19 April 2012


     Rude manners on a genealogy trip can affect your family history research, especially in Ireland. If a tourist is perceived as impolite or pushy, the Irish will shut up tighter than a clam shell. How do you approach an Irish person, especially in your ancestral locality, to engage him or her in conversation?
     I have made plenty of etiquette blunders when I have visited Ireland. To a certain extent, cultural misunderstandings are inherent in travel. Cultural cues are often very subtle. Thankfully, the people I have met in my travels have been forgiving of my bad manners and have helped me to make huge leaps in my family history research. Since I am not the Irish Miss Manners, I asked for help from a seasoned tourist and former Irish importer and retail shop owner, Brian O'Shea. Brian writes the excellent blog Ireland Favorites, which is about Irish travel, etiquette, tips, and stories. Brian also covers Irish music and food in his blog. www.irelandfavorites.com
     Brian, what should American family historians know regarding etiquette when visiting Ireland?
"Many Americans in their eagerness to experience Ireland act in ways that guarantee they will be disappointed. The pub is a social gathering place different than what we consider a bar to be, it's not uncommon to have young children in the pub along side the local sports team, If you go to www.irelandfavorites.com, checkout pub etiquette, and the pub tutorial--the pub tutorial is where I was taught the hard way. There is a growing percentage that take offense at people born outside of Ireland referring to themselves as Irish.The Irish don't like comparisons such as 'the fries here are not like what I'm use to or in Chicago the roads are better or the Irish drive on the wrong side of the road.' Really all are non intentional insults, which will result in being ignored politely. If you have a specific question about directions or where to eat the rules are similar, just be polite. Really politeness goes a long way. For genealogy, the halls of records or museums or tourism bureaus will handle all questions, you don't invite yourself into regular peoples homes, there may be a common name that you might want to pursue but unless you are invited into the conversation show respect.
Don't talk about the trouble between north and south, avoid politics completely, take your time stay to yourself and once the locals have looked you over a bit they will probably ask you why you are there, once asked into the conversation you can ask all you want. Most Irishmen are proud of their town and county, listening goes a long way. Bartenders in Ireland are paid a decent wage tipping is not expected, If someone buys you a drink you are expected to reciprocate, restaurant tipping is fine around 10% or less. Don't flash your money around act like a big shot or demand service. The smaller the town the more adherence to the rules of etiquette, the locals will know you are a tourist as soon as you speak."
     Can you give us an example of pub etiquette?
"I had visited my daughter in Galway and after leaving to go back to my hotel I stopped for a night cap in the busy center of Galway city, one place was fairly empty, I entered ordered a pint of Guinness, thanked the bartender and stayed to myself, halfway through my pint a group of young men from Philly poured into the pub and yelled "where's the Music, who's gonna sing", I thought to myself this is going to get ugly. The bartender looked them straight in the eye and said "Bars closed" as the argument fumed I nervously hummed a tune under my breathe, another local fellow  calmed things down and these boys headed down the road, none too happy,I went to order one more pint when the fellow next to me asked if I was going to keep that tune to myself all night and what part of Boston was I from. That's the difference of using or not using pub etiquette."
  Any general advice on socializing and conversation?
"If you are at a person's house, expect to stay for a bit, expect to be offered tea and biscuits (cookies), or more, they are offering you their hospitality, accept it, you will be there a bit but refusing the hospitality is a bit of an insult. If you don't have a lot of time at least have a cup of tea.
The rules are different for locals than they will be for you. Once you are in a conversation most Irish folks are eager to help. The younger generation (and in Dublin) you may find some anti-tourist sentiment, and frankly some rude behavior, let it go, move on. Avoid politics you are there for such a short time save the debates for your local coffee shop."
     What is one of the biggest differences between the American style of conversation and that of the Irish?
"Americans are use to starting conversations, in Ireland you have to wait and be introduced into the conversation. In towns where you know nobody, this can take time, be patient, if you have some information bureau you are looking for you can ask the bartender, the bartender in the pub is the only person who is required to speak with you. Many times a question asked of the bartender will be answered by someone near the bar, or the bartender will ask a patron if they know anything about it. If that happens you have been invited into the conversation and can ask away."
     Other thoughts?  
"Don't speak with a fake Irish accent. Don't pretend to know. If you don't know what you are supposed to do, it is alright to ask, as long as you are polite."
     Thanks so much, Brian, for sharing your advice and observations with us today. Family historians can use this advice to maximize their chances of interacting with locals and having a good experience in Ireland.