Over the past 20 months, I’ve thought about writing out a list of things to do before and during a visit from the US to Ireland. It would include things like preparing for the sticker shock you will encounter when you rent a car. I’d include the confusion you’ll cause when you walk into a store with your non “chip and pin” credit card. (And don’t even try shopping at a certain ‘red-themed grocery chain as they won’t even accept a “chip & sign” card.) If that last sentence makes no sense, and you’re travelling here soon, feel free to drop me a note.
I’ve thought about doing that, but haven’t…perhaps soon.
As important as those types of things might be the number 1 tip for Americans is this:
Do not tell people here, that you’re Irish.
If your great-grandmother and her family emigrated to the US from Clare 100 years ago, you can work that into a conversation at some point. But saying, “I’m Irish!” Just don’t. If you are speaking at an event full of Irish people and want to point out your “Irish-ness” as a way to relate to them…again…don’t.
If you are just visiting and you do say it, people will be polite and smile, but it ‘wrecks their heads.’
Shortly after we arrived in Ireland, we were out for dinner with friends. The waitress was chatting and told us about Americans who come to visit and say things like, “Oh I’m Irish! My uncle’s, brother’s, boss’s, a neighbour was from Cork.” Or something to that effect.
Obviously that not what is being said, but it is how it is being heard.
My kids who are all around 60% Irish have had it made clear to them that they are not Irish. They are Americans.
So, why is this an issue?
Think about it this way. As Americans, we often talk about our genealogy. In second grade, I had to do an assignment where I listed each of the countries my ancestors came from. Germany, England, Wales, Ireland was about what I remember from that exercise. (Every couple of years my grandmother would add a new country to the list…France, Poland. But I just figured she was a bit forgetful.)
As you might guess, in most European countries, figuring out your ancestry is not as common an exercise. If you’re family lives in Ireland and has for as far back as you can remember, you are Irish.
There might be some English, French, Viking in the mix…but I’ve yet to meet an Irish person who has said, “I’m a Viking.”
As an American, it might be helpful to think of it this way. My dad grew up in Kingston, Pennsylvania. My mom’s mom grew up in Nebraska.
Yet if you ask me what I am, I would say, “I am a New Yorker.” I was born in NY and spent my first 46 years there. If I told people during my first trip to Nebraska (which has not yet happened) that I was a Nebraskan, it would make no sense. Because I am a New Yorker.
The way we think of states is closer to how the places our ancestors came from, think about countries.
I’d also suggest you avoid wearing one of those crazy green hats unless you are at the St. Patrick’s Day parade, but that is not quite as important.