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Pól Ó Lorcáin
Paul Larkin

Chroniclers are privileged to enter where they list, to come and go through keyholes, to ride upon the wind, to overcome in their soarings up and down, all obstacles of distance, time and place.
Charles Dickens - Barnaby Rudge, Chapter The Ninth

Revealed - The real difference between Germans and the Irish

I had a conversation with a neighbour, a German lady, this morning about her forthcoming three month trip to Africa. She was, understandably, very excited and had just bought a new digital camera, which was the initial launch pad for our conversation. Now when people get excited, in my experience, they reveal parts of their character, or, indeed, traits belonging to their particular race or tribe, which do not always surface in everyday conversations about say, the price of bread, or isn’t the weather terrible.
To be sure, the young lady in question was very animated, and here it is as well to dismiss the petty, and probably racist, rumour that Germans don’t generally get excited. There she was waving her camera around and lining up shots and explaining the mechanics of the camera, as if she was already on the arid plains of the Serengetti and I was some kind of big cat just waiting to be shot for posterity. Shot with a camera.
And as it transpired, it was the subject of cats, or the caring of cats which brought us to a cultural parting of ways. I enquired as to who would be minding her cat (Bauhaus by name), which is not a big cat but is nevertheless the epicentre of her world and shares her bed with her except when her latest boyfriend stays overnight and the clearly peeved Bauhaus gets booted out to tin pan alley, or wherever it is that ejected, dejected and temporarily stray cats go in the night. The answer that Petra (the German lady is called Petra) gave me, literally took my breath away but we’ll come to that.
First, in fairness to Petra and her cat Bauhaus, we need a bit of context here - a wider picture. Especially because this is supposed to be a light-hearted sketch and the last thing I want is for anybody's xenophobia about Germans to be made worse by reading these lines. For it is a fact that the German's love the Irish and we Irish have a duty to love them back. This has not always been easy. I remember being in a famous bar in the West, which was run by a Manchester Irish family. I had gone to the pub in the inevitably wet early morning to get beans and bacon for the breakfast. As I walked in, who was standing at the bar wiping a glass only the matriarch of this clan who asked me who had been born, who had moved away and who had died in Manchester since she had been there last. She then began giving out about the Germans.
The diatribe was basically a typical landlady’s lament about how the Germans invaded (Germans always “invade”) her pub very early, took up all the seats near the low stage where the music was being played and the whole lot of them would share a few miserable pints between them “the mean bastards”, she said vehemently. With this, and to my exquisite alarm, she put on a pint of the best stout and continued her tirade. She told me that the Germans would sit there stroking their big beards and "scrutinoizng us – like fucking anthropologists!" And that was just the women! Then, she went on, they smoked them funny cigarettes which made them go quiet, until they all exploded with laughter at something nonsensical in their loud Viking voices. (Bear in mind good readers that this was in the 1980s long before the smoking ban and before we found out what cannabis was - don’t mind about the "Viking voices”, I think we get her point)
What was I going to say after all that - that I didn’t want a pint? No way Helmut! The lads back at the shared accommodation never did get there breakfast of beans and toast. If memory serves me correctly, I ended up that night in the arms of a female who primly called herself a bacheloress, before placing her backbreaking arms about me and smothering me with kisses. In fairness, she did give me a lift back to our holiday home in her tractor but I remember that the stars were twisted in the sky and she kept telling me that she had a great bunch of heifers if only she could find a man to look after them. Now ye cant blame the Germans for that kind of self inflicted madness can ye?
And isn’t it true that we have all moved on since those bleak times? Its all about mutual respect now. The Germans still want to buy up every postage stamp of an acre in Kerry but they now do it with sensitivity - Empfindlichkeit. Or at least that's what Petra calls it –and there is also no doubt that her genuine passion for Ireland, its culture and people would put many Irish people to shame. It also has to be remembered that 19th Century German linguists and philologists who were interested in Celtic languages helped to save the Irish language from destruction by collating and publishing manuscripts in Early Irish and suggesting structures for a grammar of the Celtic languages. Then it has to be admitted (and this could have landed us in bother) that the typical Irish sneak up on ye quietly while your back’s turned ‘counter invasion’ of Germany by hordes of faux Guinness pubs and awful 'Mammy Bands' playing a form of Irish music that has long been banned in Ireland (or never existed at all) has been welcomed by the Germans with an amount of Empfindlichkeit that we have never shown to them. So all this context needs to be borne in mind when, below, I recount the "culture gap" conversation between Petra and I this morning. Hold your breath lads:

‘Whose going to look after Bauhaus Petra?’
‘Eh? Oh my cat. Ah my ex boyfriend!
‘You mean the ex boyfriend whom Bauhaus hates with a spitting vengeance and passion?’
‘Sorry what? Speak slowly Paul. You speak verry verry faast sometimes.’
‘Sorry Petra’, I said, as my diplomatic drive kicked in and I searched desperately for another angle.
‘Your ex boyfriend. He’s very good to be looking after your cat for three months!’
‘But he should do Paul. It's his duty.’
‘His duty? Why?’
‘Because he is the father!’
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Title: Revealed - The real difference between Germans and the Irish
Date posted: 04 Oct '07 - 14:45
Filed under: General
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