Akron Irish: The Code
by Lisa O’Rourke
One of the benefits of winter is hibernation and its accompanying binge television. Our latest guilty pleasure has been watching “The Sopranos.” I think that I could watch James Gandolfini’s storm-sky of a face forever.
Another by-product of binging on this show is that you become so immersed in the structure of its honor-based culture, you anticipate consequences when the code is violated. It’s no wonder they are Catholic.
We live in an age where societal rules are often looked down on or ignored. In the Mafia culture, rules may be broken, but ignorance of them could get you broken. There are rules my friend, and ignorance will get you a smacking.
Discussing this with friends, the comment was made, yeah, some Italians, they are really funny with their rules. She is married to an Irish-American. All I could do was shake my head and think that she must not know the Irish rules.
This is not to say that the Irish are exclusive in this; all cultures have their ways. When my son decided to bring his girlfriend to Ireland for the first time, I thought about preparing her for the trip.
After discussing the value of a good raincoat, other values really were clear to me too. Since this was to be her introduction to the family, I could not leave this to chance. I wanted her to make a good impression.
A good first impression is a shield that protects you from future minor infractions and a bad one is a weight that you may drag for a long time. I had to share the rules.
Briefly, and for the love of God, be nice, be hospitable, think of the comfort of others first. If someone enters the place that you are occupying, and it does not need to be your home, a timer should go off in your head. Within a few minutes, that visitor must have something in their hand; a cup of tea, a glass of whisky, a cookie, a sandwich, it matters not the thing but the act.
If a female is present, it is on her to make the gesture, but men are not exempt, sorry ladies, it is what it is. This is an important rule. If you ignore it, you will be thought mean and ignorant and raised by animals.
If it is tea that is called for, don’t be seen just dumping a tea bag in a cup, that removes all doubt that you were raised by animals. Tea is a ritualistic drink.
After boiling water, you must scald the teapot by filling it to a fourth or so with hot water, swishing it around for a few minutes, dumping it and then placing tea bags in. The rule is one teabag per person and one for the pot.
The tea must steep for a few minutes and be stirred in the pot prior to serving. Being seen to do this right will remove some social pressure from you. Never serve tea without a “something,” think Winnie the Pooh, a cake, a cookie, toast if need be. People always say no, ignore no’s for the most part, but don’t force feed anyone.
In the pub, if you have a drink with people around you, you are in a round. The time will come when you should stand a round, pay for everyone’s drink. This rule is more important for men, but a woman honoring this will be given respect.
It matters not if you know everyone in a group, if you are talking to people socially, offer them a drink, pay for all. This used to be the custom for cigarettes too.
One night, I pulled out a pack and was expected to “flash,” exposing the open pack, and I looked on in horror as the entire contents were removed by strange hands. Yet I did not want for a cigarette the entire evening.
The Irish don’t use the word thrifty; they call it mean, and they mean it. If someone makes the comment that they don’t know the color of your wallet, they are not talking about fashion, but what a tightwad you are.
Be ready for the wind-up. Yanks in particular are seen as a little dull, too literal. Someone will surely tell a story or make a comment to test you. If you jump at the bait and prove yourself thin-skinned or thick headed, it will be remembered.
Laugh, even if it is against every inclination you have, or they will laugh even harder at you. You have to prove that you have a sense of humor and do not take yourself or life over-seriously.
Do not act like you are better than the people around you. Work together when it is called for and don’t be seen to put on airs. The stigma from this can last a lifetime. Do not whine or tell tales, called being a “grass.” Don’t talk too much about money however much you have. Bragging about wealth is just crass. Share what you have.
Don’t call on peoples’ homes empty-handed. Bring something to share for the tea or something. Be kind and be especially kind and indulgent to children. Make sure that you have something nice to give them, sweets, a little money or something else they might like. If you are wondering, my son’s girlfriend passed with flying colors. The comments that were made about her were that she was so natural and gracious. She is a very nice young lady in her own right, but the norms are a little different.
While people will forgive you for being foreign, they won’t always welcome you with the same affection. Customs are like that to people, not strange at all until they are violated. It is an honor code.
There are those who don’t believe in these, but I would have to counter that what is the harm? It teaches you to think of others first. The essence of the code is what constitutes the cliché of Irish hospitality. In our culture, nastiness has become something that people are no longer ashamed of, valuing their own comfort and state of mind over those of others. Kindness could be the cure.
Lisa O’Rourke is an educator from Akron. She has a BA in English and a Master’s in Reading/Elementary Education. Lisa is a student of everything Irish, primarily Gaeilge. She runs a Gaeilge study group at the AOH/Mark Heffernan Division. She is married to Dónal and has two sons, Danny and Liam. Lisa enjoys art, reading, music, and travel. She enjoys spending time with her dog, cats and fish. Lisa can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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