Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Irish as they are

The Irish as they are-a guide to getting to know them better

Hard Facts, clichés, opinions, exaggerations, praise and scorn in 50 points.


Rónán-Gearóid Ó Domhnaill

(originally published in Polish in The Polska Gazeta in 2005)

1. The Irish don’t speak foreign languages, because they believe everyone speaks English. The main foreign languages taught in schools are French, German, Spanish and Italian. Everyone learns a smattering of one of these languages and after six years they are only in a position to make simple conversation. Irish is an official language of the Republic and is compulsory but few can speak it proficiently, chiefly because although it is a school subject it is not really taught in school. Irish is more than merely a language. It is patriotism, cultural identity and for many a traumatic experience. English Grammar is barely taught in schools with the result that many have a poor standard of written English.

2. Tipping is not common (restaurants are an exception). Most believe prices are too high. In some places tips may actually be refused.

3. The Irish are generally quite friendly towards strangers. Many Irish people know what it is like to be in a foreign country and for this reason racism does not really suit them. Tourists looking a map will often be asked if they need help. They will not however, bow down before tourists. Tourists are expected to adapt to Irish culture.

4. Ireland has a very beautiful landscape, which attracts thousands of tourists. Unfortunately, it is an asset that, neither the government nor the people look after or respect. Anyone interested in protecting the environment is labelled a ‘tree hugger’. This attitude is changing, albeit slowly and the rusty cars deserted at the roadside have been removed. Following a levy on plastic bags the number of them blowing around has been reduced.

5. The average Irishman, regardless of occupation or education, has a broad general knowledge because they seem to read a lot. Semi-learned magazines crammed with fascinating facts are popular.

6. The Irish do not like to be ordered about and are not impressed by titles. Should a grand title be mentioned the standard response would be ‘who’s he when he’s at home?’

7. The Irish go to church every Sunday, but do not on the whole, take religion too seriously. Catholicism was strongly implanted until the end of the 20th century. The colonial masters tried to make the Irish become Protestants and this was bitterly resisted. Catholicism was also forbidden during the British occupation, which made the religion stronger. The once strong connection between Church and state is separating. For many, belief in God has been replaced by a belief in making money.

8. The Irish spend an eternity waiting for a bus. The timetable, if indeed there is one, is only a rough guideline. When the bus is actually going to come is anyone’s guess. In the country a bus can be flagged down along the road. It is usual to thank the bus driver, who in the city will let you off wherever you want to get off.

9. It is very easy to get to know Irish people. To get to know them well is another matter. Very often their friendliness is somewhat superficial. Nor are they above a little backstabbing.

10. The Irish are highly mobile. They travel all over the world both on holiday and to work. Until the 1980s there was high unemployment and it was taken for granted that there was no future for the youth in Ireland.

11. Contrary to popular belief the Irish do not drink more than other people. They do however drink differently. Alcohol is not consumed with meals at home. Irish people prefer to drink with other people in the pub rather than at home. Alcohol can only be purchased between certain times and is not sold on Christmas Day or Good Friday. There is an organisation called the pioneers, whose members don’t drink at all. Teetotallers will be more accepted in Ireland than other countries.

12. The Irish tend to shy away from discussing religion and politics in pubs, but generally prefer light-hearted topics. Indeed, with many Irish it can be nigh on impossible to have a serious conversation.

13. The Irish have two favourite football teams - Ireland and whoever is playing against England. In general, Irish people do not have a problem with the English. The latter come as tourists in droves and provided they don’t behave like colonial masters or make condescending and racist remarks about the locals they are warmly received. If you are curious to find out why the some Irish don’t like the English just read an Irish history book. Thousands of Irish fought for the English in both world Wars and were regarded as traitors until the mid 1990s. The days of ‘burn everything British, but their coal’ are however part of history.

14. School children boast continually how little they study and then go home and study until the early hours. The focus is on getting good grades and not necessarily learning something. PE and religion are not examination subjects and therefore not taken too seriously. They apply for a university course six months before their Leaving Certificate and will only be awarded a place in the course if they have the requisite points. Should they not be satisfied with their offer they repeat the Leaving Certificate a year later.

15. A rip-off culture pervades. The Irish will pay exorbitant prices to have their fun, without giving the cost any consideration. Only if tourist numbers fall will the prices fall. Irish products such as whiskey can be up to 10 Euro cheaper outside of Ireland.

16. Since 2004 there has been a smoking ban in all pubs, restaurants, shops, offices and public buildings. The vast majority of people who have come to cherish clean air accept the ban. Those wishing to smoke can go outside, and as they have something in common with the other people outside, come easily into conversation.

17. It is not unusual for men to start up a conversation with strangers in the toilet. This does not mean that they are gay as some tourists have thought but they are merely being sociable.

18. Ireland has possibly Europe’s worst train system, though there are political reasons for this. If there is no efficient train system, more people will drive. If there are more cars on the road, there is more revenue for the government.

19. Many politicians own pubs. Therefore any motions such as permitting alcohol to be sold in cafés or decreasing the price of alcohol will be quickly defeated.

20. Ireland has a professional army, but no military service. Irish Society is very unmilitary and apart from when the army brings money to the bank soldiers in uniform will very rarely be encountered. Most soldiers only wear the uniform inside the barracks and change into their normal clothes when their working day is over. Many people would not be in a position to tell it apart from other military uniforms.

21. The Irish tend to dress very lightly when they go out. Even in winter coats or jackets are unusual. The argument is that they could get stolen in a pub or club and also makes you less mobile when hunting. Shirt and jeans for the boys, summer dresses for the girls. Women generally only carry umbrellas.

22. They wear a swimsuit in the sauna. The naked body would cause offence and embarrassment. Nudist colonies are unknown and the picture of the naked page-three girl will not be closely examined, at least not in public.

23. Homosexuality was a crime until 1993. Now it is completely accepted and two TDs (members of parliament) are openly gay and nobody has a problem with it. Playboy was illegal until 1996, but these days sex shops and lap-dancing clubs are thriving businesses. Prostitution is still illegal

24. The Irish do not care in the slightest about Northern Ireland. The conflict was referred to as ‘The Troubles’, never ‘the war’ and is very much part of the past.

25. Local patriotism is only important in (Gaelic) football. Every team has their own colours; red and white for example represent Cork. When the local team plays the county colours are to be seen everywhere and the streets become deserted when the game starts. Gaelic football and hurling is more popular that the Irish soccer league. Soccer fans tend to support English teams more than the Irish ones.

26. Every county has its own nickname. For example Galwegians are referred to ‘The Tribesmen’, Corkonians ‘The Rebel County’. Some also have derogatory name. Thus people from the capital are referred to Jackeens, while Dubliners refer to the rest of the country as culchies.

27. Ireland has a very young population. While it is currently been downsized to two, most families have four children. A generation ago families were bigger. Paradoxically, the poorer the family the more children they had.

28. Ireland has had a female president since 1990. The first president Mary Robison changed the country greatly and was succeed by another woman, Mary McAleese.

29. Ireland joined the EEC in 1973.

30. Ireland has a compensation culture, influence by the American model. This has led to the omnipresent ‘health and safety’ regulations, which are extremely strict, bordering on the silly. The most notorious example of this was when the army sued the state for deafness.

31. Blood sports such as foxhunting and hare coursing are still legal. Bare-knuckled boxing, badger baiting and dog fighting have been outlawed.

32. Betting on dogs and horses, indeed betting on anything is popular. The Irish bookies made a massive loss a few years ago when they invited people to place bets on who shot Mr Burns (The Simpsons). What they didn’t know was that the episode has been shown the week before in America and Irish students returning from summer work in the US made a small fortune.

33. Ireland has an unarmed police force. In an effort to integrate our recent arrivals, membership is open to foreigners. The population has a bad habit of working against the Police. Everyone complains about drink driving, yet if there is a checkpoint, motorists will flash their lights at other motorists to warn them that there is a checkpoint ahead.

34. Most weapons i.e. flick knifes, handguns, high calibre hunting rifles, gas pistols, are forbidden. Fireworks and bangers are also illegal.

35. The Irish love to read about petty crimes described in great detail in the local newspapers. Ireland has a policy of naming and shaming and the name and address of the guilty party will be published, which can be very embarrassing in a small town, where everyone knows everyone. Older people tend to read the deaths column every day, perhaps to see if they have died.

36. The TV is central to family life. When visitors enter the volume may be turned down but the TV will often remain switched on. Soaps are followed religiously. The mundane happenings in Coronation Street (from Manchester) are an integral part of Irish family life. The characters are spoken of as if they were family members. What happens in the soaps is even discussed on radio and in the newspaper. What will happen is a main feature of women’s’ magazines.

37. The Irish do not feel threatened by foreigners. Together with Britain, and Sweden it has an open-door policy on immigration. An influx of foreigners into the country is something new but they have been generally well received. To date there are no racist groups in The Republic. ‘Irish-only’ signs regarding accommodation and jobs are unknown and this policy is strictly enforced by the ‘race and equality’ legislation.

38. Although it has received massive funding from the EU, US investment in the country has also been considerable. Most computers for the European market are assembled in Ireland and American firms in Ireland employ over 100,000 Irish people. It is little wonder that anti-American protestors are not as strong as in other EU member states and those who do protest are looked upon as subversives. Ireland is a neutral country but American warplanes and quite possibly captured insurgents pass through Shannon (geographically the first European airport). This is slowing becoming a problem. Ireland owes America, but it also has an untarnished human rights record.

39. Abortion is still illegal, but it is not as issue. If women want an abortion they can fly to Britain.

40. Like the English, the Irish drink tea in large amounts. Some people have up to twenty cups a day. The vast majority of the population only drink black tea, which is stronger than continental black tea. Milk is nearly always added. The milk is generally fresh and long lasting milk is almost unknown in Ireland. Similarly most people use real sugar and not some kind of artificial sweetener.

41. The Irish go shopping seven days a week. Sunday Trading has been possible for the last twenty years. The larger supermarkets are open 24 hours. The maxim ‘shop till you drop’ is very much part of the Christmas spirit.

42. Shoes are not removed when entering houses. It is polite to ask if one should remove ones shoes, to which the response is nearly always ‘only if they’re dirty.’

43. Tradesmen will come when they feel like it. If they say Monday they may not appear until Friday.

44. Property in Ireland is extremely expensive and is continually rising. The Irish do not like to rent. It is illogical for them that Continentals rent their apartment all their lives. Ownership is important. The Irish live in houses and unless they are students or just passing through, they will buy a house. Owing property is something of a national obsession.

45. Football jerseys and jogging trousers do not automatically signal working-class.

46. They pursue a policy of rounds when going drinking. This gives the appearance that people drink faster. People drink at a different pace and the first one finished, usually gets in the next round, which can create a problem if you are a slow drinker. Toasting is unusual in the pub as are drinking games.

47. Regarding work, the Irish pursue a policy of late to bed, late to rise. Most people only start the working day at 09:30. In this regard they are somewhat laid back.

48. Greetings in shops are unusual. The customer will not be automatically addressed or followed around the shop until they indicate that they want assistance.

49. Younger people speak a type of English that is mixture of Hiberno-English (English as it was traditionally spoken in Ireland, incorporating Gaelic grammar and pronunciation), British English and American slang learnt from TV. Hiberno-English is rich is colourful expressions that mystify other English speakers. It is still not possible for most Irish people to pronounce ‘th’ and they still pronounce film as filum.

50. In dealing with Irish people you must be human first. Everything else takes second place. This applies to everyone, regardless of rank and station. A writer who writes the finest books cannot live in Ireland if he lacks the common touch.

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