One of the best things about moving to or traveling through the US is that, as English is the first language of many of the people you meet, it makes it easier to have small talk with a stranger.
There have been many times when things have been lost in translation, however, and I’ve been left confused, not knowing how to reply. Here are ten of some of the strangest things an American has ever said to me.
1. Wow, you’ve really good English.
Thanks? I’ve only been speaking English since birth, but I try my best to keep up. Although our spellings might be a little bit funny in Ireland, we’re actually not that bad at it at all either. Ever heard of Seamus Heaney? Joyce? Beckett? They’re just a few other Irish people who have quite good English, too.
Unfortunately, English is still the first language of many Irish people, but I always greatly appreciate any American who knows that there is an Irish language and that it is still spoken so I normally take it as a compliment and carry on.
Similar to this statement is being told that you can tell I’m European. Even though we are technically European, it seems strange for an Irish person (or maybe just me) to hear themselves referred to in that way, thanks to our isolated, just-on-the-edge of the ocean status and the strong connection we have with the US.
We’d also generally think of Europeans as having a different first language (although many have impeccable English) so my first reaction tends to be that the person thinks that I myself am speaking in broken English.
2. Oh you’re Irish, I’ve always wanted to visit the UK.
Depending on my humor, this can be followed by a simple “oh yeah” and a quick exit from the conversation because I’ve better things to do than explain our fractured and messy relationship with England over the past 800 years, or, on my more argumentative days, by a blow-by-blow account of said relationship over the centuries, as there is nothing more important than trying to make this person realize how wrong they are. (This normally leads to them, in turn, making the quick exit.)
3. Do you have hot-dogs in Ireland?
I’m not saying that I wouldn’t pick Irish sausages (and a full Irish breakfast) over a hot-dog on any day of the week, but the Irish do occasionally/fairly regularly break out from our dietary regime of bacon and cabbage and stews.
4. Can I give you a hug?
I know you love the accent and that you’re really happy you’ve met me because you’ve always wanted to visit Ireland, but calling me cute, adorable and wanting to hug me simply because of my nationality is really messing with this image of the worldly, street-smart, modern Irish woman that I’m hoping/failing to establish for myself.
5. So, do you have a boat?
Apparently, as we’re an island nation, we need a boat to escape as often as possible, or that was the thinking behind this statement anyway, I believe. Sure, we’d be lost without our weekly shopping sails to mainland Europe and it’s a great bit of exercise rowing over to Wales to pick up a few bits at the weekend.
6. The Catholic Church and the Gardaí ran me out of Ireland
If any of you are having trouble with character development in your writing and need to embrace many different, strange and wonderful characters in a short space of time, I would recommend staying in any hostel in Brooklyn that acts as a form of halfway-house for people moving to New York. I spent a week in such a place and met with a host of people unlike any I’d ever met before.
One such man told me a story of how he’d tried to visit Ireland and was planning to cycle around the country selling his books, which revealed some new truths about religion. When the Catholic Church and the gardaí got wind of his plans, however, they took it on themselves to accost him as he cycled out of Dublin and sent him packing. The Irish Church being involved in a cover-up was about the only part of the story I truly believed.
The same man also gave the whole hostel a lecture on how he could prove the existence of Jesus Christ using Fionn Mac Cumhaill (yes, the mythical Irish hero) as a real-life historical reference.
7. You must be so used to this cold/How are you wearing a t-shirt? It’s freezing!
With thanks to the North Atlantic Drift, Ireland’s temperatures are fairly regulated despite our northerly position (and despite the amount of complaining we do about our weather). It means that our first winter in New York comes as quite a shock because no, we are definitely not used to this level of cold.
It balances out the other way though because, as we’re also not used to much heat or sun, even when the temperature is in the 60s, it can feel like a lovely, warm Irish summer’s day.
8. How does everyone in this pub know the words to the songs?
Because this is the hundredth gazillionth time we’ve heard Galway Girl.
9. Do you know … ?
We’re tiny in comparison to the US, I get it, but I’m not sure my brain (or anybody else’s for that matter) would be capable of not only meeting and getting to know over four million people but remembering them all. The chances of overlap between people we both know is bound to be very small.
There was, of course, those few times when no sooner had the words “well, probably not” left my lips when it emerged that I did, in fact, know the person they were talking about, but they were just really lucky that time.
10. I want to be ravaged on a rock by an Irishman
This wasn’t said to me specifically, but I thought it was too funny not to include. Irish men are rated pretty highly on various lists of the most attractive in the world, much to the amusement of Irish women who know the reality - they’re not always the most romantic of lads. You’re probably not going to be swept off your feet and carried off into the glens, but he might buy you a bag of chips (french fries) at the end of a night out.
What's the strangest thing somebody of a different nationality has ever said to you? Tell us in the comments section below.