Let’s say you’re in Glasgow. It’s lunch time, and the person you’re with turns to you. She asks, “What do you want on your piece?”
Do you answer:
B) Ham and cheese, hold the pickle
C) My piece? What piece?
If you answered C), me too. If you answered A), getting close. A piece is a type of food. If you answered B), ding ding ding! You got it.
A piece is Scottish slang for a sandwich. I learned about it last month when James and I were back in Glasgow (his hometown) for Christmas. Every time I visit, I come back with entire lists of Scottish slang I didn’t know.
So whether you’re headed to Scotland soon or just want to brush up on your Scottish slang, keep reading to learn how to talk like a Glaswegian local.
How to Greet People
Ask if people are alright. Everyone in Scotland wants to know if you’re alright. At first I wondered if maybe I seemed out of sorts because everyone kept asking me, but after a while, I started to feel very cared for. So instead of saying “how are you,” just ask “y’alright?”
How to Order at a Restaurant
For fish and chips, order a fish supper. Anything “supper” means “with chips.” (And chips, of course, mean fries.)
To get just a piece of fish, order a single fish. Then steal chips off your neighbor’s plate 😉
For a more substantial meal, ask for a fish tea. This comes with fish and chips, a cup of tea and bread and butter.
Drink Irn-Bru. According to Scotsman Food and Drink, Coca-Cola is the number one-selling soft drink nearly everywhere in the world—except in Scotland, Iceland, Peru and the Middle East. Bright orange, Irn-Bru tastes like… “like Irn-Bru.” (An exact quote from James, ha!)
Need more ketchup? Ask for an extra sachet. James says calling them packets of ketchup sounds fancy, but I think sachets take the cake. Tip: Expect to pay for extra sauce. Sachets in Scotland aren’t free. (Now I understand why he gets so excited about all the free sauces at Chick-fil-A.)
For a breakfast sandwich, order a “roll and” XYZ. Scottish people are very particular about the makings of a good roll. It’s all about the bread. I watched a waitress serve a burnt roll to a customer, but James informed me that was actually “a well-fired roll.” People are crazy about them.
You can get a roll and egg, a roll and egg and bacon (my personal fave), or any of the items below. Just be sure to order it as a “roll and” and not a “roll with.”
- black pudding (a type of blood sausage)
- tattie scone (a type of potato pancake)
- square sausage (often referred to as “square”)
- Notes: Bacon, or back bacon as it’s called there, looks like a piece of ham. If you’re looking for bacon like the kind we have in the U.S., ask for “streaky bacon.” And don’t ask for cheese in your roll. It’s not a thing!
Get crisps if you want potato chips. Cheese and onion crisps all the way.
Get biscuits if you want cookies. Not quite like cookies, biscuits are in a category of their own. If you’re ever in Scotland (or anywhere in the UK), visit the biscuit aisle at the grocery store and you’ll see what I mean. These dark chocolate Tunnocks tea cakes are my absolute favorite.
Try pickle in your cheese sandwich. I thought it was a trick question when James asked if I knew what pickle was after I ordered a ham, cheese and pickle sandwich. Turns out it wasn’t. All he said was, “You don’t know what pickle is.”
When the sandwich came, instead of where my green pickle slices should have been, there was a chunky brown spread. “That’s pickle!” James said. A sweet, vinegary, pickled chutney, pickle is made of rutabaga, carrot, onion and cauliflower. It’s actually pretty tasty (if you like pickled things).
How to Describe People
Every guy is a boy, no matter how old they are. When we went to a football match, James’ brother went to “meet a boy” to get an extra ticket. Imagine my surprise when the teenager I pictured in my head turned out to be a 45-year-old man.
A burd is a girl. To get the latest scoop on his friend, a guy might ask, “Do you have a burd?”
Kids are weans. It’s pronounced waynes. “How are the weans?”
Mangled. Another word for drunk, hammered, sloshed, or plastered.
Cheeky. When someone’s being a smart aleck. (Observation: British people are often cheeky.)
Chancer. Someone who’s in between dodgy and cheeky.
How to Describe Things
Honking, humming, howling. Also, minging. All colorful ways to say something’s bad. “That take-out was minging.”
Brilliant, magic. How to describe good things. “That was brilliant.”
Wee. Perhaps my favorite Scottish saying, wee means little. Everyone says it all the time. Even tough guys on the train. Once a shorter guy squeezed in next to me saying, “I’m just a wee guy.”
Quite. “I quite liked it” or “It was quite good.” Sounds so posh, doesn’t it?
How to Make Friends
Call someone big man. It’s kind of like calling someone “bud.” I thought maybe it was an insult in disguise until James’ best friend told me it’s his favorite.
Call everyone mate. I wish we called each other mate in the U.S. It instantly sets a friendly tone.
Say cheers instead of thanks.
How to Find the Bathroom
Ask for the toilets. Or ask for the wash closet. Just don’t ask for the bathroom or restroom.
Bog roll. What they call toilet paper in Scotland. (Also probably in Harry Potter.)
How to Shop
Underwear are called pants and pants are called trousers. I know. They think our names are silly, too.
Sweaters and sweatshirts are called jumpers.
Beanies are called wooly hats. Cutest name ever.
How to Say Yes and No
Aye is yes.
Naw is no.
Nae bother is no worries.
How to Sign Off
Say yes to X. Skip the Os, and sign off on your emails, texts and notes with a single x or multiple xxxxx.
How to Add Color to a Conversation
Ehm is the equivalent of um.
Ooft is ouch. “Ooft, that hurt.”
Oft (with one O) is OMG. “Oft, the Rangers won.”
Drop an F bomb… or two or three. Mums say it. Grandmas say it. Everyone says it. Try using it in casual, non-heated conversations.
How to Pronounce Cities
Last but not least, if you want to talk like a local, be sure to pronounce the two main cities correctly.
Glasgow is glaz-go and Edinburgh is edin-burr-uh.
Have you been to Scotland? Did you hear any of these?
p.s. Planning a trip soon? Check out my travel guides for fun destination ideas.