Being a Scot in US is a bonus but tread lightly – Fraser Grier

Over the past eight years of living in the United States, I have learned that to say that one is from Scotland carries a unique form of privilege. It was Billy Connolly who cautioned against becoming a “Professional Scot”: one who defines themselves by their nationality above any of their talents or abilities. Without disagreeing with this caution, I offer some insight into my own experience as someone who grew up in Scotland and has joined the diaspora.

Through years of conversations with business owners in Scotland looking to enter or expand their presence in the United States’ vast markets, I find myself recounting some common observations.

In many American minds Scotland is a distinct entity from Britain, at least spiritually for those more travelled, with the latter exclusively associated with England. This bifurcation leads to a certain set of values ascribed to Scottishness: humility, community-mindedness, hardworking, trustworthiness, and it becomes up to the individual to adhere to or contradict them. With the label of being Scottish comes a set of presumed attributes, highly desired in the business world, that you are invited to live up to. If carefully navigated, being Scottish in America becomes a helpful asterisk next to your name, achievements and ideas, rather than obscuring them with national stereotypes.

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Those new to the United States will soon discover that many Americans have an insatiable curiosity about their heritage. For Scottish-Americans this leads to a fascinating range of unique, and sometimes contradictory, interpretations. Some claim their heritage as something static and rooted in the past, augmenting their family history pre-coming to America, be that the 17th, 18th or 19th centuries, adding millennia to their traceable culture and identity. This manifests through the immense popularity of historical dramas and films set during these time periods.

Bagpipers march along Sixth Avenue during a previous Tartan Day Parade in New York City (Picture: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)Bagpipers march along Sixth Avenue during a previous Tartan Day Parade in New York City (Picture: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)
Bagpipers march along Sixth Avenue during a previous Tartan Day Parade in New York City (Picture: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)

While some unfortunately repudiate modern Scotland, many others embrace it. Each year, large cohorts of American students will attend Scotland’s world-leading universities, and on returning to cities like New York will join thousands of other professionals who share the experience of life in Scotland. They understand that Scotland is filled with highly desirable places to live, study, work, and invest.

Scots who emigrate will often acknowledge their shared nationality with a nod, rather than collaboration. They do not have a propensity to seek each other out in the same way their Irish counterparts do. There are myriad historical reasons, far beyond the confines of this article, that could offer an explanation. Regardless of cause, this lack of propensity is tirelessly counteracted by dedicated teams of Scottish Government officials, university international officers, local alumni group volunteers, chambers of commerce, and heritage, conservation and business organisations.

Whether through birth, heritage, working or studying in Scotland, there exists a common, immutable connection. On April 6 this year, I will be participating for my fifth time in the New York City Tartan Day Parade. Tartan Day, in essence, is a celebration of the contributions of Scottish Americans throughout the United States’ history. For visiting Scots, the exhilaration of marching past tens of thousands of New Yorkers on Sixth Avenue, flanked by a near mythological skyline and alongside dancers, pipers, alumni groups, local and Scottish government representatives and cultural organisations, is transformative. It is a convergence of Scotland’s past and present, packaged in American-style panache, being celebrated by people from all over the world. It is living proof of the values ascribed to Scottishness, but it is also proof of something equally important: potential.

Fraser Grier is a New York-based U.S. immigration attorney supporting businesses and individuals pursuing their plans for the United States. Board Member of the New York Caledonian Club.

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