I was reading a post by Mairead of IrishAmericanmom.com which got me to go over a common faux pas made by well meaning tourists. I am from America as most well know, being from America we have varied backgrounds from all over the world. It is very common to sub classify we Americans by our chain of heritage, or heritages in most cases. We have Italian, Irish, Polish, etc. our fore fathers left under different circumstances, be it economic, fleeing communism, or famine. We Americans love the connection to our pasts and many, including myself are guilty of some romanticizing of those connections. Add to that the size of America, and you get very large groups that identify with a common background. We all know we are Americans, so it falls to the sub classification to separate us a bit from the crowd. So we grow up with Irish stories, celebrate our Irishness on St. Patricks day, some learn Irish step, some learn Irish traditional music, some learn Irish songs. We grow up being “Irish”. Now this all works out well as the Italian guys make fun of the Polish guys who really can’t make fun of anybody. Sorry just making fun of the Polish guys. However this connection to your heritage doesn’t travel so well over the Atlantic.
I tell tourist traveling to Ireland to refer to themselves as either American or American of Irish descent. Calling yourself Irish can be a bit touchy sometimes in Ireland. I listened to a long rant on this one night in Galway as this fellow went on and on about some girl from Chicago that said she was Irish. ”I said to her your Irish? Where you from.” “And she says Chicago”, “So I says to her what part of Ireland do I find Chicago anyway?”, “And you should have seen the confused look on her face, I told her I’m from Ireland, I was born here, I’m Irish you’re American.”
Now I tell this to some of my fellow American tourists and they are a little put off, and dis believing. I tell them to think of all the tourists of Irish descent that descend on Ireland during the travel season. Then I tell them to think of a baseball stadium of a team that has a large fan base traveling to another team’s park. They take over the stadium, they all love baseball, but they are not the home team. The home team fans can get quite annoyed.
When you are a visitor to another person’s country be respectful, understand the rules, don’t be that tourist that nobody wants to be. Ireland is it’s own country, to be Irish is to be of Ireland.
Now do you wish to express your connection to Ireland? Do you wish to find your roots? It’s not a hard thing to do. First off be quiet, we Americans are use to being starters of conversation, we are use to a bit of bravado, fight that instinct. I found myself once in Dublin airport listening to a pair of older women from Charlotte North Carolina complain a bit about their Irish vacation. I engaged them in a little chit chat to find out what bothered them. They were upset that the waitstaff was not to their liking and the cars drove on the wrong side of the road. I think I might have laughed out loud. I love that telling locals their system is wrong as opposed to adjusting to the local customs is a problem. We did chat for a while and it turns out they really enjoyed their trip, they just had no idea of the differences in customs. They had been fed a steady diet of Finians Rainbow and Irish tourism propaganda. I could hear through their stories the confusion, “Hey I’m Irish why the hard time?”
The acceptance to Irish culture they were looking for could have been executed by being respectful, non intrusive, and pleasant. At a minimum you appreciate the Irish sites, Irish food, and Irish fun. Most times you will be asked where you are from and have a nice chat. How do they know you are a visitor?, Well once you speak, you have given it away.
The funniest part is I have arguments with my Irish friends in Ireland( not trying to be redundant) where they tell me I’m Irish. Where’s your family from Brian, Oh that’s a Kerry name, sure your Irish, just displaced a bit. Well if you heard my Boston accent you would never mistake it for Irish, and I know that the “you are Irish” chatter is really just my friends way of making me feel welcome, because I respect their way of doing things. Which really is all any of us wants from visitors and guests.
So go to Ireland, know that people born in Ireland are Irish, and we lucky visitors to Ireland from other countries are of Irish descent, and enjoy a good chat, a good pint, and a good trip.