What’s it really like in Glasgow?

With Worldcon coming to this city in 2024, and as an outsider who made this place her home, I thought it might be useful for some folks to get a look at the realities of the city. Especially if they’re visiting. I might add to this later, I might not. We will see.

Since the Hugos controversy kicked off, many faces are turned now towards Glasgow. Some seem to expect the Worldcon 2024 committee (of which I am not a member or in anyway affiliated except as a prospective participant and definite attending member) to fix everything that went wrong in the previous year. I’m not going to comment on that as I’m not in any position to answer that for the committee. I trust them, that’s all I’ll say. Are they going to get it perfect for everyone? Based on what I’ve seen, that would be physically impossible. And they’re human, like all of us. Who of us is perfect?

But there have also been some stereotypes thrown around willy nilly. Some of which are harmful, bigoted, and uninformed. Some folk appear to be getting their information on Glasgow and Scotland as a whole, from stereotypes played for laughs on TV or bad info.

So, here are some thoughts.

Mythbusting for Glasgow

Myth one: All Glaswegians are drunks

It’s true that many Glasgow people like a drink. The famous local whisky is popular, of course. However, suggesting every single inhabitant is “aff their tits” 24/7 is just offensive. Alcoholism is a disease and not something to joke about. Are there people who are alcoholics? Yes, of course, but probably about the average for any population where alcohol is legal.

Glasgow had it rough. For many years the city was victim of a lack of funding from the UK government, seen as not important in the grand scheme of things, despite the fact that many industries were supported here. And then Thatcherism saw the death of many of those job-supplying industries. This did not do a great deal for the population, as you might expect.

But things have turned around. Glasgow is a FUN place if you like to make merry, sure. But that’s not all that happens, and it isn’t an assumption to make about everyone you meet.

And, guess what? I’ve met more people who do not drink in my time in Glasgow than any other time in my life.

Myth two: Glasgow is a violent city

Compared to where? Glasgow is pretty small, and the aforementioned poverty has had a knockon effect. There’s still a class gap. There’s still some folk whose day to day reality is more precarious and dangerous than others. Yes, there are gangs / bar brawls / shouting / football (soccer) violence.

No, you are not particularly likely to be a victim of crime unless you do something very unwise, or are very unlucky. You’ll be surprised at many things Glasgow has to offer, but perhaps most of all, you will be surprised at how relaxed things can be.

I’ve never been mugged in Glasgow. I’ve never been assaulted. I’ve walked home alone, safe from many a night out. I am aware this is survivorship bias, but still. You do not see guns in Glasgow. Knife crime may happen but after a series of crackdowns, that too has diminished. And as a visitor, you will be much safer than others due to the fact that much of the crime happens between people who have already had a history.

Does crime happen? Sure. But violent crime is vanishingly rare. I urge you to compare stats with your own cities to see if it’s really as bad as it sounds. Year on year, stats on crime have decreased.

In Glasgow in 2021/22 there were 10 homicides, the latest Scottish Government statistics show. How exactly does that compare to other cities, even of others in the UK? How does it compare to where you live?

So, it’s perhaps not that bad, all things considered.

Myth three: The Glaswegian accent is impenetrable, don’t bother talking to them

Yeah, sometimes it is difficult. I’ve had issues myself as a non-Scot. But not everyone’s accent is exactly the same. Some folk’s are lighter, some stronger. But you will find that most Glaswegians make accomodations for people having difficulty. And not everyone who lives in Glasgow is from there, any more than everyone in New York has a strong New Yorker accent. (Substitute your city of choice).

Myth four: The food is terrible / it’s all haggis

Sure you’ll get to try some haggis if you want it. You should, unless you are vegetarian, it’s a local delicacy – and delicious! (Edit: many folks have pointed out vegetarian versions exist, but you won’t find that in most restaurants as the default, so be sure to ask.)

But fear not! If that’s not your thing, there is a magnificent variety of places to eat in Glasgow. At one point it had the most Vegan restaurants per capita of any place in Europe. So, while you’re here, try some of the excellent South Asian, East Asian, European, South American, African restaurants (actually, every place but Antarctica seems to be represented somewhere) AS WELL as the Scottish-origin cuisines.

WE DO FLAVOUR. Some of it is a bit toned down for our palates. But you can always ask for extra spice (Had some French friends over who found our very mild curry a struggle, so YMMV.)

And if you’re worried, we have McDonald’s. But please, give it a go and try something new. Plenty of folk will love to tell you about their favourite place to eat.

Myth Five: All Glaswegians are foulmouthed

Okay, hands up, many of us (I include myself as an incomer) like a good swear. It’s just that folk round here are not as precious or repressed about the rich colour of language than many places. A lot of the time, it’s just another aspect of banter, a playful dialogue where folks give as good as they get. The “C” word is not the deathly, anti-feminist offense it is for other users of the English language. Sorry, but it’s just not. The term “naec*nt” just means “nobody”. Used by women as well for that meaning.

You’re liable to hear some of the most inventive, excellent repurposing of otherwise mild language in your life. There was, after all, a tradition of “Flyting” – a kind of insult poetry rap battle that seems to have remained as a kind of undercurrent. Insults can often be affectionate, and tone is everything. You’ll know if a Glaswegian is displeased with you. Either the tone will get very heated. OR and this is important, they will remain incredibly polite and neutral. Which probably worse.

And there are many Scots words (it’s a different language, hopefully you have heard that by now). I encourage you to look it up but beware of using it in conversation as a non-Scot to fit in. It takes time to get the nuance right and can sound patronising!

Myth six: Everyone is in kilts playing bagpipes.

Please. Do not. Quote Braveheart. As fact.

Myth seven: Glasgow is a gloomy, post industrial wasteland

A knock-on effect of the destruction of its industry, this myth persists even to our next-door neighbours in the south. But there has been a butt-ton of investment, and the city centre looks different than it did even a few decades ago. It was always a sparky kind of place and has had its ups and downs like other cities. But it’s got so much going for it.

In fact, it’s known as the “Dear Green Place” with affection due to its many parks. And since the 1990s, the black grime that coated buildings from said industrial past has been blasted off the beautiful, historic architecture. There’s shopping galore, arts centres, glass-fronted office blocks, cute bijoux alleyways filled with craft businesses. There are comedy clubs, tourguides, everything you might expect from a vibrant, bustling city. Are there some less well-heeled suburbs? Sure, but you’re not likely to go touristing there.

You might see some homeless folk. Interestingly, before the current UK government ruling party got in power, this sight was very much less common. Something something, Thatcherism 2.0, something. But still.

It’s a walkable, beautiful place filled with gems. There’s a mural trail of fantastic public art. There’s a music scene full of up-and-comers (King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut had seen many an act burst on to the scene including, ahem, Oasis who are very much NOT Glasgwegian).

Anyway, you get the point. Glasgow rocks. Its cultural scene is one of the reasons I came here and stayed. My own writers’ circle, the GSFWC also had a part to play in that.

Myth eight: Scotland are fascistic, look, they’ve got a “Nationalist” party / are part of the UK

Scotland has its own society, laws, parliament etc. Yes, we are subject to UK law too. Our border police have to follow UK rules. We fucking hate it.

Our majority party is the Scottish National Party. They are not “nationalists” in the same sense as the Nazis of 1930s Germany. Trust me, I know words having two different intentions makes things muddy, but they are not fascist. At all. Quite the opposite. After Brexit, they had actually notions of getting independence so they could go back to the EU and become part of that generally progressive bloc, (current right wing things happening now aside). They are a left-leaning party, which reflects the majority feeling of the Scottish people as a whole.

Glasgow is a fairly socialist town. In fact, when immigration came to arrest some folk, their neighbours blockaded the van until they had to give up. That is unfortunately not something that can or does happen every time, but it does show we’re not just sheep flocking to what other people think in other parts.

Scotland attempted to get the trans self-identification process speeded up but were blocked by the UK government, too. And several idiots in our own parliament made fools of themselves, to be absolutely frank. But Glasgow has a strong Trans tolerant representation. Are all trans people safe from transphobia? No. Sadly that is not the case. Yet. But I have met more proud LGBTQ+ folk here than ever before in my life.

We have some transphobes here, yes. Racists too. Mysogynists, bigots, rightwingers, the “anti-woke” nonsense. We’re not free from intolerance. But from what I’ve seen, the vast majority of the people you will meet will be accepting and welcoming. Friendly, open, progressive. Perhaps you will be shocked to hear not all of us are staunch monarchists (some are) or staunch supporters of the UK Conservative / Tory party (and again some are). But for the most part, Scotland is a forward-looking country. Glasgow is part of that process, with all its inherent birthing pains.

Please don’t tar us all with the same brush, or believe what you read in newspapers / see on TV as the “truth” of what we think, any more than you would like it done to you.

To sum up

Glasgow – colourful, different. Progressive. Some issues, but not all that bad, all things considered.

EDIT: Here’s an essentials guide for food and necessities outwith the convention centre’s confines, from the brilliant local writer, Heather Valentine: https://heathervalentinewriting.com/2024/01/28/worldcon-2024-survival-guide/

Under the Moon: Collected Speculative Fiction by E.M. Faulds

Under the Moon: Collected Speculative Fiction by E.M. Faulds

British Fantasy Award for Best Collection 2023

15 SFFH tales with female protagonists

Available now at Ghost Moth Press or online retailers