A website called Found in Mom’s Basement posted this vintage toilet paper ad that plays on the stereotype that Scottish people are cheap. From the post:
Although the stereotype of the cheap Scotsman isn’t as widely known in the U.S. today, going back a few decades it was an ethnic stereotype that was used freely, often making the Scots the butt of jokes.
The post has links to several examples, such as the Studebaker Scotsman, a low-cost, minimal-options car. As a commenter to that post pointed out, Safeway’s store brand cigarettes, advertised as being inexpensive, was “Scotch Buy.” For a more recent example, we have McFrugal, a hardware site (now down):
A reader, Julia, noted that Scotch tape was named that because:
it originally had adhesive only on the edges of the tape. [An early user] told a 3M salesman to go back to his “Scotch bosses” (presumably too cheap to put adhesive all over the tape) and make it stickier.
The Scots-are-cheap stereotype is a great example of how ethnic stereotypes can lose their power. Maybe I’m just oblivious, but until a few years ago, I’d never heard of the stereotype that Scots were cheap. Without that context, the associations the ads are attempting to make would be meaningless to me — I would have just thought it was odd that McFrugal had a guy with bagpipes, but not understood that it might have any meaning. When I asked students in my race class about this, only a couple had ever heard this stereotype.
Obviously, though, it used to be a very common, widely-recognized notion. Much like the Irish and other European ethnic groups, as Scots became part of the larger “White” racial category, ethnic distinctiveness and stereotypes have become less prominent.
Originally posted in 2009.Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.
Julia — July 4, 2009
I've noticed people attributing thrift (their own or other people's) as being due to either Scottish or Jewish origin. I'm pretty sure thrifty people come from all over.
Don't forget Scotch Tape, orginally marketed with the mascot Scotty McTape:
According to the 3M website, the tape was called that because it originally had adhesive only on the edges of the tape. Auto painters told a 3M salesman to go back to his "Scotch bosses" (presumably too cheap to put adhesive all over the tape) and make it stickier.
edward — July 4, 2009
I was born in 1988 and I had no idea that this was a stereotype. The more you know...
Rhiannon — July 4, 2009
It may have died out somewhat in the US, but it seems to still be common in England (and, I think, other parts of the UK) today. Perhaps because in the UK we are more aware of the Scots, Welsh, English, and Irish as seperate groups of people?
Amy — July 4, 2009
I am a midwesterner of Scottish ancestry, and have grown up with an awareness of this stereotype - we apply it to ourselves. In our family it is more nuanced than simple cheapness. We joke that we won't pay full price for something we need, but we'll buy a case of something we don't need if it is on sale. My sister has an attic full of toilet paper and detergent she's gotten on sale... so there may be some truth to the generalization. I wonder if this is a familial variant or if it has a wider reach.
NL — July 4, 2009
I'm 26, but this is a stereotype I'm familiar with. I assume it's because my background is part-Scottish. It's interesting that this stereotype has largely disappeared, but one still here's things like "Jew me down."
Lance — July 4, 2009
I was aware of the Scottish stereotype, but mostly from historical sources (for instance, Ogden Nash's "Genealogical Reflection": "No McTavish / Was ever lavish."). On the other hand, in Craig Ferguson's standup comedy concert "A Wee Bit o' Revolution", which I happened to see last night, he says that someone asked him to say something Scottish and he replied, "I'm careful with money." So it seems to be still current among the Scottish (and as Amy suggests, among those of Scottish ancestry).
I'm not positive that the fading Scottish stereotype has to do with becoming "part of the larger 'White' racial category", though. I think that "alcoholic and pugilistic" are still part of the Irish stereotype. Many Jewish stereotypes (frugality among them) still remain; others have, I think, disappeared. (I'm Jewish, and I recall being extremely puzzled when I read The Big Book of Jewish Humor and found a series of jokes about Jews being afraid of dogs.)
Conversely: are Turkish people part of the "White" category? When I took a psychology course, we read about the Katz and Braly study of stereotypes, and none of us were even sure why "Turkish" was on the list. We assumed that in the 1930s people must have had stereotypes about the Turks, but fifty years later, we weren't even sure what they might be.
Sylvia — July 4, 2009
the whole Scrooge McDuck thing all makes sense now...
depresso — July 4, 2009
It's a tired old thing that's still wheeled out from time to time, despite Scots actually being quite generous in my experience!
However, it did give Billy Connolly a good laugh when he described his father as being 'so tight the 50p he dropped hit him on the back of the neck as he bent to pick it up'.
finefin — July 4, 2009
the stereotype of the penny pinching scottish man is quite common in germany (btw. swabians are said to be cheap, too)
-- we have a 1€-warehousing chain here called Mac Geiz,
they don't even have a real domainname: http://184.108.40.206/
Kelle — July 4, 2009
I've got two sets of Scottish grandparents, both poor working class in background - they grew up in the slums of Glasgow and a fairly isolated rural area.
My grandmothers in particular were extremely proud of being canny - that is, being cleverly thrifty. "Make do and mend", as the WWII UK slogan went. They didn't really have a choice, I guess. It wasn't about being penny-pinching or mean. You could learn to manage well what little money and resources you had, or slide further into poverty.
Doro — July 5, 2009
@ finefin: Yes, it is a very common stereotype here, and I have no idea where it comes from (after all, there aren't that many Scots in Germany). I think it has a lot to do with Scrooge McDuck, at least that's how I learned it.
And the M(a)c as the first part of a store name to indicate cheapness is getting more and more popular. McClean (http://www.mcclean.ch/html/index.html) ... *shudders* I blame it on this stereotype and McDonalds.
Marta — July 5, 2009
I am 31 and Italian, and in my childhood and teens jokes about thrift Scots were commonplace.
On the other hand, it was (it still is) normal to think that Scots and English people (not to speak of Welsh people) are the same thing. But only the Scots are the "thrift ones".
My Black Brick » Archives » Studebaker Scotsman — July 5, 2009
[...] had never heard of the stereotype of Scotsmen being frugal and cheap until I saw this post on Sociological Images. It was well known enough in the 1950s, however, that Studebaker made a line [...]
Pearl — July 6, 2009
In my 30s and in central Canada Scottish as frugal is ubiquitous. English, Irish, Scottish divisions are alive, all stereotypes intact. St. Patrick's day helps keep alive the Irish are lazy and drunk stereotype.
Billy Ballbag — January 17, 2010
I believe we Scots have the reputation for frugality arising from the distrust of English banks. I have no references to back this up, but the story I have heard is that the Scots would rather keep their money on them than deposit it in the English banks after the Unification. Wealth was kept in items of adornment, such as precious metals and jewels on the sporran, belt, sgian dhubh etc.
Neill McKay — March 2, 2010
I've been aware of the frugality or "cheapness" since coming to this country from Scotland as a young lad. I remember Scot (implyimg cheap) gas and the moths coming out of a Scotsman's purse. But, my mother was what I would call "thrifty" and my father was not cheap by any stretch of the imagination! In fact, the reason I came to this site is to try to find out why this stereotype still exists today!
Neill McKay, St. Augustine, FL (3/2/2010)
Mairi MacLachlan Dilmuth — July 13, 2010
We Scots could be called thrifty because we don't give in to keeping up with the Jones. We are not always wealthy and tend to hold on to what we have until it is of no use and then we will find another use for it. Homes are passed down to children as Americans would family heirlooms. My da always said "waste not want not" and "a penny saved is a penny earned" because it takes some work to save your pennies. He also taught me that I can have anything I am willing to work for. After a while of working hard you may discover that what you think you want is not worth the work or it just isn't important to you as you may have thought.
Fall 2011 – Conversation 4 – Week 4 (Sept 19th) – Stereotypes « Craig's ESL Blog — September 14, 2011
[...] stereotyping Scots [...]
Hungry in America « Mizunogirl's Blog — November 16, 2011
[...] I do not usually buy bunches of canned veggies, I am still pretty cheap. I think for food banks those microwaveable cups of mac and cheese, soup, and spaghettios are [...]
mizunogirl — November 16, 2011
Interestingly, being of scots heritage, I know that stereotype well, and at 40 I am not that old. I knew it growing up, as do most of my friends. It may depend on the society you grow up in. I grew up in a heavily Germanic and Scots-Irish community, so the stereo type was well known, but we knew nothing say about Hispanics being overly dramatic, etc because frankly, there were no hispanic people in our lives. Now, my sister teaches in a mostly Latino neighbourhood and she tells me all sorts of stereotypes between the Puerto Ricans and the Dominicans. It seems wherever someone is, they work to define and plce into a niche anyone different than them.
Scovington1 — January 23, 2012
I grew up aware of this and I'm 46. My granddad on my mother's side was from Edinburgh. But that's not why I remember it from an early age. Rather, there was a grocery store where I grew up called Ream's and the sign had a Scotsman holding a purse with coins in it. Later as I grew older, I realized the significance...
Alastairmctavish — June 2, 2012
I would hope the stereotype is true... it's probably a good thing considering the over-consumerist nature of North Americans and Europeans these days thrift is a virtue that should be applauded
Soccerchamp07 — August 16, 2012
Yes, it's a stereotype, but it definitely has truth to it! I have a lot of Scottish ancestry, especially on my mom's side of the family, and my mom is one of the most frugal and thrifty people I know. Both of my grandparents are too. It's funny because I think my mom and her sisters could probably win competitions for finding things on sale. They can sniff out a bargain miles away. And they have passed it down to me, my siblings, and my cousins. So, despite it being a stereotype, and sometimes a negative one at that, I'm actually proud of the fact that we are so good at using money. Everyone else is just jealous. (After all, it was Scotsman Adam Smith who was the "Father of Economics" and wrote the Wealth of Nations.)
jemblue — September 28, 2012
I'm surprised there was no mention of Scrooge McDuck in this article.
LadyDanio — October 5, 2012
My family is Scottish and we still mock my grandfather (behind his back) for being a ridiculously Scotch (aka cheap). But I realized recently that this must be a stereotype that has died out in society because I was joking with a Jewish friend about how cheap her mom was and I compared it to my grandfather being such a cheap Scotsman and she was wholly puzzled by the connotation. Ironically, apparently the only people keeping the Scottish stereotype of cheapness alive are the Scots themselves!
Scottish mortality rate 'among highest in Europe' - Page 7 - City-Data Forum — December 14, 2012
Christmas Brisket | Adventures in thyme and plaice — January 7, 2013
[...] Beeton for a ‘braised beef a la flamande’ and was quite chuffed I could have a frugal (all Scots are cheap, right?) and historical Christmas. I am not sure anyone else was as excited [...]
Just Do It. | Big Logie's Missus — January 15, 2013
[...] too stereotypically Scottish/ cheap to spend a small fortune on one, and I’m addicted to Etsy. The obvious solution was [...]
Robert Clotineu — April 26, 2013
The ethnic stereotype of Scottish people being cheap was much promoted by the Jews in Hollywood to deflect the stereotype of cheapness from them. It has pretty well died in the US so you don't hear it much anymore. Political correctness has seen to that.
Wenja — June 4, 2013
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUArCmcpwuA at 5:06, the "Thrifty scottsman model"
demonicboy — August 19, 2013
Scots are truly cheap, come here and work for them in some crap job...then go and tell they aren't
TB — May 6, 2014
I have many friends with Scottish heritage and there is a bit of truth to their famed frugality. The ribbing they take for it is more cajoling than mean-spirited. I am of Chinese heritage and once while working as a middle manager, one of my reports asked for a pay raise. I smiled and said, " Look John, you are working for a Chinese guy ( me ) - who is working for a Scottish guy ( my boss ) - who is working for a bunch of Jewish guys ( the owners ) - and you want a RAISE ? I smiled - give your head a shake man!" To which we both laughed. The I said - " well I'll see what I can do for you " and he said - no - never mind don't waste your time. LOL!
Moronbusters — October 15, 2014
The author of this blog post must be young. Scottish people didn't see this as a negative stereotype
Cheap Scots and Disappearing Stereotypes - Treat Them Better — January 23, 2015
[…] Cheap Scots and Disappearing Stereotypes […]
James McRitchie — January 23, 2015
Well, if you have to be stereotyped, this one isn't bad. My parents embraced it, even had a Studebaker.
GitaNav — January 24, 2015
Although stereotyping is never good, the assimilation of Scots into a general "white" category is an unfortunate assimilation. Future generations of Scots have lost a rich heritage, including the right to embrace or reject their frugal roots.
guanolad — January 25, 2015
I'm of Scottish heritage, with some friends of Chinese heritage, and we always joke with each other about how "cheap" we are given our respective ethnicities: the stereotype lives!
Terri — January 26, 2015
Scottish Protestantism follows the principles of Calvin, who promoted the idea of thrift as a religious virtue. In the USA, Ben Franklin promoted this version of Protestantism thru Poor Richards Almanac where you'll find such sayings as "waste not, want not", "a stitch in time saves nine", "a penny saved is a penny earned" etc. Although a stereotype is never a good thing because we should be judged on our own merit not our background, the idea of being thrifty or frugal was, until recently, always judged to be an asset.
kmt — January 26, 2015
Is this where the phrase "cheapskate" comes from?
Sunday Morning Medicine | Nursing Clio — February 1, 2015
[…] Cheap Scots and disappearing stereotypes. […]
Vvvv — April 5, 2015
The stereotype is alive and well in the UK and even within Scotland - people from Glasgow joke that people from Edinburgh are mean-spirited with money. Generosity and frugality are not the same thing of course. I know many members of my Scots family take pride in extreme frugality, rather than seeing it as a negative stereotype, but are still generous hosts. (mostly).
nlpnt — August 10, 2015
The Studebaker Scotsman is an especially interesting case since there was never a market anywhere in the British Isles for a stripped-down full-size car, and it was an exceptionally austere Yank Tank that made a Ford Custom or Chevy 150 seem loaded by comparison.
T'Hanks — September 20, 2015
grew up hearing the scots are cheap and jokes about being vheap and scot, and im 40. and you come along and claim you never ever heard it before few years ago. got it
OLD BOOKS in the NEW YEAR | Hmmmmm — January 7, 2016
[…] things. An enthusiast of thrift. Like most people, I’ll never argue with a bargain, but my inner-Scot is really not the main driver when it comes to shopping […]
Gina Kim — January 28, 2016
Quality inn v. McDonald's case brought me here. any fellow law students?
Bret — July 7, 2016
Its just proves that schools today arent teaching the necessities to students.
me — January 13, 2018
not thrifty just reedy and certainly not disappearing just more like relocating lol,lol.
R, Ewart — May 6, 2018
I have a Scottish name and most Scots seem to live in rural areas and look poorer then they are but are more likely to own their homes free and clear and cars, Its kind of funny to see someone show off their wealth by going into debt and we may look poor and own everything and have money in the bank lol
Robert Craig — August 13, 2018
I was hiking in New Zealand a few years ago and at the end of the trail people boarded a bus to take them back to town. My sister and I (we are Scots) baulked at the poor value of the bus fare. "I will go," she said, "and come back with the car." It was the obvious money-saving thing to do. As the bus drove off I realised another group had done the same. They had just demobbed from the Israeli army. We had a good laugh that the only people to think of saving money this way were the Scots and the Jews. So in these demographics at least, the stereotype survives...
Il nome dello Scotch è legato ad uno stereotipo razzista. Sarà vero? — November 5, 2018
[…] tirchieria scozzese era già diffusa nel mondo anglosassone nella prima metà del secolo scorso; furono persino pubblicate pubblicità che vi fanno “candido” riferimento. C’è chi ritiene che l’origine della credenza sia di gran lunga più antica, […]
william — January 24, 2019
what about andrew carnegie started off poor and frugal . became one of the wealthiest men of his day and started americas public library sytem. not bad for frugality and generousity
Cindy Dilger — August 11, 2019
I'm in my early sixties, also of Scottish descent, and I remember well the stereotype of "Scotch" meaning cheap, stingy (people); cheap, low quality (products)..
I'm surprised that no one here mentioned the old jokes about Scotsmen that went like this:
Q: "What did the Scotsman say when he found a fly in his [beer/soup/etc.]?"
A: "Spit it out!" (implies that he's stingy)
K. Watts — August 19, 2019
My grandma Bunch was from Illinois. Being of Scottish and Irish descent, she used the term "scotch " to describe my uncle. I asked her what that meant when she said it that way. She answered "it means he's a nickle nose, a penny pincher" me: huh? Her: "it means he still has every cent he's ever made ". Haha.... Now me: note to self, where did nickel nose and penny pincher originate. So much left to learn.
Nick — February 4, 2020
Mother's English, and she told me a joke decades ago when I was a kid, about an old frugal Scots woman. As electricity was spreading throughout Scotland early in the last century, salesmen would go out to sell it in the country to farms. This salesman worked on a old lady there for months before she finally signed up for it. When after several months of checking he'd noticed she was using only about an hours worth each month, he drove back to ask her why she wasn't enjoying her new electricity. She told him she was! She assured him she turned it on once every evening at dusk so she could find and light her candles for the night.
DGD — June 17, 2021
There's some truth to it; In Thomas J. Stanley's 'The Millionaire Next Door' his research found that people of Scot descent on average were the most likely demographic to save.
howardellis — January 23, 2022
A few years ago, I was hiking in New Zealand, and at the conclusion of the path, people boarded a bus to return to town. My sister and I (both Scots) were appalled by the bus fare's bad value. "I'll go," she responded, "and bring the car back." It was the most obvious way to save money io games. As the bus left, I noticed that another party had done the same thing. They'd recently been demoted from the Israeli army. The only people who thought of saving money this way were Scots and Jews, which made us giggle. So, at least in these populations, the stigma persists...
Anonymous — March 11, 2022
Scots got called cheap because they were actually shrew businessmen in the 1800's coming into England. They didn't fall for scams and cons so the brits started calling them cheap because they weren't gullible. They also had incredible work ethic and were less likely to indulge money into vices, drinking, smoking, fancy clothing etc.... It's actually a bit of a complement stereotype.
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Tonny Pham — July 23, 2022
The only people who think of saving money this way are Scots and Jews, which makes us chuckle. So, at least in these populations, the stigma persists on Friday Night Funkin.
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What a Waste! – LetsDiscussIt — September 5, 2022
[…] as a contractor and builder. My siblings and I had wonderful private schooling. Here’s a brief discussion of the stingy topic, with a fun […]
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Excelentes reflexiones para cualquier internauta. Gracias desde nuestro portal web sobre la Lotería Euromillones con cientos de publicaciones relacionadas con los sorteos y los premios.
cornelius — April 7, 2023
you're in the USA where USA culture is to be generous and neighborly and the Scottish do not have strong influence. if you go to Scottish colonies like Jamaica or Canada you see real quickly that people are VERY stingy to the point where they are unneighborly. a cash bar for weddings is very common in Canada and Jamaica because the mindset in both of those places is "i do not have to pay to get other people drunk". It gives me no joy to say this (I'm Polish) but Scottish people are cheap. You can say that's why they have such subtle influence on the world.
Klaus Schadenfreude — April 30, 2023
I was familiar with the relationship between being Scottish and being cheap, from when I read the story about Scotch tape. And, also, the wallet joke, where the American walks into the Scottish store to buy something, and pulls out his velcro wallet to pay. The clerk asks him, "Where did ya get that Scottish wallet?" and the American replies, "Scottish wallet?" The clerk responded, "Aye- it screams when ya open it!"