So you’ve travelled to the Commonwealth Games, you’ve done the standard tourist route and you’ve figured out that your English phrase book is not much cop. Panic no more. Here is your essential guide to the real Glasgow.
1. Preliminary lessons in Glaswegian
You are not in Glasgow (as in “throw,” and certainly not as in “cow”); you are in Glesga. Get that right to start with.
A dry warm day – any temperature above 55 degrees fahrenheit – means “taps-aff”, where males of various ages will be wandering around the city topless. Tops – often t-shirts or football shirts – are “taps” – and “aff” – well, “off”.
The hot weather at the start of the games led some to proclaim, “yon heat is pure murrderrr, so it is”. Understanding such terms will get you Glasgow bonus points: “Pure” denotes “really”. “Murrderrr” meaning “murder”, popularised by the TV detective series Taggart, means “difficult to take”. “So it is” is added emphasis.
Three other words will also help immensely: “aye”, “wee” and “dead”. The opening ceremony was arguably “dead good” (or “no’bad,” which is also really good); “wee” indicates the pejorative, such as “the wee dancers were brilliant”; “aye” is affirmative, as in, “aye, some of the Scottish stereotypes on display were cringe-inducing, but.”
2. What is Glasgow? – well it’s no’ Edinburgh
Lying only 52 or so miles apart, few countries can have two cities that are so different in so many ways. For many in Edinburgh, Glasgow is full of rough, criminal types who are prone to alcoholism and violence; and as they rarely wash, they are “soap dodgers”.
For many in Glasgow, well Glasgow is really Scotland’s capital city. It is more authentically Scottish, less “pan-loafy” (posh) and certainly not “all fur-coat and nae knickers” (superficial). Edinburgh is seen as primarily for tourists who seek the stereotypical Scotland of castles and tartan – hence the nickname “shortbread city”.
It might be nonsense – or “mince” – but many still believe that old Glasgow saying that, “the people of Glasgow have a better time at a funeral than the people of Edinburgh have at a wedding”.
3. ‘C’moan get aff’
“C’moan get aff” is a beloved contradictory Glasgow phrase long associated with the city’s bus conductors. On encountering a passenger who had somehow forgotten to purchase the required ticket and who was reluctant to do so on being challenged, the local version of “come on, get off” was the stock reply.
If you are travelling on public transport and someone asks, “comfy?” they are not referring to the quality of your seat. They mean: “where do you come from?”
Beware referring to the Glasgow underground as “the tube”, like you would in London. You will be identified as an outsider – an alien even. It is known as the “subway” – a “tube” in Glasgow is someone who is just plain daft.
4. Chicago on the Clyde?
Many have commented that both cities share what might be termed a similar sense of place. While the comparison might seem fanciful given Chicago’s size, part of Glasgow city centre is planned on a similar gridiron system. Glasgow’s imposing buildings and architecture convey a similar “feel,” including buildings constructed around iron frames, which have long been used in the largest US cities.
Both have their share of urban wastelands, and are built on important rivers. Unlike the Chicago River, though, the River Clyde has yet to be dyed green to celebrate St Patrick’s Day, or even an important victory for Celtic football club – even if Glasgow translates as the Dear Green Place.
5. Glasgow’s schemes
Lying beyond the city centre is a different Glasgow, much of it with a poor yet undeserved reputation for deprivation and dereliction. We are talking here about the schemes – not housing estates, which in Scotland tends to refer to private developments.
Glasgow’s schemes enabled the city to demolish its slum housing, and many were built to house much poorer sections of the population. This was reflected in the quality of housing, the layout and the level of amenities. The largest schemes were built on Glasgow’s outer edges – at Easterhouse, Drumchapel, Castlemilk and Pollok.
6. The Hielanman’s umbrella
Glasgow has long been a place of migration. In recent decades communities of Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and eastern Europeans have helped shape the city as it is today. Previous migrations have often been forgotten or overlooked.
Yet following the Highland clearances in the 19th century, tens of thousands of Highlanders came in search of a new life. Largely Gaelic speaking, they brought a bitter hatred of private landlords and the landed elites who removed them from their homes.
The Hielanman’s umbrella (“Highland man’s umbrella”) is the area underneath the main Central Station railway bridge as it passes over Argyle Street. It was where Highlanders would meet and shelter from the rain. They helped to shape the city’s culture, dialect and language; as well as its sense of struggle and politics.
7. “People Make Glasgow”
Visitors will notice many references to this latest city slogan. While for marketing folks it promotes a dynamic post-industrial city, more importantly Glaswegians have fought long and hard to make a city that is fairer and more equal. In every decade in the past century they have fought everything from poverty to poor housing to racketeering private landlords to racism. People make Glasgow in the sense of its struggle.
The city’s George Square is today a Commonwealth Games hub, but in the immediate aftermath of World War I, tanks circled, accompanied by soldiers determined to combat any communist uprising. This was the heyday of Red Clydeside – an era that spawned the world’s first workplace-based trade union activists.
8. La Pasionaria
Glasgow’s history as second city of the British Empire is well known, but other Glasgow international links could be celebrated much more. On the north banks of the River Clyde, close to the main shopping area, a statue celebrates the Glaswegians who fought to defend the Spanish republic in the late 1930s.
The statue – La Pasionaria – was erected in 1980. It is a constant reminder that struggles elsewhere – as with the naming of a city centre street after Nelson Mandela – are seen by some as Glasgow’s struggles too.
9. The Glesga night oot
So you want a have a wee night oot in Glasgow? One could start at a famous Glasgow watering hole, The Horseshoe Bar, in Drury Street, close to Central Station. It is said to have the longest bar in Europe – in the shape of horseshoe, of course.
It has catered for Glaswegians since the mid-19th century. These days, it plays host to workers from the nearby commercial firms during daytimes. Later in the evenings the clientele might include political activists, musicians and trade unionists – and, of course, football fans.
If you are seeking a typical Glasgow meal afterwards, that can only mean one thing – time for a wee Ruby – “Ruby Murray” – a curry. Glasgow is one of the top places in the UK for its curry restaurants, boasting the likes of The Wee Curry Shop, Balbirs, Mother India and Richis. Indeed, one would be hard placed to find a restaurant selling everyday Glasgow food.
10. Glasgow place names quiz
From the comfort of your trendy wee wine bar in Sauchiehall Street (or maybe the pub), can you say the following Glasgow place names in the Glesga way?
Arden, Auchinairn, Auchenshuggle, Barmulloch, Calton, Camlachie, Carmunnock, Carntyne, Carnwadric, Crossmyloof, Dalmarnock, Garngad, Garthamlock, Robroyston, Ruchill, Roystonhill, Ruchazie
Ask a local to help, and break the ice. Offer to buy them a drink first, of course.
To read the other parts of our Host City Glasgow series, click here.
Gerry Mooney does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.