As a young boy, I dreamed of America. One of my earliest memories
is of watching a Texan wearing a Stetson hat trying to navigate
his massive Cadillac down the narrow streets of my home town,
Aberdeen in Scotland.
He hadn't come alone. In the early
1970s oil was discovered in the North
Sea and Aberdeen in the chilly northeast
of Scotland became an outpost of the
United States on Scottish soil.
An influx of Americans arrived to get
the black gold out from under the seabed.
They changed the place utterly. Overnight
Aberdeen sprouted steak restaurants,
burger bars, and soda fountains. An
American food store opened in town,
selling Gatorade and Hershey's Bars
to Americans with withdrawal symptoms.
At night I would sit transfixed on the
sofa watching John Wayne movies on the
television. In the harbor, oil rigs
were slowly being assembled before being
towed out to sea. Red Adair flew into
town to quell a pesky gusher. For years
I thought "Dallas" was filmed
When I visited the United States for the first time in 1979,
whilst my athletic American cousins shot hoops outside in the
Californian sun, I sat in the dark and watched the television.
And there, for the first time, I saw an American film about Scotland.
It was called "Brigadoon."
In it, two American men visit the Highlands
of Scotland, get lost, and stumble on
a mysterious village which isn't on
the map. They soon discover it's not
even on the calendar. Brigadoon disappeared
into the Scottish mists in the 18th
century and only rematerializes once
every 100 years. The inhabitants spend
most of their time singing and dancing.
Even as a young boy I knew that the
songs were daft, and the men in the
Technicolor kilts had silly accents.
But for the first time I realized that
all the time I had been dreaming of
America, there were people in America
who dreamed of Scotland. Today more
Americans dream of Scotland than ever
before. From the South to the Northeast,
Highland Games attract unprecedented
numbers. Tartan Day, the annual celebration
of Scottish identity doesn't rival Saint
Patrick's Day yet, but in New York and
Chicago thousands march behind pipe
bands, wear tartan, and commemorate
the millions of Scots who emigrated
to North America in search of opportunities
which Scotland could not offer them.
Making this program has taken me on
a path many Scots have followed, from
my home in the Old Country to the land
of opportunity. In Chicago I took part
in the annual Saint Andrew's Night dinner,
ate American Haggis (made without the
lung tissue) and watched amazed as the
"Haggis Child," a beaming
four-year-old girl, burst out from under
a tartan tea cozy. I spoke to Elizabeth
Ross, a 104-year-old resident of the
Scottish Home, an old folk's home devoted
to caring for Scots. In New York I went
to see Vartan Gregorian the Iranian
born director of the Carnegie Corporation
of New York, the charitable foundation
created by the Scottish born Andrew
Carnegie that dispenses millions of
dollars annually to good causes. And
I spoke to some of the many modern Scots
who have made their home here in America
and look back to their homeland with
nostalgia and in some cases, regret.
For many years the Scots were thought of as invisible emigrants
to America. Unlike the proud Italians or Irish, who retained their
national cultures, they tended to become simply Americans, assimilated
into a culture which was peculiarly receptive to their talents.
But in recent years Scottish Americans have been coming out of
In the mid 1990s a Tennessean named
Randall Wallace wrote "Braveheart,"
a film about the life and death of the
Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace.
The film turned thousands of Scottish
emigrants onto the drama of Scottish
history. About the same time Duncan
A. Bruce published his book "The
Mark of the Scots" which for the
first time commemorated the contribution
of Scots to American public life.
William Wallace and Robert the Bruce had stood together against
the English in the 14th century. Now their two descendents were
doing their bit for Scottish identity in the United States.
Where Wallace and Bruce led, Austin
Powers followed. Mike Myers, the Canadian
son of Scottish emigrants has populated
his fictional world with Scots from
the bloated Fat Bastard to the mad dad
in "So, I married an Axe Murderer"
with his battle cry of "If it's
no Scottish it's Crap!"
The dancing kilties in Brigadoon and
the overexcitable Scottie in "Star
Trek" begat endless heirs, from
the Scottish psychotherapist Phil McCracken
in "Saturday Night Live" to
Groundsman Willie in "The Simpsons,"
and on a similar subject, as one of
Samantha's more unlikely conquests in
"Sex in the City."
No wonder that as Mary Waters, a sociologist
at Harvard University, tells me, over
the last 20 years it's more popular
to be a Scottish American than ever
before. The American salad bowl now
has a bright plaid leaf on top.
I understand now, in Texas, small children dream of living in
I hope you enjoy the show.
-- David Stenhouse