

Then there are a whole bunch of islands just off the wild Scottish coastline.

These include the Inner & Outer Hebrides (off the west coast) and the Orkney Isles & Shetland Isles off the far northern coast.

Each area has a distinctly different genealogical 'flavor'!

Given that Scottish people descended from such a mixed bag of ancestors it's not surprising that there isn't one 'look' that makes you say "Oh, he's Scottish!" with any degree of certainty.

There are some features and coloring that might show up depending on which region your ancestors came from in the very beginning.

This also helps distinguish Scots who come from the different regions which make up Scotland as a whole (see info. in box to the right).

How Scottish people look can vary depending on whether they're descended from Highlanders or whether their family tree has roots in the Central Lowlands, Southern Uplands, or the northern isles.

That's because each separate area had a different balance of invaders and immigrants. 

Of course there are endless variations on this theme because over time family members come and go, adding their own heritage and DNA to the mix.

Some research seems to show that the combination of red hair (sometimes called 'carrot-top'), pale skin (often with freckles) and blue/green eyes  tends to  be more common in countries with cooler summers and long winters. This could apply here too.

There's no one physical build either. Original Highlanders tended to be below average in height, strong and wiry in build. 

Lowland Scots were taller, and bigger built, as were Orcadians and Shetlanders. 

Of course as with hair/eye/skin coloring, so much time has passed and so many different bloodlines have been blended, that the physical characteristics of today's Scottish people cover the whole spectrum.

* Another way to find out more about your Scottish family history is through your family name. Check out this page for more on this.... Scottish Surnames.

The Scottish Personality - A Nice Surprise

If you base your expectations of Scottish character traits on common 'wisdom' or stereotypes, you're going to be happy to learn that most of them are not accurate :)

Of course we don't expect all American/Canadian/Australian/English/French people (etc. etc.) to be the same - or to think/act the same way, or have the same beliefs. It's the same principle.

But there are often cultural similarities which show up in large numbers of the population, and this is as true of Scotland as it is anywhere else. 

Man displaying Scottish Saltire flag on a t-shirt worn under his jacket

Here's a list of character traits that your average Scot may have (but remember, any individual may have 10% of these, or 50%, or 90%.... or none!). Every one is unique.

  • We know the value of a dollar (or pound!). This doesn't mean that Scots are tight-fisted or mean, just that we're careful about spending and expect value for money.

  • Polite but reserved, until we get to know you.

  • Forthright and honest. We'll say what they mean, but not with malice.

  • Patriotic - Scottish people might complain about the weather, or politics, or whatever but we're fiercely proud of their country and will defend it with their last breath.

  • Fiery and bold. Historically Scots are brave, stubborn, and courageous. Still true.

  • Social and friendly, once they know you. You might be surprised at how 'chatty' a Scot can be, especially if he/she has had a drink or two :)

  • Practical and down-to-earth. One side of our personality is very grounded and matter-of-fact. We don't like pretenses or 'fake-ness'.

  • Superstitious, sentimental and spiritual. Many Scottish people have a strong belief in the supernatural, and in the strength of mythical and psychic worlds. Unexpectedly emotional for such a practical people.

  • Appreciate the arts. Scotland has produced more than it's fair share of artists, poets, writers & musicians. Scots especially love music, dancing, story-telling and literature.

  • Hard-working. Historically this is a country founded and grown on hard work. First farmers and crofters, then heavy industrial plants and shipyards, today it's finance and service industries.
  • Know how to have a good time. Celebrations, dancing, drinking, singing.... we're expert at these.

  • Enjoy their food! The Scottish diet is traditionally rich in red meat, fats and sugar. Tastes great, but not so good for your health. Today's government is encouraging healthier eating - hoping to reduce the high heart-attack stats and fight obesity. Not all Scots appreciate this!

  • Also like 'a wee dram'. Of whisky that is. Scotch Whisky is world-famous, and for good reason. Younger generations enjoy vodka and beer too, and we don't all like whisky (personally I can't even bear the smell of it!) and the all-time favorite soft drink of Scotland is Irn Bru.
Glass of Scotch Whisky with ice on a wooden table

Scottish people are also a talented, creative and forward-thinking bunch. 

Our little country has more than it's fair share of famous people and many of the things we take for granted today were invented by Scots.

Scottish inventions include the TV, telephone, radar, penicillin and many more.

How Not To Offend A Scot

As you now know, Scottish people are a fascinating blend of personality traits and are fun to spend time with.

If you're planning to visit Scotland and want to get along with the 'natives', you shouldn't have any trouble at all, as long as you remember a couple more things.....

  • Don't call us 'Scotch', we're Scots. Scotch is whisky (without an 'e')

  • Don't call a kilt a skirt.

  • Don't ever call us English (Scotland is part of the UK, not part of England!)

  • Here football is played with a round ball, and with your feet! You might know it as soccer, but don't use that word north of the border (or in most of Europe either).