Help me have an awesome trip to Ireland
July 1, 2010 6:13 PM   Subscribe

IrelandFilter: My girlfriend and I are going on a trip to Ireland tomorrow. We will be arriving in Dublin and making our way with a tour group along the southern coast to the West coast of Ireland. What do I need to know about local customs, culture, etc. to not piss off the locals, not appear like a typical American, etc.?

I did an internship in London for a couple weeks when I was in college but that's about the closest I've been to Ireland. I know the English and Irish don't get along so great but I don't know a ton about why, and I certainly don't want to offend any Irish folks by doing something stupid that I would normally think was acceptable in England.

Are there any cultural things I should be aware of? Colors I should/shouldn't wear? Things I shouldn't say? Things I shouldn't ask for? Ireland-specific safety things I should know?

I'm less concerned with what to do there because I have that part pretty well covered, its more the stuff I SHOULDN'T do there that I want to know so as to remain safe, and not stick out as a total American jackass as I try to blend in as much as possible when traveling.

However, if anybody has any things that I absolutely NEED to do there feel free to include that as well.
posted by Elminster24 to Travel & Transportation around Ireland (34 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My experience in Dublin last summer was that Ireland has a HUGE tourist industry, so most folks are used to stupid Americans, and generally chill/welcoming.

Re: colors, Orange and green are still pretty strongly charged. Without thinking about it, I wore a forest green button-down dress shirt one day while wandering around downtown. A few different drunken blokes high-fived me for wearing the colors. Led to some neat conversations. The day I wore orange by accident, nothing untoward happened, but I didn't get a positive reaction either.

If you have any confusion about bus fair, just ask the driver. They're mostly glad to help set you straight re: fares/destinations.

Remember that the cars are on the opposide side of the street. Look both ways, not just the way you'd think you'd have to look.

You probably don't want to bug anyone about "the troubles," just on general principles. I've heard that it's not appropriate pub talk.
posted by Alterscape at 6:23 PM on July 1, 2010

Ok, I'm actually less informed about things than I perhaps let on with my post...

Please clarify:
-The deal with orange and green, what they mean etc.
-What are "the troubles?"
posted by Elminster24 at 6:33 PM on July 1, 2010

I was there last August. One thing we were confused about was whether you tip bartenders and its a little more casual in Ireland, we asked the locals - a tip isn't expected, but is a bonus if you decide to leave one, and any size.

We found people to be very friendly when we left Dublin and traveled south and to the coast. Also, we felt safe all the time. I never felt unsafe, only happy!! Enjoy your trip!
posted by dmbfan93 at 6:38 PM on July 1, 2010

This is a simple explanation that may help you understand 'The Troubles'.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 6:40 PM on July 1, 2010

When I was in Dublin (11 years ago) everyone I met was happy to converse. The impressions I had was that people were gracious, laid back and just themselves. Reservedly nice - much more approachable than people in Chicago (IMO). At the time Dublin's population was very young (like the US in the 50's/60's). The smaller towns along the coast (our trip was similar to yours) were incredibly fun and interesting and I don't think I could have offended anyone even if I tried. Tipping was different - more of a standard amount no matter what one's tab. One thing I recall the people I was travelling with telling me was to never ask for a glass of water in a pub. Not because of the water itself, but that it's just not done/might seem uppity. No one knew we were American before we opened our mouths. And no one cared that we were, when we did. This was over ten years ago, though.
posted by marimeko at 6:42 PM on July 1, 2010

Long version

Short(er) version

Even shorter version: Essentially, Catholic/Republic of Ireland vs Protestant/Northern Ireland/UK, beginning with the first colonization from Britain in 1169, continuing through various settlements and reconquests, assimilation by the UK, the Irish civil war in the 1910s, partitioning into the Republic and NI in the 1920s, and on through the civil rights (for Catholics) movement in the north and attempts to unify the two parts. Green is the color of the former group, orange of the latter. Lots of bad stuff has gone down perpetrated by both sides. If you're starting in Dublin and touring the south and west, you'll see far fewer reminders of this than if you went to, say, Ulster/Belfast.
posted by The Michael The at 6:45 PM on July 1, 2010

My wife and I went to Dublin for our honeymoon last year, and my oblivious ass never once felt unsafe for being American. And I asked for water in the pub and everything!

Do be careful on roads and such, not just because you're not used to left-side driving, but because many drivers are EU immigrants working in Ireland and aren't used to left-side driving either. I witnessed a fairly spectacular accident between a right-side driver and left-side driver in the hills above Dublin.
posted by infinitewindow at 6:49 PM on July 1, 2010

You're with a tour group, going to places tour groups go, right? So you'll look like a tourist because you are one. Fine. No big deal.

To blend in, you'll need to dress like a local. So who do you want to look like? The popped-collar, designer jeans guy? The fisherman? The guy over there in the tweed jacket with the pipe? The kid in sweatpants and a t-shirt? Dressing like a local isn't hard, as there are many options. Then, you'll need to avoid carrying bags that aren't clearly for work, taking photos, and looking at things as if you've never seen them before. And don't say anything to anyone...

Anyway, Alterscape pretty much covered it. Basically, you don't have much to worry about. Avoid discussing the troubles and don't ever treat Ireland and England / the UK as the same thing. On preview: The Troubles. The internet can also fill you in on the rest of the history around here (I'm in Dublin for the summer), but basically, English folks came into Ireland a while back, oppressed the hell out of people, and only recently (1920s) has Ireland become independent. You can draw parallels to the England/USA situation, except it is much more recent history for Ireland. The story isn't fully settled here, either, because Northern Ireland is part of the UK, and some want all of Ireland (the island) to be Ireland (the country). The Troubles were a period of violence waged even more recently than the fighting in the 20's. Orange is a color strongly associated with the English, while green is Ireland's traditional color.

As for what not to ask for, I once asked for milk for my tea, and an Irish woman told me I "might as well piss in it." I don't think anyone was harmed by this. Honestly, safety isn't going to be a concern in Ireland. However, I rarely put milk in my tea anymore.

On preview again: I order water in pubs frequently. Nobody seems to mind.

Really. You have very little to worry about.
posted by whatnotever at 6:50 PM on July 1, 2010

Driving is interesting in the Republic. Main roads tend to go through small towns, so your average speed is much slower than you could possibly expect for comparatively small distances.

Curiously, though, some of the driving itself is the most gleefully lawless I've seen anywhere in Europe. In rural Ireland, you will be overtaken by a farm van, no matter how fast you're going. I'm surprised the country hasn't cornered the entire sport of F-1 yet.

Be prepared to chat to folks. Don't attempt to pronounce Gaelic place names. You will eat more starch, and enjoy it more, than any time before or since. Dublin is more expensive than you can possibly imagine. You will have fun.
posted by scruss at 7:04 PM on July 1, 2010

Hello from Ireland. Ireland likes tourists quite a lot - more outside Dublin - and there's no shame in being one. You will be entirely safe here, as long as you take standard tourist precautions as you would anywhere.

If you want a list of just three things to avoid:

1. Do not discuss the Troubles. Discuss them even less if you just learned what they are in an Ask MetaFilter post.
2. Do not go on about how Irish you are because your grandmother got off a boat from County Mayo. You are not Irish.
3. The language spoken in Ireland is not Gaelic. It is Irish.

Everything else is absolutely no problem. Wear what you like, order what you like, drink what you like and not a soul will be bothered in the least. Have fun, drink Guinness.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:44 PM on July 1, 2010 [7 favorites]

For the record: it's totally normal to put milk in your tea. We do not colour code our clothing. Green is the colour of the Irish football side, not of political affiliation. Water is fine to order in pubs. The Troubles are vastly more complex than simple religious affiliation.

posted by DarlingBri at 7:55 PM on July 1, 2010 [5 favorites]

DarlingBri: Thank you for setting me straight on that. That interaction makes a heck of a lot more sense now! Sorry for spouting ignorance on the intarwebs.
posted by Alterscape at 8:03 PM on July 1, 2010

Hilarious anecdote: in the 1990's British Airways did a special promotional thingy based upon the movie 'The Field', where you could book a flight to Ireland and watch this movie in-flight while you flew there. The plot is about various things, including an American tourist who is beaten to death for getting involved too deeply in local Irish real estate dealings.
posted by ovvl at 8:06 PM on July 1, 2010

I learned from Rick Steves that if you want to talk to the locals at the pub (and you do!) sit at the bar, but if you want to be less involved sit at a table.
posted by Duffington at 8:18 PM on July 1, 2010

Do not go on about how Irish you are because your grandmother got off a boat from County Mayo. You are not Irish.

You are not, but you'll find that JFK and Obama are!

Don't order a car bomb or a black and tan; it's tacky. Also, if you hold up 2 fingers to order 2 drinks, do so with the palm of your hand facing the bartender. Knuckles facing the bartender is a rude gesture.
posted by katopotato at 8:28 PM on July 1, 2010

Ok, so to be clear, green is an acceptable color where I'll be traveling, orange is not?
posted by Elminster24 at 8:31 PM on July 1, 2010

Elminster24: Both colours are completely and totally acceptable.

Alterscape: I'm glad we were able to clear that up for you. Thank you for being gracious about it.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:48 PM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

also, don't tip in the pubs. The standard 10-20% is not normal in Europe. You can round off to the next Euro but that's about enough.
posted by Dagobert at 11:16 PM on July 1, 2010

Nthing DarlingBri. That's good advice right there.

My tips would be:

- inform yourself. It doesn't happen regularly, but I have been asked by a college-educated American before if we had remote controls for our TVs over herer. The Ireland of popular myth is just that: popular myth. If you want to engage locals in conversation, particularly men, get a newspaper and read the sports pages first.

- everyone knows about America. They don't know everything, but they will watch enough US TV, might well have been there, and will have an idea about macro news events.

- not everything in America is bigger or better. Again, it wasn't common, but I have met Americans who reflexively assume that America always leads, has the biggest or best x.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:24 AM on July 2, 2010

Relax, really.
posted by Phanx at 1:06 AM on July 2, 2010

Ireland isn't the Masons. There aren't any secret codes or colours or drinks.

Be polite and friendly. Don't do anything you wouldn't do at home. You'll be fine.
posted by citands at 2:37 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Drink loads of Guiness.
Dont' tip in pubs.
Don't mention the Famine.
eat your spuds
posted by mary8nne at 2:47 AM on July 2, 2010

The only way Orange might be problematic is if you were in Northern Ireland rather than Ireland, and if you were wondering around a heavily Catholic area of Belfast or Derry. Even then as soon as you opened your mouth they'd realise you were a tourist.

For reference, Orange is the colour of the Orange Lodge in Northern Ireland, not 'the English'.

But yeah, Ireland has a massive booming travel industry and has had for decades. You will be absolutely fine as long as you steer clear of singing Protestant battle songs in the pub. But honestly, that is somewhat akin to telling a tourist visiting the US to refrain from burning any flags, i.e. it's startlingly unlikely.

Have fun.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:32 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ireland is perhaps the most American friendly country in Europe.

You are not going anywhere near the troubles in Northern Ireland. No one is going to mistake you for someone involved as partisan fighter. Don't even worry about that.

In fact, if you are polite and talk to the people, you are likely to encounter many people (Catholic and Protestant) who are visiting the Republic of Ireland from Northern Ireland at this time of year, for the specific reason that they do not want to be involved with the troubles up there.

July 12th is Orangemen's Day. If you were on Falls Rd in Belfast around that date, wearing orange would be an issue - but you won't even notice it in the Republic of Ireland.
posted by Flood at 5:09 AM on July 2, 2010

Elminster24: I mean this in the politest way but I cannot help but think you are over thinking this way too much. Whilst I suppose it is endearing that you are so concerned about offending folk, your desire not to appear like a typical American is destined to fail due to the fact that you in fact are. As others have said - you really have nothing to worry about.

Other than the really obvious stuff - wearing american flag trousers, talking loudly etc just relax and enjoy.
posted by numberstation at 5:31 AM on July 2, 2010

The general rule I practice for anywhere I travel: don't try hard to look like a local and not a tourist.... you will fail. But that's not a bad thing. In fact, it can really backfire if you try to fit in too much, because again, you will fail -- the locals will likely notice no matter what -- and they will laugh at you for trying to wear that sheek or sari or whatever garb you think might make you look like a local.

People don't automatically think tourist=bad. In fact, in many, many places, people will be excited to talk to you and learn about where you are from. Think about when you're at home at your local bar and some Irish guy walks in. You don't automatically look at him, with his red shirt, and think ohmygod, he's wearing our fucking colors. KILL HIM! He's just some Irish guy, and you probably think his accent sounds cool. Now reverse that.

Just act and dress like you normally would, unless you're a jerk, and then you should take some precautions. But if you're a jerk, then you wouldn't be worried about being the ugly American, now would you?

Have fun, and relax!
posted by nitsuj at 6:14 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Depending how things pan out in today's FIFA match, wearing orange could simply identify you as supporting the Dutch! So don't worry about it.
posted by zadcat at 6:15 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seriously, relax. Nobody in the Republic of Ireland cares what colour clothes you wear. Data point: I'm in Cork (South West) wearing orange today. Ireland is not The Field or My Left Foot or Angela's Ashes. You may be disappointed by how unlike the myth Ireland actually is these days.
Bottom line: Don't say you're Irish and don't imply Ireland is part of the UK and you'll have a great time. Irish people are (outwardly) proud of our little country and will happily chat to you and answer any questions you might have.

Also, if you're coming along the south coast, the new Waterford Crystal building is very cool.
posted by minifigs at 7:14 AM on July 2, 2010

Several people have commented that you should not say you are Irish. And, you are not.

But you should not be afraid to say that you are Irish-American. The Irish-American community in the USA is a proud community, and you should not hide that.

It is over the top and annoying when Irish-Americans think they are Irish-Irish.

But do not read into their comments that as an Irish-American, you should check your Irish pride at the door before entering Ireland - that is not true.
posted by Flood at 7:46 AM on July 2, 2010

I bought a bright yellow rain coat when I was travelling in Ireland the first time, because I was hitchhiking a lot and wanted to be visible. I can tell you with 100% certainty that it was the only bright yellow rain coat in the whole of Ireland, both north and south.

A lot of Irish people wear a lot of black.
posted by sully75 at 7:48 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been to Dublin twice, once with my very young children. Check out the Guinness Storehouse if you can--it's a blast.

As for your questions:

1. I don't think they'll really care what color you wear, so long as you are friendly.
2. I met a whole lot of locals who wanted to talk about American politics with me, so be prepared for that. If you want to learn about their politics, just ask.
3. Drink merrily, try a bunch of the native brews, but don't get drunk. Certainly don't get palm-licking drunk in a busy tourist bar at 7 p.m. in front of the house band, or you will be mocked without mercy.
4. If you don't want to be an ugly American then don't act like one. Just be a nice, friendly, curious traveling American and not an entitled, obnoxious, rude American.

Have fun! Dublin was one of my favorite cities to visit, and I hope it treats you well.
posted by SuburbanTomboy at 8:18 AM on July 2, 2010

Definitely relax. You're going to have a great time. Been to Ireland 3x and wore whatever I wanted and didn't have a hard time getting along. Not sure where in the US you're from, but when I said I was from Boston more than half the folks I met had either been there, lived there, or had family there which was fun.
If you're on the West Coast, try to see Doolin. It's a lovely town with great music. Have fun!
posted by jdl at 8:50 AM on July 2, 2010

Try not to dress like this [from the first page of Google Image results for 'american tourist'], but all in all dress how you like. Particularly in terms of colours, you could cover yourself in orange or green body paint and most people would hardly give you a second look.

Irish people, like myself, are remarkably hospitable and also very forgiving of cultural misunderstandings.

If you desperately need to tip a barman then just (when ordering your drinks at the bar - don't expect table service) say "and one for yourself". The barman can then add the price of a drink for himself when his shift is over onto your charge and he'll probably be grateful.

We, and I think this counts for Britons too, find tipping deeply uncomfortable and are only just about able to leave a few coins on the table when we're running out of a restaurant... tipping a barman seems insane. It makes a social event, buying a pint, into a business transaction and invokes a hierarchy between drinker and barman... that's freaky!

Enjoy your trip, try and get out to the Skellig Islands if you're over that direction (Co. Kerry). Feel free to pm me while you're over if you have any queries.
posted by knapah at 4:05 PM on July 2, 2010

DarlingBri has good advice.
posted by knapah at 4:06 PM on July 2, 2010

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