Despite all the money, the glossy adverts and the brand marketing, Scotland’s international image is personified by the execrable Groundskeeper Willie from The Simpsons cartoon series.

Groundkeeper Willie

Groundkeeper Willie

Groundskeeper Willie, should you be unfamilar with him, is possibly the most offensive, angry, feral, fictional Scotsman ever invented. Think of the worst possible stereotype of the Scot; double it, and you have got Willie — a red-haired, bearded, foul-tempered, incompetent, haggis-eating, testosterone-filled boor who spends his private time secretly videotaping couples in their cars.

As the janitor at Springfield Elementary School, Willie is most famous for greeting a class of students studying French with “Bon jourrrrrrr! You cheese-eating surrender monkeys!” — a phrase that gained international fame when American neocons used it at the start of the Iraq war.

This very same ghastly Willie, according to the latest reseach commissioned by the Scottish Executive into attitudes of Americans, is the sterotypical image of Scots on the other side of the Atlantic.

A report carried out by Ipsos MORI makes depressing reading for the politicians who have spent five years promoting a positive image of Scotland abroad, including the employment of the expression “the best small country in the world”, and large amounts of money on the annual Tartan Week. Small wonder that the US strategy communications report carries the terse disclaimer: “The views expressed in this report are those of the researchers and do not necessarily represent the views of the directorate or Scottish ministers.”

As Willie himself often says: “Ach. Back to the loch with you, Nessie.” For it seems that the old shortbread-tin and Highland-fling clichés of the country hold sway. Researchers say that students and respondents, when asked to identify images that typified Scotland, came up with hills, golf, tartan and sheep.

When asked to describe the Scottish character, the respondents used the words hearty, traditional, family orientated, fighting and principled.

Among the focus groups of students and younger Americans, Groundsman Willie, Craig Ferguson, the Scot who hosts The Late Late Show, and the movie Braveheart, starring the Australian Mel Gibson, were “pretty much key” to shaping this opinion.

Older Americans tended to have a wider understanding that included Braveheart, but was also drawn from other places such as the History Channel. Those who had visited Scotland spoke of the friendly people, incredible scenery, golf courses and castles.

Pressed to differentiate between Scotland and Ireland, respondents identified icons such as the Loch Ness Monster and Sir Sean Connery as Scottish, and associated sheep more closely with Scotland than Ireland.

Awareness that went beyond the stereotypical was “extremely low” across all respondent groups. Students identified Scotland as a backward, old-fashioned, rural country. Some questioned whether the internet had reached Scotland. Many could not name one Scottish city, and were unsure of its location in relation to other European countries.

Even among the general American public, knowledge of Scotland was mixed. They said the rural landscape and history had strong appeal, but still referred to a “backward” lifestyle, suspecting no modern technology such as computers andmicrowaves existed in the home.

Ready aggression is central to the character of Groundskeeper Willie. At the faintest sign of trouble, he rips off his shirt and hurls himself into the fray — an admired tendency which, curiously, may go some way to explaining the overnight fame of John Smeaton, the baggage-handler who helped to foil an alleged terrorist attack on Glasgow airport on June 30.

In his official biography on The Simpsons website, Willie’s personal life is said to be “as rocky and desolate as his native land”. Presciently, The Times reported in late 2005 that Willie “is the most instantly recognisable Scot in the world: better known than Billy Connolly or Ewan McGregor, even Sean Connery”.

Via: Times Online