This isn’t a post about being Irish… or Calvin Harris’ hit song.
But, just roll with me for a second… Being Irish, I know how it feels to be proud of where I come from. Most Irish citizens are as loyal to Ireland as pigs are loyal to shite: very loyal. They love rolling around in that. If you come across an Irishman, you will know it. I think this might be why it seems like Irish people are everywhere: we will tell you. We are not backwards to coming forwards about our heritage. But I’m sure the world is full of as many English or South African or Australian people. Actually, I’m more than pretty sure about this. Asia is responsible for over half the world’s population: 4.4 billion people are Asian out of 7.2 billion people in the world. In fact, in the small cafe I’m currently sitting in, 20% of people are Asian (there’s about 12 people and 4 people are Asian… actually I just googled that and it’s 33.3%. But you can’t have a third of a person can you? 20% it is.) That makes the 70-80 million Irish people around the world and the one Irish girl sitting in this cafe seem like a tiny crumb from the world wide loaf. But maybe the rest of the world aren’t as quick to tell you where they are from. Have they got more interesting things to tell you about themselves as individuals?
Maybe it’s because I am young and untainted and eager to please but I like hearing random people’s stories especially if it has an Irish twist. If you’re American and you tell me your great grandfathers cat was Irish, I will ALWAYS respond with ‘Oh really, where in Ireland is he from?’ with great interest. Now, this will probably result in one of the following: 1. The person making up somewhere Irish sounding because they don’t really know where the cat is actually from 2. Saying Dublin 3. Saying *down to the tree on the side of the road and who built the local community centre* exactly where the cat is from. I don’t really care which response I get, it’s just great to hear someone attempt to or actually succeed in connecting with another person because of they’re genetic make up or heritage or background. My former Russian boss used to ask if I’d been to the pub for a pint on my lunch (it’s ok because he’s Russian and he drinks as much vodka as we do whiskey). I didn’t think this was a negative cultural stereotype (like I probably should have) or whatever we’re calling it these days. I like connecting with my Irishness in the sea of multiculturalist London. Own it, I say, whatever prejudices get thrown your way.
Anyway, I said that this wasn’t going to be about being Irish and I’m not doing a very good job. Something recently got me thinking about people’s background. I was in a bar which shall go unnamed to preserve anonymity (but it was a great bar with a great cocktail happy hour – I’ll name and shame if you message me) and I got talking to Carl the Cocktail Maker who was very chatty and made these great, inexpensive (for London…) cocktails and even extended happy hour for us. (Winner, winner, chicken dinner). Anyone who says more than “Hey, how are you?” sparks my interest, especially in London where it is rare to even get a nod from someone. So Bernard the Bartender, who happily suggested different cocktails and went along with the chat of two tipsy girls, got my seal of approval. I wanted to find out more about him (I’m nosey as I’ve said before) and it was a quiet enough for Friday evening at the bar so I asked the age-old question: “Where are you from?”
The atmosphere immediately changed and I got a frosty response from Barry the Barman: “Does it matter where I’m from?” This was not what I was expecting. How can someone not be proud of where they are from? I jump at the chance to tell people how much of a Paddy I am. I was even more interested now. Peter the Pint Pourer went on to explain that he is not proud of where he was born and does not identify with the country or its culture. The only remnants of his original nationality was a slight accent when he spoke but I couldn’t even pin that down. Mike the Mixologist spoke of poverty and corruption and political crisis and mass immigration and issues with Romani people. Perhaps the recent wars in the Middle East provoked him to keep his lips sealed about where he is from, with officials from his country building a 90-mile long barbed wire fence to prevent migrants using his country to get to western Europe. Or people becoming celebrities for patroling the boarders to ‘hunt’ down (mostly Syrian) migrants. Jeez, imagine coming from a country like that. (See: Irish History.)
He eventually relented and told me where he was from and I thought immediately: ‘Oh. But my parents have been on holidays there!’ After some research (because my geography is terrible) I found Bill the Barman’s country boarders Romania and Turkey. Not exactly great neighbours, I suppose. But still, surely you should fly the flag for your country despite its turmoil. This type of pride can be difficult. Some would say that being proud of your country is like being proud of your hair colour or your height. Or to take it one step further, it’s like being proud of your gender or ethnicity. It really doesn’t have anything to do with your own achievements or accomplishments. Why do we get to be proud of something we haven’t earned? Should we save our pride for our career accomplishments and children and how many Pringles we can eat without throwing up and Netflix hours clocked up in one sitting? I can’t help but be proud of my country despite its sore history which is felt to this day. Hindsight might be the thing that pride feeds on. That’s what Barney the Barkeeper needs – time to review with rose-tinted glasses. So we eventually moved on from the nationality chat and stuck to lighter topics: ex girlfriends and careers. Much rosier.
My generation from Ireland, thankfully, don’t have much experience of real discrimination but it has only been a handful of decades since signs like “No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish” were plastered around England. Sadly, I can imagine having to deny my own nationality in order to make a living 30 or 40 years ago.
For an easier life, maybe it is better to keep quiet about your heritage but I’ll always wear my Irishness on my sleeve. Or up my sleeve, it’s a good party trick.