Most Irish Americans are proud of their identity, and when you are Irish American Ireland doesn’t seem like a foreign country. The language is the same, more or less. Okay, we generally don’t realize we’ll have a language barrier until we get here. The food is not dramatically different, aside from the beer, chocolate, sausages and tea being much better. Oh, and cake. You were expecting light and fluffy? Well, we have that kind too.
We Irish Americans can overestimate our understanding of contemporary Ireland, but at the same time we do have a deep connection to this place that goes beyond kissing the Blarney Stone and watching Riverdance. Some Irish people are surprised by the connection we have with this little island when we are a few generations removed. Those people perhaps don’t understand the complexity of identity in the USA, a nation of immigrants. Many of us are proud of and interested in our roots, where our ancestors came from. Yes, we identify as American – but we also understand that ‘American’ means very different things to different people. So we include an adjective or two to give a more complete and nuanced meaning.
We embrace Irish dance and the Irish language for the same reasons people in Ireland do. It is part of who we are, and we enjoy it. We want to see future generations enjoy it – and we want to learn more about it.
The USA is described as a nation of immigrants, and Ireland has a long and often heartbreaking history of emigration – but some of us Irish Americans have settled here and found a new sense of home. We can stumble a bit culturally. Officialdom is a mystery to us because we expect it to be more rigid and streamlined; we don’t expect the compassion when official types go out of their way to help us.
Casual social invitations are a common source of confusion to Irish Americans here. We’d love to meet you at the pub after work, but please tell us what pub and what time. We don’t realize that “after work” is a time and that a rotating load of coworkers will be there for hours. We’re caught off guard if you drop by our house without warning, but we do want to visit with you. We are planners, even the most spontaneous of us. It’s why we can drive for hundreds of miles without stopping. Oh, by the way, when you give us directions, we don’t understand that you are listing every single thing along the way. We think those are the major milestones with long distances between them. Some of us are a bit suspicious about the directions we get, but we’ll let that slide – the way we do when you think we don’t know you are winding us up.
We will, however, realize quickly that being slagged is being included. We’ll notice the warmth in a new friend’s eyes when we are called a ‘poor, hopeless ejit’ and the lack of love in more polite exchanges. We will relish shopping without the unblinking attention of shop clerks when we learn how much help is on offer when we ask. In short, once we figure out a few little things, we mostly love it and feel right at home.