We know most of them. Often we laugh about them. Sometimes we are tired of hearing them. Clichés. But what is behind the clichés and stereotypes which are put on a whole nation and are hard to get rid of? To me it is a delicate and interesting topic and I probably won’t write about it for the last time. So here is Part I – my personal experience with some of the most common Irish clichés.
Using Clichés to fill Knowledge Gaps
Before I came to Ireland for a 6-months internship in 2008, I was planning on gathering some information about the country and its people. Up to then Ireland had pretty much been a blank (or rather a green) spot on the map to me. All I knew was that English was an official language in Ireland which was enough for me to sign up for a semester abroad. And if you know nothing at all about a country, it’s always funny to start with some clichés. Ireland – ah the island that has more sheep than people and where nearly everybody is a redhead.
A Sense of Humour needed
Anyway, I didn’t find the time to collect a deep knowledge about my country of choice before I went on my half-year adventure. All I had was this book by Ralf Sotschek, called “Instruction Manual for Ireland”. I managed to read a few chapters on the 2-hour flight, despite being terribly nervous and excited at the same time. Recently I read the same book again, after having lived in Ireland for 5 years. It is only now that I can smile about certain “Irish traits” that caused me a bit of an uneasy feeling back then.
#1: The Irish Laid-back Attitude
One of these traits described in the book was the so called “Mañana-Mentality”. I had just returned from living in Spain for a while and thought I was well used to this kind of lifestyle. In my first couple of weeks in Ireland, it almost tipped me over the edge though.
After over a week in a shared bedroom in a hostel and whilst I was already working full time with a tour operator, I still hadn’t received the keys to my rented apartment. Whenever I was supposed to meet the real estate agent after a long day of work and hours stuck in traffic to get to the place, he never showed up. Several busted appointments later, following a short stay in a dubious replacement apartment and a couple of nights on a stranger’s couch, I finally moved into my own apartment.
Laid-back or unreliable?
It took me a while before I was able to laugh about that story. On the other hand, I never encountered a case of such ignorance ever again as I did with this real estate agent. Therefore I still see the Irish laid-back attitude as a positive thing. Only on the odd occasion, when the plumber shows up 2 hours too late. Or not at all without calling. Only then I get furious and call it “Irish unreliability” instead. For a short moment. Very rarely. And only quietly talking to myself.
#2: Irish Sociability
The Irish are also renowned for their sociability. Endless chats in the pub without a care in the world. Spontaneous music sessions together whenever time allows it. Going for “one” after work with the colleagues. (I am not going to entertain the stereotype of the “drunk Irish” at that stage).
Perfect for travelling alone
When travelling through Ireland, you won’t stay by yourself for long. It is easy to get started on a pleasant conversation with an Irish person. Irish people are interested in who they are talking to – no pretending or false smiles. Ireland is the only country that I travelled alone and never felt lonely at all.
Holiday Acquaintance vs. Long-lasting Friendship
What is it like when you emigrate to Ireland and make it your new home? Is it as easy to find new friendships as it is to feel entertained on a night out in a pub? For me it wasn’t at all.
When I moved to Ireland in 2014, it was mainly foreigners at my workplace that helped me to integrate quickly. Thanks to an international team, I soon had a bunch of people that I regularly spend time with after work. But despite going out and meeting Irish people, it was hard to get in contact with locals apart from a casual chit chat. I didn’t feel deliberately excluded. But I also didn’t feel particularly integrated at the time.
Love as Door Opener
My now-husband and I met when we were both living in the same house in Dublin City. He himself had only come back from America after being away for a long time. We were facing the same problem in a way and slowly (re-)integrated ourselves together. Until today we still only have a few Irish friends. However now it is by choice – quality over quantity as they say.
#3 The Irish Redhead
As widespread as the sheep in Ireland is the stereotype of the Irish redhead. So what’s behind that theory that almost everybody in Ireland has red hair? There are actually not that many people in Ireland with that particular hair colour. In fact about 10% of Irish people are redheads. Considering the percentage of 1-2% worldwide and ca. 4% within Europe, the number is quite high though (Source: irlandnews.com).
My “Dublin girls” that I met during my internship in Ireland 10 years ago, had always predicted I was going to marry a red-haired Irish man. Obviously they based their assumption on one of the most common clichés – at least in regard to the hair colour of my future husband. However, they weren’t too far off. Even though my Irish husband has dark hair, our son has a lovely shade of red which we like to refer to as “strawberry blonde”. The explanation is simple: About 30% of Irish people carry the “redhead-gene”. So does my husband.