Dear Irish people: here’s my impression of you
(and no, I’m not British or American. You can relax now)
My first impression of Ireland was in 2012, when I came all the way from South America (I won’t say which country, and it isn’t simple anyway, I was born and raised in a liminal place that can’t decide if it’s one or the other). I came unprepared, just to see what would happen, because I’m an adventurer at heart. Deep down, I also wanted to experience life in Ireland for a while because I thought my spirit guides were from here (they’re not, they’re Pictish, but hey, close enough). If you’re puzzled by that statement, imagine how I feel. Here’s a reality check: GENUINE spirit workers don’t get to choose their guides. The choosey mystics are full of shite. (Whether or not you believe in “woo”, that’s true regardless — real mediums don’t choose to “have” it in order to be edgy. They naturally have it, and often wish they didn’t. It remains true even if you think it’s delusion. And if that’s what you think, the fake ones putting on a show look even worse now in comparison, don’t they?). Yeah I don’t sugarcoat.
So no, I can’t explain to you why a bunch of Picts decided to adopt a South American lass with zero “Celtic” family ties. Your guess is as good as mine. Regardless, it happened, and gave me enough motivation to actually come.
I arrived here wearing rose-tinted glasses. They broke very soon, but some of the pieces still remain, and now I see truth when I look through the broken glass. So with that in mind, today I bring you some of my disappointments, some of my pleasant surprises, and some things I got right from the very start:
A hundred thousand welcomes… only if you’re a tourist.
Yes, I meant to be jarring by deliberately choosing a cheesy, stereotypical, borderline annoying photo to go above. If you’re from Ireland: have a taste of the exact same thing I felt. You won’t put yourselves in my shoes when I ask nicely, so allow me to force you. There you go.
In all seriousness now: why is it the Irish seem incapable of seeing the irony in their “céad míle fáilte” thing? Maybe it was true when the saying was invented thousands of years ago… But today it has become ironic. Every fellow immigrant I ever ask, agrees that it isn’t even slightly true. And you know what? That’s valid. If you guys are adopting this “not-on-my-field” attitude (yes the reference was deliberate. I love that movie too, lol) about the people who come from overseas, that’s valid. You’re entitled to your feelings.
But if you’re gonna be like that… then why the hell insist on fooling everyone with this welcome nonsense? I mean, I get it, you wanna be polite and courteous and all. That’s fair. But you push it way beyond politeness, don’t deny it now. You’ve turned it into a slogan. And when foreigners start believing it, you complain. You get bitter about foreigners who come and integrate and embrace Irish culture as if it was a competition. “Oh I’m so ashamed I never liked X thing at school” — hm, excuse me Paddy, who TF asked? If you don’t know how to compliment a foreigner in a truly nice (not this fake nice, bordering on passive-aggressive) way, without making it about you, then just shut up, stay quiet. Ain’t nobody interested in playing your pity game, your oppression olympics thing. Nobody’s gonna coddle you because you can’t come to terms with your own self-hate. It’s sad, but sure look, what can we foreigners do, we have enough on our plates already. But above all else… What did you even expect us to do? Keep to ourselves? Ignore the existence of native Irish culture all around us? Then why do you make it seem as though you’re willing to share it? Why can’t you be straightforward?
This is what I hate — the untruthfulness, not the attitude itself. It’s like the meme where a guy causes himself to fall off the bike then tries to blame it on the world. That’s what the Irish are doing today. No, don’t even start whining about Britain and colonialism. Yes you were the victims, yes you deserve justice, but let me tell you first and foremost: that doesn’t justify your attitude. It doesn’t. Sorry. It really doesn’t. I too come from a colonised place, do I go around whining about how much I suffer and begging for everyone’s pity at every opportunity? Give me a break. Where’s your pride? Where’s your sovereignty? You’re stronger than that!
I don’t hate you, Irish people. What I hate is certain things you do, because they’re ultimately doing yourselves harm. I’m giving you tough love.
And don’t even get me started on the “boo you’re not Irish” thing. Aye, there’s truth to it, Irish-Americans aren’t technically Irish, everyone knows that’s a fact. But you see, I’m not even Irish-American, I truly don’t have a dog in this fight, and even I can see the bullshit in your attitude towards them. Like, holy crap, just stop already! Look at the Italian, do they ever make as much noise as you about Italian-Americans? What about the Chinese? What about the German, the Dutch, the Korean, the [insert country whose diaspora is in America here]? Huh? No they don’t. And yes, they hear the exact same thing as you. In Germany, they hear “I’m German too, my great-great-grandpa was from Hamburg” all the friggin time. I said it once, for the craic. Ya know what the German lady said? “That’s very cool! Enjoy Germany”. Because they don’t take it as personally and don’t feel as unironically attacked as you. It’s not funny. It’s not charming. It’s concerning. Get some help.
I mean, even the Scottish have a better attitude about the diaspora, for heaven’s sake, and they’re fellow “Celts”. You guys get along. Learn from them. They even poke fun at it, they sell T-shirts saying “a Scot is a Scot, even after 100 generations”. See? It doesn’t have to be dramatic.
On the flip side, the Irish can’t be fooled very easily.
I’ll never forget the gossip that was going around in the Gaeltachtaí back in 2016 when the “Church” of Scientology decided to publish some of their stuff as Gaeilge. It was a very entertaining topic indeed, because we don’t get that kind of exposure too often here in the culchie-lands, do we? (#sarcasm). Long story short: nobody fell for the cult. They had to leave.
The same is true in politics: fascism is on the rise everywhere in the world; Ireland didn’t quite get there yet (and hopefully never does). One could brush it off and say “oh, the coalition government system makes it more difficult for random radicalists to be suddenly elected like in America” but… the exact same system as Ireland is in force in Britain, and they still get absolute morons in power somehow. Here it doesn’t happen though. Well, sure, a lot of Irish are gonna disagree with me and proceed to hate the Taoiseach because everyone loves to hate on politicians anyway. But seriously now: are things as bad here as they are in America? Russia? Ukraine? Britain? Not at all, thank god.
Ireland is a society of consensus. Astrologers say if it had a sign, it’d be Taurus. I couldn’t agree more: extremely stubborn in its convictions, slow to catch up with outside trends, and very close-knit. I don’t mean it in a bad way, it’s a compliment. It’s the kind of thing that can be annoying in individuals, but it’s a big asset in countries. Otherwise, entire communities would live in constant chaos and uncertainty.
Things change very slowly here, but I don’t think it’s due to a social phenomenon. I think it’s mostly due to Irish people’s mindset. Stubbornness. You guys hold on tightly to what you have and refuse to let go. That’s a bit of a double-edged sword, sure, but it ensures you stay immune to the bad influences from outside too. How many other countries are keeping the madness away? I could count them on my fingers. It seems like everywhere else you go, you’ll see a lot of cults, conspiracy theorists, radicalism, people too easy to impress, too quick to jump to conclusions, too immediatist and unwilling to fact-check. People whose mind is way too open and has already been filled entirely with crap.
You don’t see that here. That’s why I stay.
Culturally, Irish people often have a hard time with empathy for the “other”. They won’t admit it though.
I’m not saying you don’t have empathy. I’m saying I perceive you having a difficulty. Don’t misconstrue it.
Yes, this is cultural. Before you get outraged at the title, try to read here a bit. It gets misinterpreted as “backwardness”, “racism”, “ignorance” but I don’t think any of these perceptions are accurate. I see where they come from, but I disagree. The Irish aren’t any of that. They’re just prone to lack of empathy for others. I won’t say why (I don’t know the answer), I’m just saying I see it.
By the way, if you think I’m generalising, and get to the point of commenting that, please take a moment to think of your attitude and reflect. What makes you feel so strongly about my supposed generalisation? Did the shoe fit?
Back on topic:
What I mean is a collective phenomenon, and it extends over many many centuries. Culturally, all the Irish care about is their fellow Irish people. Sometimes they’ll extend the courtesy of empathy to some non-Irish people, as long as they’re European enough and have enough in common with them in terms of culture. Prime example is the solidarity for Scottish independence; on a lesser scale, the big welcome to Ukrainian refugees here in Ireland. You sometimes see people feeling sceptical about the Afghan and the Syrian here, but never ever the Ukrainian — which is funny. Afghan and Syrian people are human, and so are the Ukrainian. They’re all outsiders and all capable of good and evil.
Am I calling you racist? Well, in the past I would have. Today, I’m sceptical that’s entirely accurate. I don’t think it has to do with this global hierarchy of cultures that forms the basis for racism, because if it did, the Irish would have to hate on their own culture, which definitely isn’t on top of the world according to the rich and powerful. (Oh wait… You do actually devalue your own culture! Topic for another post).
But whether or not racism exists here, the issue I’m raising here is another entirely: Ireland is simply self-centered. I mean, sure, some level of self-centeredness is always useful. We all know what happens with countries that don’t know when to put themselves first. That’s fair enough. But again, I’m talking about an imbalance. There’s way way too much cultural self-centeredness here. Like holy crap, you could tone it down a tiny wee bit perhaps.
This is specifically to do with tragedies and generosity. In Ireland, this weird thing happens, where in order to decide whether or not you’ll care about a tragedy in the world, the first thing you consider is: are those victims like me or are they too “other”? It’s bizarre. I’ve never even given it much thought before moving here in fact, because my default reaction to foreigners was always along the lines of “well of course they’re different from me. Duh” and it never made me lean one way or another in terms of caring about what they went through. Ireland, though, is a peculiar place where if you turn on the telly or open a newspaper and happen to find a story about some bigger thing that happened abroad, it more than likely involves an Irish expat, or a community with cultural ties to Ireland, or something that implies “look, there’s a bit of Ireland here” — or else, I’m guessing, the audience would drop. Because again, the Irish are culturally self-centered.
Back where I grew up, both countries would show us news stories about global events “as is”, without journalists going out of their way to look for expats or whatever. In Germany, same. In Sweden, same. All over Europe in fact. Here… ah sure look, nobody cares. It’s almost as if these “other” people around the world never cared about the Irish, huh? Where’s your support for Native Americans against oil pipelines on their land? Forgot the generosity from the Choctaw during the famine?
At most, you can find news like this one, which are a beginning I suppose (but then again, only the American even bothered writing it). Fair play anyway. It still pales in comparison to the Irish obsession with going out of their way looking for Irishness everywhere you have a news story, though. I mean, I had to actively google the article because I got curious. Meanwhile I’m bombarded with tales of Irishness on the news, on the internet, in conversation etc, even when it’s irrelevant to the main story. There’s more work to be done on that front. You don’t have to be the main character in order to care about things.
Irish people ain’t got time for “notions”. I love that.
I went from growing up in a place where bureaucracy was over-the-top and everyone loved pomp and ceremony and etiquette rituals and flex culture… To living here in Ireland. A country with a mindset that feels closer to my values. This may or may not have something to do with the fact I come from a family of recent immigrants who never quite adjusted to the local Latino way of life. You might think I complain a lot about Ireland (I’m just Germanic, though. I say it like it is or don’t say it at all, lol), but in comparison to where I used to live, I actually feel in heaven. So, there’s that.
There are places in the world where you’ll get a passport application rejected because you forgot to sign it with a specific kind of blue pen. Then you go back to the office and you’re told to start it all from the very beginning instead of reusing the provided documents. Nobody is interested in making your life quicker or easier, perfectionism and redundancy reign supreme, and you’re laughed at for criticising the system for the absolute bullshit that it truly is.
Here, the other day I overheard a neighbour have the most delightfully Irish interaction with a census taker. She shouted “sorry love I have covid, can I throw my form out the window for ya?”. The paper form was gladly accepted and taken away. You see, Ireland is supposed to be a “first world” country but in fact nobody believes that here. A lot of our systems are still quite outdated if compared to the rest of Europe, so it isn’t that we make things easier for citizens because we’re privileged or whatever… We’re just willing, and we find a way. I think it’s awesome.
I love living in a country where “fussy” is an insult. It’s refreshing and I’m all for it. The same applies to a social context — frills and excessive ceremonies aren’t expected, literally anywhere. In fact here you call them “notions”, and it’s an insult too.
By the way, this further proves I couldn’t possibly have chosen my spirit guides. One is a king, and fussy is his middle name. He gets on my nerves sometimes, but I like him all the same. Just bitching here. Cue Disney princess Merida rolling her eyes, that’s me on so many levels.
During my first years here, I used to overdress for special events, sometimes even at the pub. I don’t blame a lot of Irish people for thinking I might be stuck up back then, because in all fairness, I was. It was accidental though, in my defense. Where I come from, if you don’t overdress, people start coming with unsolicited advice about how to become more self-confident. As if simplicity and subtlety couldn’t translate into confidence. Go figure.
That’s not to say maximalism isn’t a thing in Ireland, because aye it is. You’ll find the most adventurous fashionista wannabes sporting crazy colour hair (aye, the elderly too), unusual layerings in clothing, creative jewellery etc, but it’s not pretentious. These more adventurous people tend to be artists or musicians by profession too. The same is true for home decor: most houses I’ve seen here reflect the owner’s individuality in a way, and they can get quite inventive, but you feel welcomed and cosy instead of intimidated. That’s a contrast with Sweden where people seem to wear a “uniform” and shame each other into keeping decor super low-key (sometimes to the detriment of functionality in certain places — although I will admit I have a soft spot for Scandi design, but it can get a bit extreme). You can also contrast the Irish attitude to Latin America, where the very opposite happens, and most people, even the poorest, are into flex culture. To each their own, I suppose.
Ironically, though, they’re super hard to read.
You’d think a “zero-frills” people would be straightforward with feelings too… ja?
Everything the Irish don’t have in the “notions” department, they make up for when it comes to indirect (and, yes, frilly) communication. I could take a guess as to where this behaviour was inherited from, but I don’t wanna be slandered in the comments, so I won’t. You guys like nods and hints, aye? Enjoy mine.
At first glance, this is jarringly apparent in the Irish way of giving negative feedback — which is fair, nobody likes giving OR receiving bad news, I’ll give you that. They’ll beat around the bush in the best possible scenario, and at worst they won’t even say anything, they’ll leave you confused as to why their body language turned sour when their words continue overly sweet and nice, and you’ll go to bed wondering what the hell is going on. I kid you not, Irish indirectness can get so extremely sophisticated that I’m sceptical even yourselves get the hints from each other. I couldn’t fathom so much ceremony just for saying a simple thing. You don’t need to be brutal like I am, all I ask is some kind of nod that actually ensures I got the message. If you ask me indirectly, I’ll know. But you just don’t. You assume I got the message. Hey. Sometimes I didn’t get it. Calm down with the mystery a bit, will ye. Not everyone was born knowing your secret code.
But let me tell you now: it doesn’t stop at negativity. Oh, no, I wish, LOL. They’re indirect and subtle with positive feedback too. It’s the sort of thing that for many years left me feeling utterly despised, when in fact there were quite a few Irish people who liked me… But I wasn’t getting the hint because the “thank yous” and the praises simply weren’t easy to grasp. You guys have no idea how indirect you are, do you? Like on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say 11. We’re polar opposites in that department. The friends I have in France are somewhere in the middle, and they’re the folks who [in their good days] are likely to say polite things like “yes, AND” or “I understand BUT what if we try X and Y”. It still gets the message across.
This is probably why my conflicts with the Irish so far have been so dramatic and over-the-top, because (NOW I understand), you guys were on your last legs, thinking I was ignoring your message on purpose, so frustration builds up and you start to yell at me everything you think you’ve been “saying” and I’ve been “hearing” from you all these years. I mean, truly, I’m sorry. It must be frustrating. I didn’t mean it to take astronomical proportions though. I’m just a bit, let’s say, hard-of-hearing in between the lines. So if you help me to help you, we can talk.
And despite it all, I love them to bits.
Cheesy way to end the article, I know, but I mean it.
If my brutal honesty made you angry, please consider this: I am, indeed, willing to compromise. I often do, but I reserve that for interactions in person now. We’re so astronomically different in communication styles, that if I were to fully adapt to yours, I’d lose myself. I need some kind of outlet to keep speaking my mind without frills, and I chose the internet for that. I’m even anonymous here. You can choose not to read. It’s not that bad.
You may agree, or disagree, or get surprised, or just react the way you do. It’s grand. I’ve said my piece, now it’s on your hands to do what you will with it.
I’m fully aware perfection doesn’t exist. Hell, I even criticised Sweden along the way, and I’m from the diaspora. But although perfection can’t be achieved, I don’t think it’s fair that we keep less-than-conventional opinions to ourselves at all times. Otherwise, how would the world even evolve? I know the comfort zone is cozy, but there are times when it’s no longer doing us any favours. Like everything in life, let’s strive for balance there.