Monday 24 October 2016

If only to see ourselves as others see us

John Masterson

Published 04/04/2016 | 02:30

Crossing the line: Commuters heading to town along the Luas tracks at Ranelagh following a recent strike. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Crossing the line: Commuters heading to town along the Luas tracks at Ranelagh following a recent strike. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Last week, as official Ireland put on an orgy of self-congratulation about what a grand little country we have become in the last 100 years, I had the opportunity to get two outsider snapshots from very different perspectives and generations. It surprised me how much overlap there was.

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One was a German man in his 30s who has been living in Dublin for the past two years. He had the good fortune to fall in love with an Irish cailin and had got a good job here as she finished her studies. Firstly, he was genuinely bewildered that they could not go to a pub and get a drink on Good Friday, a day off together. He was on his good-humoured high horse. "I thought you told me this wasn't a Catholic country any more?" was his taunt. I had no reply.

Warming to his theme he asked me to explain how any civilised secular republic could have our abortion laws. Then he went on about our marijuana laws. He had recently been to Colorado. I pointed out that our drug laws had nothing to do with the Church. I wasn't too sure that was true. He didn't press me.

Next he exploded over the transport system on strike during a huge holiday weekend. I agreed but did point out that the French air traffic controllers go on strike even more often. We had some common ground.

My second encounter was with an Irish couple. They were 'home' for a few months having emigrated Down Under over 20 years ago. They were vaguely thinking of coming back when they retired but it seemed unlikely as their children looked more likely to settle in Australia.

Their first rant was the identical Good Friday one. "Has nothing changed in this country since we left?" The lady of the couple was exasperated. She had taken her husband out for an overdue birthday lunch on the Friday to discover that his best option was to enjoy his lunch with a glass of milk! He pointed out that if the Irish couldn't drink on Good Friday they were probably catching up on sex.

"In a country where women aren't even allowed control of their bodies and have to go to England. Effing Catholic laws," she fumed.

I did mention the Marriage Equality Referendum and said things were changing. They reminded me of the days of condoms on prescription and told stories of explaining that to their children. They recalled that when they left Ireland there were strikes all of the time and they saw that hadn't changed much either.

They were delighted that the good old Irish habit of having a few drinks and talking rubbish into the small hours was still alive and well. And I omitted to tell them that you still have to get your children baptised to get into school.

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