10 Most Surprising Things About Scotland From an American
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10 Most Surprising Things About Scotland From an American

May 08, 2024

I grew up in the Midwest and have now lived in New York City for 10 years, but I had never been to the UK before until January, when I took a vacation to Scotland.

I stayed in Edinburgh and traveled to Glasgow and Inverness by train. I also made a quick trip to England, staying in London.

While I was aware of major differences between the US and Scotland, such as driving on opposite sides of the road, I was still surprised by some aspects of my time there.

On the morning I hiked up Arthur's Seat, an 823-foot ancient volcano in Edinburgh, the weather started out sunny and clear. By the time I reached the top less than an hour later, I found myself caught in a full-on blizzard.

Other days started with pouring rain and cleared up completely by the afternoon. I quickly realized the importance of a waterproof coat and shoes, and dressing in layers.

Because Scotland is further north than the contiguous US, daylight hours are even shorter in the winter. I visited Scotland in January, and I was surprised when the golden hour of sunset colors began to appear in the sky around 2 p.m.

As I walked around cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow, I found that American fast-food establishments such as Burger King, KFC, and Subway were widely available.

There were also some surprising differences, like how the UK version of TJ Maxx is called TK Maxx. Both brands are owned by TJX Companies, which has more than 4,700 discount stores around the world, Insider's Grace Dean and Dominick Reuter reported. When the company opened stores in the UK in 1994, they went with "TK" in the name to avoid it being confused with a UK-based discount department-store chain, TJ Hughes.

At the Glasgow Queen Street train station, the bathroom access cost 50 pence (about 62 cents), and only accepted exact change. I don't think I've ever had to pay to use a public bathroom in America.

Every time I went grocery shopping, I was shocked at how little my total was compared to my usual grocery spending in New York City.

For example, a package of Beyond Meat burgers cost £3 (about $3.71) at the Sainsbury's I visited in Edinburgh, while at Wegman's in Brooklyn they retail for $6.39.

In America, eggs go through a washing and sanitizing process that clears contaminants, but also removes the natural protections that eggs have against bacteria, Insider's Kelly Burch reported. This requires eggs to remain refrigerated to reduce the risk of salmonella.

In Europe, eggs don't go through this sanitization process, so they don't require refrigeration. The UK also vaccinates chickens against salmonella.

As an American, I wasn't used to seeing eggs shelved next to canned goods and dried fruit instead of in the refrigerated section.

Scotland banned single-use plastics in June 2022, becoming the first UK nation to do so. Instead of disposable plastic cutlery, wooden utensils were the norm.

Signs at Edinburgh Waverley train station reminded travelers to "Please keep to the left" when walking down the staircase, whereas my instinct as an American would have been to keep to the stairs on the right. Up and down escalators were also on opposite sides than I was used to.

Most stores in the US cities where I've lived don't close for a lunch hour, so I hadn't anticipated finding a closed pharmacy in the middle of the afternoon in Edinburgh.

In Glasgow, my partner and I came across a New York City-themed diner and ventured inside to take a look. A neon sign displayed lyrics written by The Notorious B.I.G: "Spread love, it's the Brooklyn way."

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