Manners, Please

Happy Little Christmas!

All across the town Christmas decorations have disappeared, as if by magic, from every window down every street. It’s Irish tradition to wait until January 6 to put the Christmas things away, and we, too, followed suit. I think Frank would have been happy to box it all up on the 1st, but as a true Koopman, I like to leave the holiday stuff up as long as possible.

“Little Christmas,” also known as “Women’s Christmas,” is known in other parts of the world as The Epiphany, or the original Christmas Day on the Julian Calendar (we now use the Gregorian Calendar).  As Sinead Gleeson writes in yesterday’s Irish Times, “The tradition used to be strong in the southwest, particularly Cork and Kerry. While men took care of home and brood, women would congregate in each others houses for food, conversation and songs. At one time, women sipped tea (or possibly porter) with their sandwiches, but now it is more likely to be Prosecco with brunch.”

Prosecco? Brunch? I’m there. Yippee!  But sadly, it’s not so much “the thing”  in Louth. I was still at work first thing this morning, ran the errands afterward, and made the dinner tonight. Ah well!  Frank did the dishes 🙂

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Trader's Coffee by Frank Kelly

Speaking of work… it occurred to me today how funny some of the opposing cultural manners are between people from Ireland and the US, particularly apparent in food and drink establishments.

For instance, today, an attractive, well-dressed woman of about 60 came into Traders and asked for a scone to take-away. I gave her one of our best and told her it was €2. She proceeded to give me a 5 minute lecture on all the other places in town where she could buy perfectly delicious scones for less than €2. Hmm. Tough one. Let’s just say I was very tempted to advise her that it might benefit her more to patronize one of those other establishments…. but I held my tongue. I smiled, told her I hoped she’d enjoy the scone, and let her go on her merry way. It’s an Irish thing to complain. Especially a female Irish thing.

Something else that does my head in – if I’m busy clearing tables in the cafe, customers will inevitably come in and seat themselves at the one table that has not been cleaned off.  To me this is quite rude, a snub to the staff who are running around trying to clean the tables. It’s nearly as rude as the way people also snap up tables and seat themselves before the previous occupants have even put their coats on. But again, I think it’s just a cultural thing. No one, except for me, finds this offensive or even out of place. Perhaps they’d be appalled at the similar way Americans will vulture for parking spots closest to the Wal-Mart entrance, no matter how much inconvenience it adds to the other drivers.

Another thing I learned very quickly here is that it’s considered very bad form to clear a single plate from a diner’s table until everyone has finished their meal.  To me, it’s always seemed like lax service when I’m left with a dirty plate in front of me while I wait for someone else to finish eating. But that’s how things are done here – I’ve been told off more than once for trying to bus a table too early.

A funny one is when I find half-full sugar packets in the basket of full sugar packets. This is quite common – I guess if someone only wants half a packet of sugar, they figure someone else would like to use the other half, so they neatly fold it up and put it back. Until I find it and throw it away. Which is probably considered rude. 🙂

How are you supposed to know this stuff? It can be exasperating for both parties, to say the least! I know it’s just little things, but on a stressful day, you know yourself, one little thing can just set you off.

I can remember quite a few ruffled feathers during my wedding rehearsal over “the way we do things” – from both camps!!!  But we made it through, tried to be sensitive, and laugh about it now.

I guess that’s it – sensitivity to others and growing a thick skin of your own, eh?

With women in particular, it can always be difficult to know where the boundaries lie, no matter what part of the world you’re in.  My American mother and my Irish mother-in-law express their affection in completely opposite ways, but I love them both. And all three of us see the “proper” way of doing things  differently.

Sometimes Ireland seems a bit… hmm, well… behind the times in terms of feminism (Up until the 1970s here, courts of law could only have juries of property-0wning men!!! How’s that for an example??), yet I do appreciate the certain air of chivalry that occasionally wafts by me, and how women here still feel entitled to it.

I’ll never forget the day a few weeks back when I was clearing snow off the front walk of Traders and a female customer (not much older than I) said, “Be careful! Make sure you’re eating enough! That’s man’s work!”

I will leave you with that.  For, though Irish seem to complain a lot and share some odd manners, they will still give you the proverbial shirt off their backs and look out for you all the way home.  🙂

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One thought on “Manners, Please

  1. How fun! Or not fun. Your descriptions are fun … having been a (miserable) waitress in days past, I cannot canNOT imagine how difficult it would be to try to learn all those little things another culture would find necessary/offensive.

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