A Cultural Comparison
o, the Irish and the Australians speak the same languge, but they are very, very, very….errr…very different. Super different. Nicole Buckler reports.
I am an Australian National. However I have lived in Ireland for 14 years. I don’t feel quite Irish yet, but almost. I only remember that I’m not Irish when someone says to me pleasantly, “Are you enjoying your holiday here?” Or if I go to the post office to get a stamp to send some godawful government form down the country and the post clerk says, “To send a letter overseas, you must buy an international stamp.” And a few times I have been with my kids, and have been mistaken for the Aussie nanny. Just because I’m not Irish, doesn’t mean I’m the help, people.
What I wasn’t prepared for was how different Australian and Irish cultures are. Yes we speak the same language (sort of) but that’s about it. A lot of Australians have traced their roots to Ireland and therefore feel a connection with the “genetic homeland” but to say our countries have similar cultures is utter nonsense. Australian culture and Irish culture are ridiculously different. In fact, they are so different it has taken me years and lots of thoughtful introspection to even be able to communicate properly with Irish people, especially Irish women. I’m not all the way there, but I am getting close.
So here is my opinion on how much the Irish and the Aussies differ.
I believe that if you go to a new country, then you just have to dig in, and learn the language. When I was in Taiwan for a year, I learnt the language (badly) and made lots of Taiwanese friends (who used to laugh at my social faux pas all the time) and tried to adapt as fast as I could. It has been no different here. I haven’t had to learn a new language but I have had to learn how to use Irish English. What I mean by this is that Irish people use English differently to other English users.
Me: Enda Kenny does not want to wear pants to the Dáil.
Irish answer 1: Oh, does he not?
Irish answer 2: Doesn’t he?
Australian people would never say, “Does he not?” It’s a slight sentence variation and seemingly it would not have a different meaning to the uninitiated. But it means something different to “Doesn’t he?”
“Does he not?” shows that the Irish person is mildly amused, but really doesn’t give a flying feck if Enda wears his pants or not. Answer two, “Doesn’t he?” has a slightly different meaning, something along the lines of ew, I’m grossed out and really don’t want to hear any more. This sentence structure is peculiar to Ireland and it is layered in meaning. And it applies to the whole language. We share the same words, but Irish people order their words differently to us and it takes a while to learn how to operate Irish English in this way. But I think I have almost mastered it…almost. Have I not?
Irish people find it hard to say goodbye. Ends of conversations are the most awkward things in Irish society. That’s why Irish have one of the highest rates of texting per capita in the world. It’s just easier than having to say goodbye after a conversation. And it’s even worse at gatherings. You spend half an hour saying goodbye. Bye bye bye bye bye bye. Lord help you if you forget something after you have left and have to go back in to wherever the gathering was. Unless it is your baby, then don’t go back. Never go back. Otherwise you will have to repeat the goodbye process. In Australia, it’s “later dude” and that is the end of the story.
Irish people are wildly tolerant of poor work performance. Irish bosses will put up with utterly terrible employee behaviour for years on end because they are just too nice to fire the hell out of non-performing idiots. They just don’t want to seem like a jerk. I once worked with a girl who came to work at 11am, had a two hour lunch, and then left at 3pm (she was contracted to do 9 to 5). She had also worked out that the HR person was not keeping track of holidays, so she took four paid two-week holidays in a year. She worked like this for years and then she left of her own volition. Everyone knew she was like this, but they just rolled their eyes and said, “Well, you know what Mary is like.”
I also worked with a guy from a non-English-speaking country who was supposed to do the IT. He didn’t speak a word of English NOT A WORD, and was hired on the understanding that he would learn English within a few months. It was the Celtc Tiger years, and the company was desperate. Beyond desperate. After two years this guy never learnt one word of English. Not one. And so of course he couldn’t do his job. The company hired someone else to do his job, and left him sitting at his desk being paid to do nothing for two years. It was only when they called him in for an appraisal that they realised he still couldn’t speak any English, ergo could not do his job. THEN he was fired. In Australia it is much more cutthroat. If you are underperforming then you are fired pretty quick. Unless your company is owned by smoothie-making hippies then the norm is to get rid of anyone who is not worth their wage. This does create some paranoia about losing your job. And it turns Aussies into workaholics, fuelled by a background anxiety that they might be sacked horribly. Somewhere in the middle would of these two cultural work methods would be the ideal. Especially if all this took place on a nice warm beach.
Irish people gossip in a very clean way. They won’t say exactly what they mean, but you understand what they are saying without them ACTUALLY HAVING TO SAY IT. Aussies are much more blunt and slightly vicious. For example, if someone has a cocaine problem, the Aussie would say, “What a tool, he’s a total coke head.” Irish people would say, “I don’t know what has got into him, I’ll say a prayer for him.” Irish people and Australian people feel the same way about a coke head, however the way Irish people express the fact is very different.
Australians are angered very easily and show their anger outwardly. Well it is very hot there; it is easy to get cranky. Many times in Australia I have seen people have all-out mentals, even in the workplace. They scream and yell, even throw punches. But I have been here for 14 years, and I am yet to see an Irish person have an all-out paddy. Irish people never seem to get angry. Even when they are protesting they keep dignified. They just seem to be able to get on with it and make the best of it. The exception here the abortion argument. That is the one issue where Irish people, regardless of what side they are on, will get really upset.
Irish people believe that language and culture are tied and if you break one you break the other. So they require their kids to learn a dying language (sorry Irish people but it is true) even though they hated learning it themselves and don’t speak it themselves. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the revival of the Irish language. I personally don’t think that culture and language are tied. I have travelled the world and I think if we all spoke the same language, wars would end. I have been to the most remote places and would have LOVED to have spoken to some people I just couldn’t communicate with because of a language barrier. People’s cultures will not disappear because they speak the same language. This whole article shows that. Australians and the Irish are culturally incredibly different and we still speak the same language. Australians are attracted to languages that are useful to them and that can get them better leverage in the workplace. That, and not eating lunch with the coke head seem like really good ideas.
In Ireland it is hard to get customer service in large stores, like Dunnes or Tesco. And if you ask for help, instead of saying, “Excuse me” you say “Sorry” to get their attention because you have to apologise for wanting to buy something. You are made to feel bad about needing help with a purchase, like you are being very demanding and high maintenance. In Australia it is the opposite. Sales staff are all up your grill saying, “Hi how are you, can I help you today?” but after your 4th shop browsing you are so over it that you start to want to stab someone in the eye with a pie.
Australians are paranoid about immigrants, but Irish people really don’t care. In Australia, it is an election issue, and it fills columns and columns of newspapers. And Australian immigration issues are the same as everywhere else, but Australians overreact to the issue. Badly. They have no more of a problem than anywhere else. But they are mental about it. The Irish on the other hand, didn’t react to immigration at all. In fact when immigration first started happening here in large numbers, there were lots of articles in the newspaper about where the immigrants were coming from and why they chose Ireland as their country of choice.
The Irish people on the whole aren’t very impressed with the Queen and general consensus is that most people are glad they are a republic now and have got rid of that whole royal saga. The majority (but not all) of Australians like being part of the Commonwealth and like having the Queen as their head of state, and mostly resist the call for the country to become a republic. I find it hard to believe that Australians choose this: it means that if a democratically-elected prime minister does something to upset the Queen, she, or one of her minions in Australia, is within their legal rights to sack him. This actually happened in 1975. Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam was fired by the Queen’s representative Governor General Sir John Kerr. Hell would have to freeze over before Irish people would stand for this shenanigan.
Men and Women
To an Australian, it seems like a matriarchal society here in Ireland. And Irish men actually like the company of women most of the time. Australian women, on the other hand, seem to have an inferiority complex when it comes to Aussie men. Many Irish friends of mine have come back from stints in Australia saying, “Oh God the men are so sexist!” Australian men do have a reputation here of being chauvinistic, and also tight-walleted. They are accused of being stingy and won’t spend their money, especially on their women. Whereas in my experience, Irish men are generous to a fault, they will share their money until it is all gone and then some. Which is probably equally as bad.
Australian shops have a weird tradition of checking people’s bags when they enter and leave a store. It’s SO weird. It is like they treat everyone as a thief until proven otherwise. I have never been to any other country that does this. When you leave a shop like Target, the person at the door actually looks all in your handbag for stolen stuff. And they do this TO EVERYONE. It’s so weird. So very, very weird. This would not fly in Ireland. Can you imagine BT2 getting up in your grill and checking your bag as you walked in and out of the store? Me either.
Australians get told how to feel about being Australian in ads paid for by the government. An example is here:
This ad also doubles up as encouragement not to be horribly racist. It’s awful, like teaching us through songs like we are children. Can you imagine if Enda and his mates got together a little ad with a song teaching us how to be Irish? Jaysus. It is cringeworthy stuff. Irish people would laugh this off the air if Enda tried to pull this off.
Irish people are constantly worried that after a conversation, they might have offended someone with something they said. “I hope they don’t think I meant it THAT way, I didn’t!” It is a social plague here. I see a lot of Irish people innocently say something, with innocent meaning, but then they realise it could be taken another way, and they panic that it MIGHT have been taken another way, and they die inside a little bit. Just fecking relax Irishers, everyone knows you meant it the way it was intended. Aussie don’t have this post-conversation paranoia. They are too busy shooting roos.
Oh yeah, and I forgot to say, we don’t drink Fosters in Australia. AT ALL.
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