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‘A hundred thousand welcomes’ – but no ‘welkommen’

Scot-Buzz columnist KEN HOUSTON recently railed at the potentially disastrous effect on Scottish tourism of wind factories. A few days later an experience in one of our tourist hotspots left a deflated Ken wondering, ‘Why bother?’

The morning of the second Saturday in October was cloudy in Edinburgh but with the forecast for areas north and north-west of the capital much more promising, my wife and I jumped in the car and headed for The Trossachs to take in the autumn colours.

And the region, its forests and hillsides a glorious carpet of bronze and purple, did not disappoint. Why spend a small fortune visiting ‘New England in the fall’ when we have this gem on our doorsteps?

Indeed so captivating was the scenery that we lost track of time and so it was not until mid-afternoon that our stomachs began to feel the need for an intake of hot food. Sadly, on calling at several attractive-looking, and attractively-sited, establishments, the message was the same: ‘Sorry, lunch stops at 2.30 and dinner doesn’t start until 6.00.

While there was no end of cups and tea and home-made baking on offer, if you wanted beef and ale pie with mashed potatoes or scampi and chips – forget it.

Now, I appreciate there will be times of the year and days in the week when offering a meal service throughout the day is just not practicable. However this was the season when the area was at its scenic best, it was Saturday, the weather was glorious and the autumn ‘school week’ had just started, suggesting a larger than normal influx of visitors.

Sadly, this experience did confirm to me the existence of a flaw in what Scotland has to offer tourists, especially at the small business level – that despite the ‘hundred thousand welcomes’ there is unwillingness, in practical terms, to go that extra mile on the visitors’ behalf.

Another, particularly blatant, example is to be found in Edinburgh, where Rose Street, once notorious for its hard-drinking and prostitution, has been reinvented as a chic pedestrian precinct sporting a wide variety of eating establishments. It boasts a character unique to Edinburgh, most of the pub/restaurants being individually branded and therefore (outwardly at least) free of the bland corporatism associated with international chains found in almost any city centre anywhere in the world.

Yet even within these otherwise inviting surroundings is a serious flaw which again highlights a deficiency in Scottish tourism at the coal face, so to speak.

In this instance I mean the very simple, but to many overseas tourists deficient, lack of menus printed in languages other than English. As a local, I find it embarrassing when passing through Rose Street – as I tend to do at some point on most days of the working week - and watching middle-aged couples and groups huddled over menus, trying to translate the content into their own tongue.

It does not appear to have sunk home that just as cheap budget flights tempt working- and lower middle-class Edinburghers to take weekend breaks in continental cities then the inbound flights into our capital city might carry a fair complement of similar Berliners, Amsterdamers and Madrilenos with little or no knowledge of English.

But then that’s the Scottish – indeed, the British - way, isn’t it? There’s this arrogant assumption that all foreigners speak English and if not they bloody well should learn to do so!

Yet go to almost any European tourist city comparable to Edinburgh and it’s extremely rare to find a central area restaurant with its menu not printed in at least four languages.

Yet what would it cost an Edinburgh restaurateur to offer menus in French, German, Dutch, Italian and Spanish as well as English? Twenty, fifty, a hundred quid? The basic translation could probably be downloaded from the internet free of charge.

For that matter would it really be unacceptably expensive to keep the kitchen at a Trossachs restaurant open for the entire afternoon during one of the busiest days of the season?

But then this is not just a question of money; it’s as much one of attitude.

To be fair, though, I did once come across an example of a Scottish business – a shop selling tartan goods on the Royal Mile – which made a real effort to impart information simply and concisely to foreign tourists. Entering the premises, visitors were greeted to a statement in not one but five languages. The English version read: “Shoplifters will be prosecuted”.

Says it all, really.

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