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I'm an Irish guy living in France. I like music, books, creative writing, art, history, vegetarianism, people, and chocolate.

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Monday 2 November 2009

"I've got nothing against Irish people, but..."


So I was in the Kilberry—one of Reims's "Irish pubs"—last week, like every week, for a well-deserved pint after hours of mind-numbing lessons. My mate introduces me to this guy who goes to our classes. I haven't even noticed him before. Anyway, before drinking his pint, this bloke raises his glass, and says—remember that we're in an Irish pub— "God save the Queen" (in a terrible French accent, incidentally). I tell the guy that, being Irish, I can't join him in a toast to the Queen—not that I have anything personal against old Lizzy; as far as monarchs go she's not too bad; I just don't give toasts to anyone in positions of power— and my mate and I laugh it off. I mean the guy is only joking after all, right? Right? A few moments later my mate goes out for a smoke, and I'm left alone with the royalist, who turns to me and says "You're Irish? Oh well could be worse". I stare at him blankly. "I'm joking", he says, "but I'm pro-British". I shrug, trying to indicate that I'm more interested in my glass of Belgian ale than in his political views. But he forces me into a monarchy vs republic debate, which turns out to be rather interesting. I'm starting to warm up to the guy—or at least I'm beginning to thaw—but then he says: "You know, I've got nothing against Irish people, but..." Of course this one of the phrases most used by bigots. (Take the similar phrase: "I'm not..., but I don't like...", fill the blanks with: racist/Blacks, homophobic/gays, anti-feminist/women, etc. and you get the same general effect). He then draws a list of all the traditional vices that Victorians liked to ascribe to Irish people. He was extremely anti-Catholic (although I later learnt that his girlfriend was Polish and Catholic), and I pointed this out to him, while telling him that I myself came from a Protestant background and that I was born in Northern Ireland. His face cleared and he said something like "Oh that's not so bad then". He didn't seem too happy when I told him that I wasn't a unionist. And he then went on to say how Irish Protestants are just the same as Irish Catholics (not in the sense that we should forget our differences because we have more in common than we think, but in the sense that all Irish people are obscurantist medieval monkeys), but I wasn't listening anymore because my glass was empty, and my mate was coming back from his smoke anyway.
But it was a strange experience. French people usually love the Irish as much as Americans do (and almost as much as the Irish do themselves) and although I'm used to hearing silly stereotypes repeated over and over again (sheep, leprechauns, Guinness, Bono) I know that those are meant as compliments. But this guy came out with things which were borderline racist, and were definitely anti-Irish. He told me his mum had English ancestors, so maybe old prejudices have been passed down to him that way? It's only the second time in my life that I've heard a French person talk like that (the other time was at a St Patrick's party six years ago, when a drunk French soldier told me that the British army should have wiped out all the Irish decades ago, and that basically Bloody Sunday must have been heaps of fun. Man I loooove the military). In any case it was very, very bizarre, and quite disturbing.

1 comment:

Mooth said...

"I'm left alone with the royalist" .....Run Timmy ruuuuuun !!!!



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