Staff Required vs Help Wanted

If you’re looking for a job in the UK the signs you are looking for in shop windows say “Staff Required” or a more specific “Sales Staff Required”.

In the US we ask for help. The sign says “Help Wanted”. I wonder if this has to do with some negative connotations to the word “Help”? Not in the sense of needing assistance, but in the sense of “The Help”.

A Proper Kilt

One of the things I really wanted to do while in Edinburgh was get a proper kilt. One made by master kilt makers from a high quality tartan and sized for me.

Today I picked it up and it is a beauty.


What I really wanted was a Bluebonnet Tartan which is the official tartan of Texas. But that is owned by a woman in Texas and no one else can weave it without her permission.

I asked what the kilt maker suggested and they asked my name. There is on Davis tartan, but the Scots will tell you what line it goes back to. Davis comes from Davies and Davies comes from Davidson, for which there is an official readily available tartan. Actually there are two Davidson tartans, and I picked the Ancient Davidson because I liked it a bit better. By readily available I mean they keep that one around already weaved and can therefore start on your kilt immediately.

Kilt Front
Kilt Front

Sorry for the crap accessories. I have a very nice kilt belt at home – nicer than any I found in Scotland, even at high end places – so I just bought the cheapest one I could find here. Same for the sporran.

Kilt Maker

Having done a little research I’d pretty much already decided on Geoffrey the Tailor on the Royal mile.

This video on YouTube on the Evolution of the Kilt is a good introduction to kilt making. They don’t own the weaving place mentioned in the video anymore, though they do still weave their own kilts.

When ordering the kilt I talked to one of their kilt makers who said she’d been with the company since she was 16 and was now in her 40s. They did a great job explaining the different ways the can pleat the back of the kilt. The default proper way to pleat the kilt in the back is so the same pattern shows in the front and the back. The pattern of the tartan is maintained even though there’s probably 5 yards of material making it up. That’s the way my kilt is made.

Kilt Back
Kilt Back
The little white threads are to hold the pleats in place while the rest of the kilt it worked on. I’ll cut them off before I officially wear the kilt, but I think it will help the kilt survive going into my suitcase for the next part of our trip.


When I ordered the kilt the tailor said “We’ll make matching flashes for it as well.” I expected them to match the tartan, but the Mrs was the first to notice they are actually two different colors on each side.

Davidson Kilt Flashes
Davidson Kilt Flashes
That is because they show different parts of the tartan pattern. I leave you to play match the patterns.

An Improper Kilt Too

My now thought of as Dress Kilt is big and heavy and so nice I might be reluctant to wear it some times. I decided to get a cheaper kilt as well. I bought this black kilt for casual wear and I may do some wearable electronics stuff to it for WorldCon. (More on that in a later post).

Black Kilt Back
Black Kilt Back
Black Kilt Front
Black Kilt Front

Till Vs Register

In the states the machine used to pay for things you buy is called a cash register, or the register for short.

In the UK it’s called the till.

I also confused a shop person at the Apple Store in Glasgow when I said I needed to “check out”. They don’t seem to use that term at all. Rather they just say the straight forward “I want to pay.”

5 Things Brits Take For Granted Americans Don’t Have

Electric Kettles

It took me a little while to notice this one because I actually do have an electric kettle. I twigged to it one day while watching a cooking (or cookery as they say here) show and the chef grabbed his electric kettle and added boiling hot water to something. That wouldn’t happen in your average American house. We’d have a rather complicated procedure to boil water.

Falkirk Wheel rotates 180 degree raising the boat and water in the bottom to the top.
Falkirk Wheel rotates 180 degree raising the boat and water in the bottom to the top.

Obviously this comes from the UK have a tea culture the US doesn’t. They also metaphorically measure energy based on the tea kettle. According to our skipper, it take just over 6 kettles of tea boils to turn the Falkirk Wheel, all 400+ tons of it.

Grocery delivery

Sure they’ve tried this big innovation in the US, but in the UK it’s just taken for granted. It’s pretty nice. You go to a grocery store’s website, add everything you want to a shopping basket and pay for it. Then you can select a delivery time. The delivery time slots vary in price based on how popular they are.

Oh and unlike an American cable or phone company, they hit their delivery times almost exactly.

Passenger trains to everywhere

Trains to Every Where
Trains to Every Where

Train travel is ubicutous in the UK. It’s assumed you can get to any town on the British Isles via train and you can.

Train travel is interesting. As an American you want to compare it to air travel and you notice those differences first. There’s no security checkpoint to strip down and go through. You have to take care of your own bags. There are big shelves in each car for large luggage and you put your bags there. You are also warned to keep an eye on them yourself. You can put “hand baggage” in racks over your seat. Train seats can face either forward or backwards, and some have tables between them.

Chip and pin credit cards

All UK credit cards have computer chips in them. Everywhere has little terminals they stick your card in and then it asks for a PIN instead of having you sign. Of course my credit card for the trip requires a signature, but the machines handle that fine.

One interesting thing is at restaurants they bring the machines to you. I bet it’s weird to UK travelers in the US that waiters take their cards away to run them.

Adult TV

This first time you’re watching British TV around 10 PM and someone says “Fuck” an American does a double take. “Shit” is also common. There does seem to be a rule about what time you can bring out the cuss words but they can say all the forbidden words.

In the UK there is what they call “freeview” TV. This is the TV your TV license fee (ie tax) entitles you to plus some commercial channels that get included. After that you can pay for more TV if you want more. Not much different from the US, though much of the free BBC TV has no commercials.

Ready yourself for another double take if you scroll down the channels around 11PM or midnight and suddenly are confronted with a woman in lingerie with her legs spread as wide as the will go. She’ll be waving a wireless phone handset with one hand and stroking herself with the other. All the while she’ll be attempting to sell you the idea of calling her at the number on the screen for some private time, or hitting the “Big Red Button” which is some sort of interactive TV available here.

I was going to write some personal sociological musings about Brits and sex, but I really don’t have enough insight yet. I’ll have to do some research 🙂

It is the end of our time in Scotland and we’ll be leaving for Cardiff in a couple of days. The next two weeks is be more like a standard American vacation than any part of our trip. Middle of July we’ll land in London and spend the rest of our time there. Expect to hear more insight then.

Wee Scottishisms

Scots speak differently than the English and have a whole slurry of words that are different. Here a few that I’ve picked up recently.

Scotishisms Tea Towel
Scotishisms Tea Towel

Wee = little

Before I got here I really thought the Scots wouldn’t possibly use wee for little much. I was wrong. They pretty much always say wee vs little. Matter of fact when I heard a Scot say little yesterday I noticed.

Crabit = Grumpy

Learned this one recently from a tour bus driver. I found it interesting because she said it in the context of describing the difference between Glasgow and Edinburgh. She said Glasgow people were more open and friendly and “we in Edinburgh can be a little crabit”.

Glen = Valley

Not a major one, but it’s relevant.

Loch = Lake

There is only one lake in all of Scotland Lake of Menteith. It used to be called a Loch as well but when John de Menteith sold out William Wallace, Scots stopped calling it a Loch. Or at least that’s the story our highland tour guide told us. Every other inland body of water is referred to as a Loch.

Even though it is pronounced the same, it shouldn’t be confused with a Lock. A Lock is like a water elevator on their canals. Of course the Falkirk Wheel really is a canal elevator, but there are still lots of Locks on the canals around Scotland.

5 Things Americans Take For Granted The Average Brit Doesn’t Have

Ice Water at Meals

In the US when you sit down at a restaurant almost the first thing that will happen is the waiter will bring everyone a class of ice water. In Britain, not so much.

Firstly they will only bring you water if you ask for it. Then they will ask if you want “still or sparkling”. If you say still and mention it is for the whole table, they will probably bring you a bottle and glasses.

They also won’t bring you ice unless you ask for that specifically too. Actually they don’t put ice in their drinks by default. We even went to Burger King once and they don’t put ice in their drinks here.

Ice Tea

I’m pretty sure this concept is blasphemous. You can always order tea at a restaurant in the UK, that’s a given. They normally bring you a little kettle of hot water and a cup with a tea bag in it. Their tea bags don’t have strings on them either. You just have to fish them out with a spoon when you are done.

Normally you’ll also get a little pot with milk in it. I thought this a weird idea the first time someone asked if I wanted milk in my tea. But my “this is an adventure” mentality made me say yes and try it. (By the way this took place at a hair salon, where they offered us tea or coffee while we waited)

I liked it. British tea is always black tea, and it’s pretty strong. That’s not a surprise when you think you are using a whole tea bag – about the size of a big one at home – in one cup. Adding milk a) looks cool going in, and b) tones down the strength some too.

Air Conditioning

I guess saying Americans take this for granted is a southern/western idea. I know people up north often don’t have AC. It’s true here probably for the same reason, it just doesn’t get that warm much.

Room Radiator
Room Radiator

They also don’t have ceiling fans, which is a little odder because they have some effect on heating as well and are easy to put in.

You can also open windows about everywhere. I was at a business lounge in a business building and someone opened the window. Their windows don’t open like ours either. Instead of sliding up, they tilt outward from either the top or bottom.

They also heat differently. Each room has a radiator in it. You can set the level of that radiator at the radiator, but there is still a central thermostat that turns them off and on. It’s also a good place to put some clothes to dry. Which brings us to…

Clothes dryer

Drying Rack
Drying Rack

Some places are starting to have dryers, but it is still rare. Mostly people either hang them outside to dry on a clothesline, or they use “drying racks” inside the house.

They have some washer dryer combos, but from everything I’ve heard about them the dryer isn’t very effective.

Our expat friends have a dryer in their flat with interesting twist on the American concept.

Where does the moist air from your dryer go? At home it is vented to the outside of the house via a big silver hose.

In the UK houses weren’t made for that. Instead the dryers have a reservoir in the bottom that collect the water. A light comes on to tell you when it is full and you have to empty it by hand.


Almost everyone does their dishes by hand. There are dishwashers – our expat friends have one – but mostly people wash by hand.

Sink With Draining Side
Sink With Draining Side

Guess it’s a good thing we went almost 2 years doing ours at home in Abilene, so we’re used to it.

An interesting side effect of this is I haven’t seen a double sink yet. Instead they have a flat draining surface on the right side of the sink.

Remember how I said different isn’t bad. Next time I’ll tell you 5 things Brits take for granted Americans don’t have.

“Naughts and Crosses” vs “Tic-Tac-Toe”

naughtsAndCrossesWent to a comedy improv show in Leith the other night. They gave everyone a sheet of paper and said you could doodle on it and I played myself a game tic-tac-toe in the corner. It was a draw of course, just like thermonuclear war.

Then they had us name a play. I tore off my suggestion and it included the little game. The guy who read my title said, “The Caterpillar Christmas, and a game of naughts and crosses.”

It may be a Scottishism, but it is very different.

“Hold Ups” vs “Stockings”

hold-upsWas reading a model’s profile and she said, “I love hold ups and heels.” Mmmmmmm……

I actually I was thinking it was going to be the same at “push up” as in bra. But a quick search showed me that it was stockings. Nor is it the same as garter belt.