Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Refreshing Pride and Sense of Place

I am reading Alexander McCall Smith's novel The Unbearable Lightness of Scones. It's the fifth and latest in his 44 Scotland Street series, a thoroughly delightful set of books about the residents of an Edinburgh apartment building. I cherish McCall Smith for his erudition, civility, humour, prose style and the obvious pride and pleasure he takes in the particularity of Scotland and the Scots.

I thought I'd share the following passage. It's a conversation between Matthew, an affluent but somewhat unwordly young man who owns an art gallery and Angus, a cantankerous, older character, an artist whose best friend is his bulldog, Cyril: In some of his most amusing passages, McCall Smith gives voice to what Cyril is thinking. I know it sounds a bit twee, but, trust me, it's not.

Anyway, Matthew and Angus are on their way to a funeral when Angus pulls out a hip-flask, and this exchange ensues:
"Dutch courage?"

Angus smiled. "I always take a dram to these occasions, Matthew. They're so bleak otherwise."

Matthew understood, but politely declined the flask when Angus offered him a swig.

"It's Glenmorangie," said Angus. "I have a couple of bottles in the house. The old stuff. Have you seen the new bottles? They're making a whiskey called Nectal D'Or now. Apparently "or" is a Gaelic word. But the whole thing looks somewhat French to me. I don't know why. I just get that impression."

"Perhaps they want the French to drink it," suggested Matthew. "The whiskey people are very interested in their image. They don't want people to associate whiskey with people like..." He stopped himself, just in time. He had intended to say people like you.

Angus looked at him sharply. "With people like me, Matthew? Is that what you mean?"

Matthew smiled. "I suppose so." And then he added hurriedly: "Not that there's anything wrong with people like you, Angus. It's just that we can't continue to be all tweedy and fusty, you know. Not if we want to sell our whiskey."

"But isn't this meant to be a tweedy and fusty country?" asked Angus. Isn't that why they come to visit us and buy our whiskey and so on? Precisely because we're not like everyone else?"

Matthew did not reply. But Angus was warming to his theme. "That slogan that you see, 'One Scotland, Many Cultures.' If it's meant to be directed at tourists - and surely they don't intend to spend our money telling us what to think - then what a bit of nonsense! Do they seriously think that anybody is going to come to Scotland to see multiculturalism? What pious nonsense! People come to Scotland to see traditional Scottish things. That's why they come. They come to see our scenery." He pointed out the window. They were passing through Falkirk. "They come to get a sense of our history. Old buildings. Mists. All that stuff, which we do rather well." He paused, and took a sip from his flask. "They don't come to see our social engineering programmes."
Would that there were more Anguses around--in Scotland and throughout the West--to cut through the multiculti B.S. I know we could sure use a few here in "diversity"-crazed Canada.

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