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You won’t find this in guidebooks but here’s what it really means to be Irish

Beware of the constant fear in Ireland of telling someone bad news. For example, instead of saying a restaurant is overbooked a manager might tell you they can find a table ‘in a bit’

A chara, St Patrick’s Day is upon us. Some of us are hanging Ivory Coast flags backwards over our children because school fancy dress day snuck up on us again and everything was sold out in Dunnes. Some of us will be catching the local tractor enthusiasts’ drive through town, hoping for a glimpse of the parade’s grand finale – the local GAA club secretary in a grey Shein beard and a green bed sheet, holding Gran’s walking stick with one hand and waving at kids with the other, while being pulled along in a twin-axle trailer.

Which is exactly how St Patrick himself went about Ireland in the fifth century when he wasn’t turning people into Christians and chasing the snakes out of the country.

Meanwhile, the Americans are busy dyeing large waterways green. The ones who aren’t at that are here for the big day to enjoy the best of what Ireland has to offer – music, drink, history, craic and overpriced accommodation.

Over the years I’ve noticed that visitors seem to be stumped by a few key details about Ireland and Irish people that aren’t written in the guidebooks. Here’s a short rundown of things to note.

Widespread and dangerous optimism

Irish people in general harbour what I like to call dangerous levels of optimism. Also referred to as the “sure, it’ll be grand” mentality. This is the equal parts endearing and terrifying belief that everything will work out in the end. Everything will be grand and if it is not that’s no one’s fault but yours for having a bad attitude. Don’t be negative that there’s no train from the airport and some taxis refuse to take cards. That’s on you to carry cash. Don’t worry, you’ll get to see more sights as you’re driven around to find a cashpoint at your own expense.

This is a country that trumpeted about connecting the Red and Green Luas lines in an “interchange”. An interchange that’s actually not a connecting station but rather a set of stations that are a short walk through traffic away from each other. And they got away with it!

Beware of the constant fear of telling someone bad news here. For example, instead of saying a restaurant is overbooked a manager might tell you they can find a table “in a bit”. Yes, you might end up waiting 40 minutes but you might also end up being squeezed on to their own family table upstairs in their house with their cousins for Sunday lunch. There’s a willingness to make things work, combined with insistent hospitality, that makes you fall in love with Ireland and its people. It’s the unfailing optimism that any issue can be ironed out.

However, if someone gives you directions and insists something is “just down the road” get the Eircode first.

The ‘no worries if not’ brigade

Sometimes I worry that to live in Ireland is to be constantly gaslit. Was it really “not a problem” that I had moved a booking? That email said “no worries if not” but equally it could be “all worries, only worries and my level of mental health rests on you getting back to me”. I used to listen to therapists about calming my social anxiety. I stopped worrying about monitoring people’s emotions because if someone really had a problem with me they would tell me. Right? Then I moved to Ireland where, not only do they not tell you, they tell everyone else around you. You might have started a multigenerational vendetta over something you did or didn’t say. But you will never know for sure. They will take it to the grave. “It’s nothing,” they will say, silently giving you the finger in their coat pocket.

People tend to approach conflict resolution with the same desirability as playing a game of charades with their in-laws and performing the bathtub scene in Saltburn. It’s too uncomfortable. It’s much better to do things the traditional way: be slightly off with someone for 20 years and then turn up to their wake to tell everyone what a great person they were.

The question of rudeness

Australians in particular are flummoxed by Irish bar etiquette. There’s an unspoken rule in my home country that seems lost in translation here. You go up to the bar, you order your drinks and you walk away, making space for others. There’s a clear service area and a clear seating area somewhere else.

But in Ireland people will order over the top of others sitting, they will not always clear the bar area and in fact will stand having a good chat with someone they haven’t seen in a while, blocking the space completely. This behaviour at home would elicit the most ominous warning phrase, “you right there, mate?” Here it’s normal. But is it a lack of spatial awareness that’s the issue or are you just being a big, impatient baby? You’re in the pub, you don’t have anywhere important to be. Relax, people are having a conversation. It’s up to you to join in: “Is that an Australian accent I hear? Do you know my niece, she lives in Sydney ...”

Brianna Parkins

Brianna Parkins

Brianna Parkins is an Irish Times columnist