Why do the Irish Smile so Much??

Someone I know has just remarked that Dublin is so much more uncomplicated, compared to Paris. Well obviously, but the lack of complication is beside the point for me. Even so, my friend is suggesting that there are many ‘positives’ about Ireland and its people, so I thought I’d try to haul a few of my own national-positives to the surface. 

To be honest, I have to think hard. We’re friendly – that’s a given – but surely we’re friendly only on a certain level? I mean, Irish men are comfortable enough when they’ve a pint in their hand, or women when they’re tanked up with their Vodkas, and all sit or stand around the pub like nervous Wildebeeste waiting to cross the Grumeti in Tanzania, knowing the crocodiles may devour them. It’s hard to to get past the National Orthodontised Smile, which I  freely admit I have gradually ended up participating in over the years, to my growing dismay. I became conscious of this while in France, where hardly anybody smiles in public or if they do it’s taken as a come-on. In fact, in Parisian France it looks as if a smile is for idiots and that the mere glimmer of one suggests the death of all neural activity within the brain. So – why do the Irish smile so bloody much? Surely it has to be the national defence mechanism of choice, rather than a burst of sheer amicability playing on every Celtic mouth in between cataracts of alcohol or the swift snorting and siphoning of weekend coke. Okay, so now I’m betraying my ‘negative’ takes on the nation’s habits.

The truth is, when I think of us, I find it difficult sometimes to move beyond the spectacle of a much stereotyped group who live largely in denial of their collective alcoholism, and other drug dependency, their carelessness of their own children, and their ignorance of what their young people actually think and want. And as I don’t want to start lecturing on any of that right now, let me go back to our good points. 

But what are they? We’re not intellectual (a pity, I’d love to live in a country that appreciates intellectuals), we make a lifetime endeavour of Being Funny and Never Being Seen to Take Anything Too Seeeeriously, we pretend we’re not over-eating, we  pretend that size 16 is a healthy size for an adult woman – it’s not, it’s the downward slope to obesity unless you’re about five foot ten – and equally we delude ourselves that men with pregnant bellies are never going to get diabetes or PROSTATE TROUBLE – wake up guys!!

We do strange things with language when we wish to show disapproval too. How often have I heard women refer to someone being very ‘bold’, when what they actually mean is that they think that person’s behaviour is all wrong, or has jarred them in some way? ‘Bold’ is for Victorian children, I’d have thought, and in some senses it indicates bravery too, but for us Irish? It’s a coy euphemism used by people who are too timid to speak out and show disapproval. The men are often no better, as they murder language in the interests of attempting to achieve language ‘equality’. How often do you still hear ‘ChairPERSON’, and ‘ChairMAN’ applied to a woman in charge of a committee? What’s wrong with ‘ChairWOMAN’? Or has the woman suddenly acquired a set of balls  none of us knew about?  If your’re chairing a group and you’re female, the you’re a chairwoman. Simple. In their attempts to be kind, women as a group are sometimes still referred to as ‘ladies’, or ‘the ladies’. But true ladies being as much a rarity as gentlemen are, and always have been, this comes across as merely condescending. So, gentlemen, stop it please. 

Our politics veer between the virtually authoritarian and having absolutely NO politics at all, we still avoid the separation of Church and State, as if addressing this was some kind of avoidable virus which, once contracted, means doom for the whole tribe. We refuse to use our democratic right to march peaceably but consistently to demonstrate disapproval of government, and have no clue as to how to make our marching – when it occurs – count. One of the problems in that regard is that groups of activists are themselves too divided and unwilling to share the same street as other groups unless they conform to the one view of whatever the problem is. But surely the important aspect of democracy in its public sense is that it should include the most divergent views?

Another gripe: like most of the Western world, we think a lot about what is euphemistically referred to as ‘Me-Time’, but which is a cop-out term for the (frequently female) pursuit of infantile narcissism. It has nothing to do with the focused development which ensues when a career or way of thinking is explored in an adult way, through work and endeavour, to blossom; it has a lot to do with sitting around in a kind of whingy group-think, imagining that every thought about your personal pain is a) worth ‘sharing’, b) publishing c) discussing with others d) posting on Facebook. I love Facebook by the way. I usen’t to. The thing is, it’s not the path to enlightenment. It’s social. It’s media. But it’s not the route to higher consciousness, and neither is emoting about everything while using it.

But I digress. Where we Irish as a tribe are fairly together is in the way we mark birth, death and some of the important events in between. We still haven’t developed the death-phobias that mark most other developed nations, the kind of avoidance of the fact and details of death: the corpse in the house during a wake, for example, allowing people who wish to, to kiss the vacated body, for example; speaking the word ‘died’ instead of ‘passed away’, and ‘suicide’ instead of some obnoxious euphemism. Yes, so far, we don’t avoid the presence of death as a definition in our culture. As for birth? We’re pretty good at marking that too.  And on some very profound and never really articulated level, I believe that most Irish people remain fascinated by their own landscape, by the present and shifting of natural cycles, and that we still permit it to be a force within our deepest selves. Perhaps I’m wrong about this, of course. It’s just my hunch. But to hang on to those things, even after all the barracking I’ve done about our faults, is perhaps something we should feel modestly pleased about. Not ‘proud’. We need to drop the ‘proud to be Irish’ one-liner. Strangely unsettling, this remains perhaps one of the last, lingering expressions of post-colonial insecurity. We don’t need it any more, because frankly, we’ve more to be thinking of.


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