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Posts tagged ‘Scotland’


New Year traditions around the world

Happy New Year! Whether you’re already there, or have a few more hours to wait, we hope that 2015 will be a fantastic year and bring you everything you hope for.

As the celebrations get underway, here are a few interesting New Year traditions from around the world…

Twelve grapes

In Spain, eat a grape for each strike of the clock at midnight; if you manage to eat all twelve during the chimes, you’ll have twelve months of good luck.


This is the tradition of being first into a house after midnight, in Scotland and Northern England. The first-foot should bring gifts of a coin, bread, salt, coal, or whisky, which represent financial prosperity, food, flavour, warmth and good cheer. The best kind of first-foot is believed to be a tall, dark-haired man.


A tradition from German and English folklore says that you must kiss someone at midnight, and that that person will be significant in your future. If you don’t kiss anyone, it means you’re doomed to a year of loneliness. Apparently.

Yellow underwear

In Chile, if you want good luck and prosperity in the new year, wear yellow underwear – inside out – and then turn it the right way after midnight.

Making a lot of noise

In the Phillippines, the New Year’s custom is to make a lot of noise at midnight, to frighten away evil spirits. People buy small horns called torotots and also use paputok (firecrackers) as well as banging pots and pans and revving their vehicle engines.

Burning ‘Mr Old Year’

In Colombia, the previous year is seen out by families as they build large stuffed male dolls filled with different materials, and items that they no longer want or that have sad memories attached to them. Then they burn the doll at midnight, which represents burning the past and looking to the future.


The first thing you should eat after midnight in Hungary is lentil soup, because it’s believed that lentils will bring you riches in the new year – and the more lentils you eat, the richer you’ll be.

New Year Dip

In various towns on the Welsh coast, brave swimmers take a dip in the freezing sea on New Year’s Day. Some people do it in fancy dress – and no, we don’t know why.

How will you be celebrating the New Year? Whatever you’re doing we hope you have a great time!

Happy new year!




10 reasons to visit… the Outer Hebrides

The scattered islands of the Outer Hebrides, off the Western coast of Scotland, are a haven of beauty, wildlife and mysterious archaeology. Tying in with last week’s Scottish Week here at EuroTalk, these are my top ten reasons to visit the islands, where Scottish Gaelic is still spoken as a native language.

We’d love to hear from residents or fans of this gorgeous part of the world – send us your tips!

1. The beautiful, beautiful scenery

Everybody, without exception, is blown away by the views on the Hebrides, where beaches are bright white and stretch out against a distant, uninterrupted horizon. The air is crisp and unpolluted and the seas, ever changing, create a dramatic backdrop to island life. Go driving and you might be the only person on the wide road for miles. Each of the islands has its own distinct geographical characteristics, from Lewis’ flatness to Harris’ mountains.

Mangurstadh beach on Lewis

2. Black pudding

A local delicacy you’ll hopefully be presented with early on in your trip, Stornoway Black Pudding is now famous the world over. After a couple of slabs of it on your breakfast plate, you’ll not go hungry for the day, and if you’re feeling especially indulgent you might even round the meal off with a couple of kippers smoked in one of the island’s smokehouses. Yum!

3. Harris Tweed

Now internationally famous and found on Nike shoes, the tweed is traditionally made to protect against the extreme weather to be found on the island. It’s well worth taking a visit to one of the workshops or outlets to find out how it has been handmade by locals for centuries, up to the present day.

4. St Kilda

Admittedly, this is not a trip for the faint-hearted, as St Kilda lies a good eight hours’ travel by charter boat from the Hebrides, more from the mainland. Still, if you have time to play with, St Kilda is a fascinating trip. Its story of evacuation in the 1930s, after a period of extreme poverty and starvation, really hits home if you visit the museum, located in the homes of the original residents. The island is also a National Nature Reserve and a likely place to spot interesting flora and fauna.

5. The Blackhouse

You’ll find these in both the Highlands and Hebrides, and if you fancy you can even stay in one in the village of Gearrannan on Lewis, where the blackhouses have become visitor accommodation and you can experience for yourself the cosy, warm, smokey atmosphere. The blackhouse is a traditional home for both people (in one half) and their livestock (in the other), with the peculiar distinction that there is no chimney: instead, the smoke from the central hearth builds up and eventually filters through the thatched roof, creating a smokey, peaty and very warming atmosphere within.

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

6. Going to a whisky distillery

You can’t really miss this one, and generally in Scotland you’ll have a lot of local distilleries to choose from. On Lewis, you can visit the relatively new Abhainn Dearg distillery (the most westerly one in Scotland) and practice that all-important Gaelic word – Sláinte!

7. Ferries and planes

Island hopping around the Hebrides gives you the chance to see first-hand the vast differences in scenery, and character, of the many different islands. The archipelago is connected by a network of ferries, which, if you have a car, are well worth booking in advance to avoid being stranded somewhere for days. There are also a number of miniature plane journeys to be made, including the shortest ever flight, from Westray to Papa Westray, which takes a mere 1 minute 14 seconds. Don’t be alarmed if your plane only seats up to 8 people or if it lands, a little surprisingly, on the beach, as it does on Barra.

8. Rain

It’s probably a bit optimistic to expect perfect sunshine, even in the summer months, but luckily the Outer Hebrides look majestic in rain, and there is something deeply dramatic about the sudden and extreme downpour, swooping in within minutes, which can drench you to the skin. Nothing to worry about if you’re staying in the blackhouse and get to dry off in front of a peat fire, of course!

9. Wildlife

Undoubtedly this is one of the main reasons many people visit the islands. From the puffin to the golden eagle to the Minke whale, the islands, with their stunning natural beauty, are host to a rich variety of creatures which elsewhere are rarely seen.

10. Archaeology

Ranging from the very famous to the barely explored, the Hebrides are full of archaeological wonders from all ages. Perhaps the most well visited are the Callanish Stones on Lewis’ Western coast, which local legend (as often happens with standing stones) attributes to a group of naughty local giants turned to stone as punishment. Legends aside, the stones are enormous and imposing, and especially chilling if you manage to avoid the crowds and view them, early in the cold morning, huddled conspiratorially across the horizon.

Evening at Callanish

Have we convinced you to give the Outer Hebrides a try? Don’t forget to learn a few words in Scottish Gaelic before you go…



Languages of the week: Scotland

This week we’re celebrating Scotland, in honour of the Braemar Gathering of the Scottish Highland Games, which took place this weekend.

Scottish kiltThe Braemar Gathering is one of many events that make up the Highland Games from May to September each year. It’s attended by 16,000 people, including members of the Royal Family. Events include tossing the caber, putting the stone, Highland dancing and piping, and competitors must dress in Highland costumes.

Scotland has three languages: Scottish Gaelic, Scots and Scottish English – all of which you can now learn with uTalk.

Scottish Gaelic

The Scottish Gaelic alphabet has 18 letters, each of which is named after a tree or shrub.

It’s spoken by 60,000 people, mainly in the Highlands and the Western Isles, but also in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness.

There are also small Gaelic speaking communities in Canada, particularly in Alba Nuadh and on the Cape Breton Islands.

Scottish Gaelic was seen as a declining language, but recently there’s been a real resurgence in schools and an increased presence in the media. The BBC operates a Gaelic language radio station, Radio nan Gàidheal.


Scots is spoken in the Lowlands and Northern Isles of Scotland. It has four dialects: Insular Scots, Northern Scots, Central Scots and Southern Scots.

A Germanic language variety, Scots is influenced by Gaelic, Norse, Latin, Dutch, Norman French, Standard French and English.

The poet Robert Burns wrote in Scots; a well-known example is Auld Lang Syne, which was written in 1788 and is now traditionally sung at New Year.

So here’s your Challenge of the Week – we want to hear you singing (or reciting, if singing’s not your thing) Auld Lang Syne in the original Scots. If you’re not sure of the words, the BBC website can help. Send us your videos on Twitter to @EuroTalk with hashtag #1788Scots

Scottish English

Also known as SSE (Standard Scottish English), Scottish English dates back to the 17th century, when Scots and English combined.

Although an English speaker can understand Scottish English, the language contains a lot of different words. Some examples are: ‘poke’, which in Scottish English is a container for chips, ‘ken’, which means ‘know’, and ‘aye’, which is the Scottish way of saying ‘yes’.

A few fun facts about Scotland

The national animal of Scotland is the unicorn.

The shortest scheduled flight in the world is from Westray to Papa Westray in the Orkney Islands of Scotland. At just one and a half miles long, it only takes 1 minute 14 seconds.

Scotland’s traditional dish, haggis, consists of the heart, liver and lungs of a sheep boiled in its stomach. It’s tastier than it sounds!

The first recorded sighting of the Loch Ness Monster was in 565 AD, when a ‘water beast attacked one of St Columba’s followers in the loch’.

What’s your favourite Scotland fact?



10 reasons to visit… Edinburgh

I’m just about to go back to Edinburgh for my final year of university after having spent some time away from the city. I am determined to tick all of the touristy attractions off the list that make the ‘burgh a worthwhile destination, because it’s so true that when you live somewhere you don’t necessarily take advantage of the opportunities for adventure around you. Here are 10 must-sees that I have managed to experience – I wonder how much the list will have changed by this time next year!

1. Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Each year, around August time, a transformation takes over the city: almost every shop, every bar, every open space is descended on by the Fringe Festival: the biggest arts festival in the world. The first time I went I genuinely couldn’t believe the change that had come over the place I’d been living in for almost a year. There are people everywhere showcasing what they do and love best, whether that is interpretive dance or black comedy, street performance or orchestral ensembles. Some shows are free, others need to be booked far in advance, but I encourage you to go for something off the wall – with so much on offer, a disastrous morning performance can be forgotten with an incredible afternoon show!

2. The Royal Mile

This stretch of road runs from the iconic Scottish battlement that is Edinburgh Castle, to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland. Both of these are highly recommended as places to visit, although I’ve not been to the Castle yet, as part of a university superstition. The Mile itself is flanked by terraces and shops, as well as street vendors and tours offering to show the horrible histories of the Windy City. There are also some great secret passages and alleyways that lead down to Princes Street via the Princes Street Gardens.

Royal Mile, Edinburgh

3. The National Museum of Scotland

Taking up almost the entirety of Chambers Street, including a controversial extension that holds the Museum of Scotland exhibits, The National Museum has a huge collection of artefacts from across the centuries. Although there are some temporary exhibitions that you have to pay for, you are free to roam around the majority of the museum. My personal favourite is the animal installation that spans three floors.

4. The Grassmarket/the Cowgate

Edinburgh is built on many different levels, and you can be forgiven for getting lost and confused with the topography of the city. Just down from the Royal Mile, the Grassmarket and the Cowgate are ideal locations for a good bite to eat and a drink (or two). There are quirky shops to be found cheek by jowl with hostels and cafés, as well as a few clubs if that’s what you’re looking for.

5. Arthur’s Seat

It’s not a hike, but an energetic walk, and the spectacular view from Arthur’s Seat to the hills, across the sea and out over to Fife is a definite must. It’s a perfect opportunity to take in the whole city, and get to grips with the wind!

Edinburgh below Arthur's Seat

6 – 8. Stockbridge

(6) Stockbridge Market on a Sunday is adorable: local produce, friendly people and all sorts of delectable goodies. There are also some lovely cafés in the area.

(7) If you’re in Stockbridge anyway, take a walk along the Water of Leith, which leads from Pentland Hills to the Forth of Firth at Leith. I’m not suggesting you tackle all 24 miles, but it makes for a different view of the city and a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the centre.

(8) The Royal Botanical Garden was founded in the 17th century, and continues to educate and explore to world-renowned status. It comprises four gardens and boasts an impressive collection of plants.

9. The Zoo

Now I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but they’ve got pandas. As well as these adorable, rare creatures, the zoo boasts the UK’s only koalas and an impressive ‘Discovery & Learning’ program for kids. If you can organise your trip for the right time, the Penguin Parade is a site for sore eyes, and other talks throughout the day are fascinating. The zoo is easily reachable by bus from Waverly Train station.

Yang Guang the giant panda at Edinburgh Zoo

10. The Meadows

The University of Edinburgh area around Bristo Square and George Square backs onto The Meadows and further over to Bruntsfield Links. It’s a lovely spot for a little picnic or afternoon nap, and there’s sure to be people BBQ-ing too. Due to it being a student hub, you could also try out some of the lunchbox-sized lunch venues that won’t break the bank.

Have you visited Edinburgh? Share your own suggestions and tips in the comments for anyone planning a trip.


PS Because this is a language blog, we felt we should add a footnote – English is the official language of Scotland, although it sounds a little different from the ‘Queen’s English’ spoken in much of England, particularly the south. Scotland also has two regional languages: Scottish Gaelic and Scots. You can learn Scottish Gaelic now with uTalk; watch this space for Scots!



Know Your Colour Code

Here at EuroTalk we love discovering interesting facts about the world around us, so from now on, on the third Wednesday of each month (or thereabouts!) we’ll be sharing some of these with you. The theme for this month is colours…

Be a man: be yellow

If you call someone ‘yellow’ in England, you’re calling them a coward. In Japan, the opposite is true; yellow is the colour of courage, and while Westerners usually see pink as a feminine colour, in Japan it’s very masculine; it conjures up the memory of fallen samurai.

Poison pen

Poisoned Pens

In China, writing someone’s name in red is unlucky and it usually means you want to cut them out of your life; just make sure you don’t have red ink on your hands if something bad happens to them!

Feeling blue? You’ll regret it in the morning…

In English it’s fairly common to say you’re ‘feeling blue’ if you feel sad. But in Germany, to be blue (‘blau sein’) is to be drunk.

White: it’s the new black

Weddings in the West are all decked out in white, but the same is not true of China, where white is the colour of mourning. Instead, brides wear red, as the colour symbolises good luck.

Black cat - lucky or not?

Purr-fect Opposites

In many cultures, a black cat is seen as lucky: in Japan, it’s believed to attract suitors, and in Scotland a cat arriving at your home is a sign of prosperity coming your way. But in America, the same animal is considered bad luck, particularly by gamblers on their way to the casino.

Colourful Confrontations

Useful information if you find yourself in a fight in Europe… In English, the result might be known as a ‘black eye’, whereas in Germany it’s blue (‘blaues Auge’), in Spain it’s purple (‘ojo morado’) and in France it’s known as an ‘oeil au beurre noir’ (literally ‘eye in black butter’)!

If anyone has any other examples of colour-related facts, we’d love to hear them!