The telephone itself is not different in different places, but the Irish do have an approach to this modern essential that is unique. While we are known around the world for being friendly and chatty, it is helpful to know that description applies to us only in person or online. Over the telephone? Not so much. North Americans might be forgiven for thinking the Irish harbored some ancient superstitious fear of phones, but you’d be hard pressed to find an adult on the island who didn’t have a mobile phone. (That’s a cell phone to North Americans.)
Please do not mistake an Irish person’s exceptional terseness over the phone for dislike. Well, it actually is dislike, but probably not of you, the caller. We dislike speaking on the phone. It defies explanation. We love phones. We bring them everywhere and love those cute little cases to put them in. We love using them for everything but talking, in fact, which admittedly makes little sense for a people who are abundantly blessed with the gift of the gab in pretty much every other circumstance.
Our literary heritage shows our passion for words. Irish people will happily chat with strangers in the pub, on the bus, in the queue at the grocery store, passing on the street. But speak with loved ones on the telephone? No thanks. We’ll text you.
Personal and Professional Phone Phobia
This dislike of speaking by telephone is not limited to the Irish person’s social life. Newcomers here are often confused when attempting to contact any kind of business or office by telephone. While huge companies will answer the phone in the way that hapless North Americans expect, by identifying themselves, smaller organizations are confusing. Do not be alarmed if a hospital receptionist, restaurant manager or retail customer service staff member answers the company phone with a simple “hello”. Once you spend enough time here to appreciate the depth of the national dislike of speaking by phone, you will come to appreciate the effort that “hello” takes. Expecting more, such as the name of the business or an offer to help you, is simply asking the impossible.
If there is anything on earth the Irish dislike more than speaking by phone, it’s (no, not the British) leaving a voice mail message. At least when you reach a person, you have the comfort of a real human voice coming from an actual person. The disembodied voice? Too much, way too much. Given that Irish people are so reluctant to leave a message on voice mail, it should not be such a surprise to learn that leaving a voice message is fairly useless. Who would leave a message talking to a machine? No one in their right mind, goes the ancient superstition, erm, line of thinking.
Despite the general horror of using a phone to speak to another person, there is one word the Irish love to use when speaking on the phone. It can be a bit off-putting at first, but again, it isn’t personal. Usually. After the minimal, essential communication has taken place, Irish people will begin saying ‘bye’. Actually, they will say ‘Bye. Bye-bye. Bye now. Bye. Bye, bye, bye, bye, bye.’ Okay, yes, this is a frantic effort to get you off the phone, but again, it’s not you. It’s the phone. And honestly, this is a real Irish goodbye.