“O wad some Pow’re the giftie gie us/To see oursels as ithers see us!”
That was Robbie Burns’s prayer and when we hear or read it, we nod solemn assent. The truth – about ourselves – will set us free.
But only, of course, if that truth is palatable. One of the most irritating habits of radio interviewers here is when somebody visits and they’re asked “How are you liking it here?” The required answer is “Oh we’re having a wonderful time. And the people – they’re so friendly!” And we mount massive advertising campaigns, telling the world to come and visit us, you’re more than welcome.
What we really mean in that last case is “Come and visit us, and remember to spend plenty of money when you’re here. We need it”. As for being the heart of hospitality, try walking into a rural Irish pub as a stranger. Most of the time it’ll be like the pre-shoot-out bit in an old Western – sudden dip in the conversation, eyes taking you in sideways, then conversation resumes pretending not to have been checking you out.
As for racist – well, we do racism really well. In the US, the Irish were among the most active in those opposed to Afro-Americans. At home, we pretend not to notice the colour of people’s skin when it’s really the first thing we take in. The two cases in the south recently highlight it nicely, when the gardaí removed two Roma children, at different location, from their parents, on the assumption that their fairer complexion and hair colour must mean they’d been abducted. Then when DNA tests proved otherwise, they’re handed back to the distraught parents. Like, consider yourself lucky you got away with it this time. Meanwhile the Justice Minister Alan Shatter is doing all he can to dump the blame on the police, nothing to do with me.
The last thing we want is to see ourselves as others see us. We’d rather kid them, and ourselves, that our arms are open wide and our hearts filled with respect for those who look different from us. Providing, of course, they’re the President of the United States.