Slice of Life: Green at heart
As an American of Irish descent, with the given name of Patrick, St Patrick’s Day has always been something of a special holiday for me. My grandmother, a twinkly-eyed little red-haired woman by the name of Evelyn Collins, was first-generation Irish-American, and I was widely known among my extended family to be her favourite grandson – a fact I was inclined to attribute to my superlatively Irish name, which she always seemed to take great relish in saying. Growing up in the States, every year on March 17, teachers, friends and random people would say things like, “Oh, St Patrick’s day – it’s your day!” Which I’m embarrassed to admit made me feel kind of good inside.
So then, I recall very clearly the first time I met actual Irish people, one St. Patrick’s Day many years ago when I was a wee lad of 19 years, travelling by myself in Costa Rica. I was at an Irish Pub not far from the beach (already a bad sign). I overheard a group of Irish guys chatting beside me at the bar (I recognised their accents immediately, having recently seen the Hollywood movie Babe, which tells the story of an adorable Irish sheepherding pig and his struggles for acceptance in an industry dominated by dogs). I excitedly turned and proudly introduced myself as Patrick, making sure to mention that I was actually Irish too.
In response, I was told: “Feck off, ya puff. You’re on your shite.”
“You’re not feckin’ Irish, Yank.”
“Well yeah, but… my grandma…”
“Well alright then, sláinte.” [pronounced, SALANCHA]
“What’s that, Costa Rican Spanish?” [holding up my glass in response, bewildered]
It turns out that the true Irish are generally disgusted by the American fetishisation of Irish identity (it mattered little to them that my great great grandfather, a pure Irishman, happened to be named Michael Collins; or that the biggest St Paddy’s Day parade in the world actually takes place in Boston each year). But fair enough, really. I know nothing about Ireland other than cereal box pop-culture stereotypes. Altogether, the encounter was similar to that episode of The Sopranos where Tony and the boys go to Italy and are thoroughly baffled by their Italian brethren – except that I didn’t end up in a tryst with a hot-tempered Irish lass, as Tony did with his fiery counterpart from the motherland.
Of course the wonderful thing about the Irish (here come the cultural stereotypes) is that as much as they are disinclined to mince words, and will instantly tell you exactly how they feel about you, they’re also the most forgiving and generous-natured people on earth. It wasn’t long before my new Irish friends had given me a new nickname – Paddy – and were slapping me on the back as we all got good and thoroughly drunk together. I’m glad I never got that shamrock tattoo I once considered (very glad), but I will definitely be at the pub until the wee hours on Thursday – sláinte!