Monday, 30 March 2009

Ireland promises ‘Céad Mile Fáilte’, but “No problem at all!” is as good as it gets!

I’m in a cosy warm lightly-lit pub in Lehinch, Co Clare, sitting alone at the bar, happy as this scribbler can be.
This is what the tourists who come to Ireland want: as real a slice of Irish life as it is possible to experience.
A few families are eating fish and chips around the tables along the wall, their kids playing, dancing and generally treading that fine line between being delightfully exuberant and intrusively annoying.
But I am a visitor, and they live here.
The late afternoon March twilight has brought with it a strong westerly wind. Gigantic breakers are crashing over the sea wall, drenching intrepid walkers, yet in here, in this calm cocoon of 'Clareness', we are safe.
Well, safe from the elements, but by god, that Guinness tastes good. It took forever to settle, but was well worth the wait. What is it that country pubs do with the black stuff that city pubs cannot? Is it purely the fact that city Guinness is served so cold?
Whatever, I must savour it slowly as I’m driving, so this sweet creamy tulip of lurrrve can be my only drink.
My fish and chips arrive, and as I eat I look into the mirror behind the bar, and espy the reflection of an older gentleman. We are, in effect, sitting next to each other, each side of the wooden bar divider, and as I watch him in the mirror, slowly but deliberately eating his steak and chips, I wonder if I’m looking straight into my future.
Will I be that bloke when I’m old and grey?
At first I feel a slosh of sadness inside me at the prospect, but immediately know better.
Who am I to assume that he is lonely and sad? The barman knows his name, and their exchanges are witty and polite.
Could do worse. Could do a lot worse than feel a part of a community like this. Anchored to the edge of the Atlantic ocean, folk here know their own ways and are served dinner in the local pub by a barman who knows everybody’s name.
Himself the barkeep is evidently the hub of the place. One by one all the regular customers come up to him, dropping off keys, having a wee chat, as he flies around, smiling, calm and so on top of things that he even has time to ask me a couple of polite non-invasive questions, just to make me feel noticed and welcome.
Some out there seem to think that this recession has brought out the best in us; that now that our jobs are on longer secure, we are acting ‘nicer’ to help our struggling businesses do better.
I think that notion does us all a terrible disservice. It’s not like we’ve spent the last five years running around in togas, drinking wine from bladders, falling on top of each other in naked orgiastic heaps. Just like in every so-called ‘boom’, a few people became very rich indeed, and the rest of us found life marginally easier to get through for a few years.
We are not now modifying our behaviour because we got soundly slapped down for being too greedy and decadent. No, we are able to behave more humanly now because we have reverted to type: humans are good, generally.
Money, in itself, is never the problem. Having had the pleasure of hanging out with the Duke of Bedford and Lord Montague of Beaulieu, I found the old blue bloods as down-to-earth and grounded as you or me. Daft as brushes and twice as fruity, just like the rest of us, but fine human beings who know how to handle their dosh, because they were born to it.
Here the trouble came, as ever, with new money. The Irish suffered predictably from their first taste of affluence, and have doubtless learned from the experience.
Damn, that Guinness is nearly gone, but I daren't have another. Some text that’d be to the Snapper as she arrives at Shannon Airport:
‘Sorry love, pissed in Lehinch. Get a taxi here or home and I’ll catch you tomorrow.’
Hmm. No. Self control, Adley.
“How was your fish and chips?”
”Great! Lovely, thanks very much!”
“No problem. No problem at all!”
says he, as he swings into the kitchen to ferry another load of grub to punters, a smile of sweet pride spread over his lips.
Yes indeed, the Irish are back to being their old selves again, and
“No problem at all!”
is as good as it gets.
There are so many unique ways that the Irish have made the English language their own. Through everyday giants like ‘Mighty’ and ‘Grand’ to the guilt-laden depths of the word ‘Shame’, the Irish have superimposed their culture, religion and souls over the words of the Old Enemy.
But with their ‘No problem’ the Irish have nailed their history to their vocabulary. Everywhere I have ever been in the world, food, goods and services are delivered with something akin to ‘It’s a pleasure’; ‘Thanks’ ; ‘You’re Welcome’ or ‘Enjoy!’
Here in Ireland they evidently decided that they’ve suffered enough. No longer subjugated, they adamantly refuse to feel they must serve anybody, an atitude which can cause problems in the service industryI
By twisting the customer/server relationship until it is a mirror-image of itself, their ‘No problem’ makes you, the punter, feel inordinately lucky to have been given anything, so the very least you can do is pay for it.
I give you money.
You give me beer.
What part of that might ever be a problem?
But then my mobile phone rings and it turns out to be the woman from Hibernian Aviva, calling about the car insurance.
She just wanted to let me know that the Underwriters had authorised her to go ahead and give me my refund retrospectively!
I am momentarily dumbfounded. A couple of weeks ago I had mentioned to her that I might be worthy of a refund, but I never really expected to hear from her again. Yet behind the scenes, for absolutely no profit to Hibernian Aviva save goodwill, she has been beavering away on my behalf and just saved me €80.
I thank her profusely.
“You’re very welcome!” she says, “It was my pleasure!”
Fantastic, splendid and, of course, bugger.
Shows just how wrong I can be.

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