Our first host is an American woman who has lived here for eight years and for two in Russia. Her mother moved to the States from Ireland so she’s grown up with deep cultural ties here. She’s been giving us a cultural pre-briefing. I’m beginning to realize this trip may not be too much of a cultural stretch after all. You see, the Irish are really just White Koreans (well, if its possible to actually be Korean and not eat spicy food).
It’s better to be humble and self-effacing than bold or ‘confident’.
If someone asks what you want to eat or drink, the ‘proper’ response is, “I’ll have whatever you’re having.”
I started asking things based on my experience of Koreans. “Is it culturally appropriate to refuse twice before saying yes?” She looked at me in surprise, “Well, yes, especially for the older folk. For the younger generation no one has time any longer. They are becoming much more direct.”
If someone on the street asks, “how are you?” one never says, “fine”. Its too optimistic. The Irish are ‘realists’ (what pessimists call themselves. ;-) ) and instead answer, “Not too bad”. I don’t know the on-the-street Korean greeting system. Is it similar? I don’t think Koreans are known for being pessimists. Not likely to do compliments, but not necessarily pessimistic?
She mentioned that Americans are often viewed as very loud and pushy here. She’s been in small groups and had to just bite her tongue to not be the first person to speak. It takes a long time for people to warm up and start talking.
The Irish are a very private people. She mentioned she often has to initiate talking about vulnerablities. One of the couples she knew had to confront the issue of the guy having been abused and then abusing in turn. The hardest thing for him was to go to a counselor. It’s a shameful thing here to discuss private matters with an outsider. Yet at the same time, no one in the family discusses anything either. It seems the Irish have a deeper history of alcohol and related sexual abuse than do the Koreans so the secrets are even deeper and more devastating.
All this is based on her observations. I’ll let you know what it’s like as I live with Irish families for the next two weeks.
Click to enlarge this photo. I love the name! At least they're honest.