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  • Writer's pictureRhys Ash Powell

The Good, The Bad, The Scotch

National symbols are weird: they are absolutely ridiculous at the best of times and genuinely understandable the rest of the time. Why do countries need a national animal? Or a national instrument? Or even a national liquor? (now that’s my kind of symbol!)

National animals should be a given, and should be understandable, like Australia having a Kangaroo or Canada having a beaver. Whilst this does sound like I am stereotyping and sweepingly saying that all those countries have going for them are kangaroos and beavers, the beaver is actually written into the Canadian constitution as their de jure national animal! As you go through the lists, you will see most countries having native animals to symbolise and represent their country: Algeria has the Fennec Fox, South Africa has the Springbok and Bangladesh and India have the Bengal tiger. Parts of Europe go in the “ohmygod look we actually have wolves here!”, á lá Serbia and Portugal route, others go down the tamer route such as Latvia with their two-spotted Ladybird or Denmark with the Red Squirrel.

Then if we zoom into the UK they clearly go for more of a “to hell with you and your generic standards of national animals” angle, with England going straight to the top with a lion. Sure, good job England, because you totally have lions. But I can only assume that during the meeting where everyone was choosing animals (I sincerely hope that there was a meeting for this) Scotland and Wales were whispering and giggling in the corner until it came to their turn when they shouted out “UNICORN!” and “Y DDRAIG GOCH” respectively. At which point the other countries stopped and starred in confusion, bewilderment and disappointment until one politely asked what the hell the Welsh had said.

Music has the power to cross borders, to break military sieges and to establish real dialogue.” – Zack De La Rocha, Lead singer of Rage Against the Machine.

Music is universal, it transcends continents, governments and is one thing that all cultures across this planet share. Due to this most countries have de facto* national instruments in order to represent themselves, whether it be to stand for the majority ethnicity, a shared history of everyone within the country or something that represents the tribal culture of a nation. Japan has the Koto, a tubular string instrument. Scotland has the Bagpipes, a bag of pipes. Wales has the Triple Harp, a large harp with three rows of strings. Then England has the Concertina. I mean, when you think of the Scottish Highlands you hear Bagpipes, when you think of Welsh Valleys you hear the twinkling of the Harp strings. Whilst thinking of England, I have never heard a Concertina in my head… each to their own though.

Whilst in Morocco with my best mate, Matty, we got to try Moroccan Whisky. Whilst I was originally very excited as I do love a tipple of Scotch at the end of a night or in celebration, I

was pleasantly surprised when presented with a sugary Mint Tea. We lived off the stuff for the week we were out there. Depending on the culture of the part of the world will depend on the kind of drink will be deemed its ‘national’ drink. Throughout most of Europe you will find alcohol being the de jure drink of choice such as France’s Red Wine, the Pilsner in Czechia and Latvia’s Black Balsam. Then Scotland take it one step further with their de facto drink of choice, whisky. Which must, by law, be aged for more than three years in an oak barrel.


De Facto * - existing or holding a specified position in fact but not necessarily by legal right.

De Jure ** - existing or holding a specified position by legal right.


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