The wearing of cowboy hats and the folly of ‘blending in’

Monkey

Brighty

Roger Kettle once tried on a cowboy hat during a visit to Billings. He won’t soon forget what he saw looking back at him from the mirror.

I tried on a cowboy hat once. As a tourist from Scotland in Billings, it seemed like something I should do.

It’s difficult to describe how I looked. Some time ago, I saw a George Clooney movie where he wore one of those baggy caps popular in the 1920s and the effect was pretty damned impressive, as though he was born to wear it.

In my case, the result was slightly different. I looked like a startled monkey in a sombrero. This wasn’t quite the cool, Western image I was going for and I immediately abandoned my forlorn attempt at “blending in.”

I have come to the conclusion that wearing a cowboy hat should be strictly limited to those who actually come from a cowboy state. When I say “strictly,” I really mean it. I can’t say I’m an expert on the American legal system but I feel there should be a law introduced forbidding cowboy hats to encompass the foreheads of anyone outside a few chosen states.

And I would suggest a blanket ban on anyone European. Had this law been in place, it would have saved me the horror of seeing a ludicrous idiot in the mirror of that Billings store. It’s an image I can’t shake and is a constant reminder of the follies of trying to “blend in.”

I have also vowed to give up any attempt at an American accent. I once went for a “you bet” response in a Billings bar when asked if I’d like a beer. Even to my ears, it sounded bizarre. Try to imagine a Jamaican who’d spent several summer vacations in Dublin.

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I will, of course, continue to do my American accent when I’m at home, here in Scotland, where my Burt Lancaster impression is legendary. That wonderful actor has a great speech in the film “Ulzana’s Raid” (written by a Scot!) where he talks about the problems of trying to chase and track down Apaches.

It goes something like, “An Apache rides a horse till it falls down. He lights a fire under it, gets it going and rides it till it falls down again. Then he shoots it, eats a bit of it and steals another one. Ain’t no way we’re gonna beat that.”

It’s a superb bit of dialogue and, quite frankly, I perform it perfectly. I capture Lancaster’s voice faultlessly—staccato words spat though clenched teeth with a slightly tilted head thrown in for dramatic effect. It’s uncanny. Well, it is here in Scotland. Sadly, I’m pretty sure that, if I tried it the next time I’m in the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company, we’d be back to the Jamaican-Irish thing.

But, before you get too complacent, a word of caution to those of you crossing the Atlantic in the opposite direction. Please don’t attempt a Scottish accent. Or, if you do, let me clarify a couple of things. Nobody in our little country sounds like Scotty from “Star Trek” or Groundskeeper Willie from “The Simpsons.” (Although, to be fair, the latter comes close at times and is funny enough to be forgiven.)

I will offer another word of caution about buying Scottish clothing. When worn correctly, the hem of a kilt should rest at the knee. The way to make sure this is correct is to try one on and kneel down. The hem should just touch the floor.

I have seen some American tourists wandering round St. Andrews—that golf place just a few miles from where I live—wearing kilts that nestle around their calves. This is not a kilt, it’s an evening dress. And this is probably something you should know

It’s tempting to try to “blend in” but my experience suggests that it really isn’t worth the trouble. Whenever I’m in Montana, I’m welcomed with open arms and, I’d like to think, the same would happen to any of you guys who turned up here in Scotland.

We just have to promise not to attempt each other’s accent

Having said that, it’s a pity you’ll never hear my Burt Lancaster impression. Trust me, it’s brilliant.

Roger Kettle lives in Newport-on-Tay, Scotland, near St. Andrews. He has been a comic strip writer for more than 35 years. He has two long-running strips in the U.K., “Beau Peep,” a Foreign Legion spoof, and “A Man Called Horace,” a Western spoof based on Dorothy M. Johnson’s short story “A Man Called Horse,” later made into a movie. Kettle also wrote “Andy Capp” for 11 years after the death of creator Reg Smythe. He has used Billings as a base of operations to explore the American West on several vacation trips. He also wrote one of our favorite installments in the Last Best News series Lay of the Land.

The accompanying illustration is by Steve Bright, or Brighty, as he signs his work. He is one of Britain’s top cartoonists. Feast your peepers on his work at his website, http://www.brighty-art.co.uk/.