Sunday, April 22, 2012
For starters, I simply have not mastered the delicate art of understatement. I actually find it quite difficult at times to figure out the degree of seriousness or severity being relayed to me by a stiff-upper-lipped person of gentle English persuasion: "Indeed, it was jolly inconvenient to have to call an ambulance at 4 o'clock in the morning but I dare say that my husband's chest pain was rather discomforting, given the fact that his lips had turned slightly blue and he was a tad comatose. But, after seven weeks intensive care, he pulled through, so mustn't grumble!" More alarmingly, information like this is often delivered with a bright smile and the cheerfully rallying voice employed by Mary Poppins during her nursery-cleaning extravaganzas. It takes me a couple of minutes to figure out that we are, in fact, discussing a near death experience with this person's nearest and dearest, and not the likelihood of MacVities discontinuing their range of chocolate Hobnob biscuits.
Irish people, on the other hand, tend to relish the drama. While some groups of English people prefer the curt, mustn't-grumble approach to life, Irish people often welcome the opportunity to embellish the circumstances and spin the story. While the English people of the stiff-upper-lip variety would sooner wrestle a komodo dragon than succumb to emotion, Irish people slather it on top, like butter on toast. Plus, we invoke our deity and a variety of minor religious figures for good measure - and if you are not keen on the Lord's name being taken in vain, I would ask you to (a) look away now and (b) never visit Ireland. For example,
"Jesus, Mary and holy Saint Joseph! I nearly ended up in the emergency room yesterday - the foot nearly fell off me with the pain! I very nearly took a hack-saw to it and amputated my own appendage! God above! I nearly died in agony!"
(In this case, the speaker probably stepped on a Lego brick by mistake and endured a sharp, short shot of pain, but with no lasting effects on foot or ability to walk.)
As you can imagine, putting people of these two very different persuasions in the same room results in some very interesting exchanges, probably because we expect to have so much in common: our history is so interlinked, we share so much culturally that the differences are all the more shocking. George Bernard Shaw, a fellow Irishperson, once said that Britain and the US were "two countries separated by a common language." I wonder, to what extent, this also applies to England and Ireland - if not language, then the way the language is used?
Posted by The Gingerbread Lady at 11:30 PM