I got a taste of this when, shortly after my arrival, my Scottish husband and I hired a taxi. After the usual comments on the weather our driver jovially introduced himself as Doug, originally from Crieff, married with two kids and in the area since ten years ago.
To my utter astonishment my husband readily provided equivalent biographical data and generously included me in his introductions: “And my wife is from Germany!”
After Doug had extracted from me a one-word response about my home town, he quickly returned his attention to my much more approachable hubby.
Eventually we knew that Doug was a glowing Tartan Army supporter, that he suffered from asthma and a difficult sister-in-law and that his labradoodle could open fridge doors independently.
In return, Doug knew about my husband’s upbringing in Linlithgow, his occasional migraines and his grandfather’s life work as a joiner. Finally they discovered that they had both met Craig Brown. With a slap on the back they parted. My idea that all inhabitants of these isles are reserved by default was shattered.
The experience was repeated when tradespeople came to our house and left me with the knowledge that the electrician’s teenage daughter fancied punk music and scary tattoos, the plumber’s wife loathed smoked sausages and the IT expert’s husband, an Army officer, had a thing about cleanliness.
I shared my bewilderment with a Scottish friend. After all, no one in Hamburg or Berlin would tell a stranger so much about oneself at a first, and probably one-off, encounter. My friend gently pointed out that many Scots just love this initial exchange and that, in this country, you might very well meet that other person again.
There is some truth in this: compared to 82.4 million Germans, 5.4 million Scots are a smaller crowd with a higher chance of meeting again. Even if you don’t come across exactly the same person, it’s very likely that you will meet someone who knows someone who is related to, or a friend of her or him, and therefore will provide a link.
Perhaps this love for establishing commonalities can be seen as an ancient social skill: in an often barren and sparsely-populated land you wanted to know who you could trust. This was most likely people with common relatives and friends.
It’s also a pleasant social habit. On a recent visit to the supermarket I bumped into a woman raising funds for a good cause. We got into a friendly conversation. Eventually she knew where I grew up, what brought me to Scotland, that I spent my childhood surrounded by pets and that from these days the family parrot has survived.
Only later it dawned on me how much I had told this lady. I hadn’t even noticed.
Regina Erich is a translator and writer. She lives in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire.