Saturday 1 October 2016

Buses, barmen, and other things we fool tourists about

Perhaps it's time to stop wondering what visitors here think of us and just give them some practical help, writes Liam Collins

Published 23/08/2015 | 02:30

Tourists in Ireland might just need some practical help
Tourists in Ireland might just need some practical help

Why does nobody tell the tourists that you have to put out your hand or the bus just won't stop? This thought was prompted last week by the sight of about five tourists standing outside a Dublin hotel looking bewildered as buses hurried past them into town, leaving them standing open-mouthed in their wake.

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Why does no one tell them that putting out your hand to stop the bus is an Irish eccentricity, a secret the locals only know?

It's only a small thing, but it got me to thinking: what else don't we tell the tourists?

We don't tell the tourists that in Ireland, traffic lights are optional for cars, cyclists and pedestrians, but in the main, the pedestrian is very much the second-class citizen when it comes to the rules of the road.

You see groups of law-abiding tourists waiting for the little green man to actually go green. In America, it's like clockwork; here, it is completely random whether you get that signal or not. It seems at some junctions you could be waiting all day, so most locals make their own arrangements.

Does nobody tell the tourists that Irish barmen (and women) do things differently?

You go into a pub and stand at the counter and, invariably, you are left there while the bar person busies themselves doing something else. When they look at you eventually, they ask, "Are you all right?" - as if you'd just wandered in to look around or were standing there thinking some great philosophical thought.

We have a certain way with language, which doesn't always quite fit with the 'great nation of talkers' that the Failte Ireland and pub advertisements would have you believe.

Sometimes, you get stopped in the street and asked if you have "the right time". As opposed to what - the wrong time? Beggars ask for "spare" change, as if we're all walking around with coins jangling in our pockets that are surplus to requirement.

Does nobody tell the tourists that Temple Bar is for thrill-seekers, and local people with any sense won't go near the place?

Does nobody tell the tourists that, in many parts of the country, a sandwich is a wafer-thin slice of ham between two pieces of white bread which tastes more like sawdust than sourdough? Occasionally, you meet a creative sandwich-maker who adds a few crisps to the edge of the plate in the hope of a Michelin Star.

Does nobody tell the tourists that in O'Connell Street and around the Abbey Theatre, where the tourists tend to congregate for a bit of culture, "would you ever eff-off" is considered a witty re-joiner and the 'F' word is an integral part of the Irish idiom?

Of course, every country and city has its idiosyncrasies, and part of the joy of travel is that you find out about them, but in many cases, they are not as eccentric as the things that Irish people do automatically, and cannot understand why others don't cop on immediately.

We have just become immune to the fact that public services are run not for the public, but for the people who are paid to carry them out, and when the tourists get a bit bolshy about bad service, they're just 'bloody Yanks' or some such.

But of course, we do share some international characteristics that now blight the Western world in general. Believing that the car simply disappears when you put on the hazard lights seems to be a modern perception, especially among young people. That they are oblivious to the fact that they are blocking an entire lane of traffic while they chat with boyfriends (or girlfriends) or look at some friend making an eejit of themselves on YouTube, appears to be part of modern life.

There are, of course, basic international rules that people would be wise to follow. Ask at the hotel how to stop the bus, although this might seem eccentric in most parts of the world where the buses stop at bus stops automatically. Another golden rule is never sit in the front seat with a taxi man - unless he doesn't speak English. I never read newspaper or magazine reports that begin, "On my way in from the airport, the taxi man told me..." It's almost always wrong.

What the tourists might also find odd is that in Ireland, local people are helpful and, mostly, will engage with them. But not to impart information, rather the Irish are obsessed with what foreigners think of us, as if they have just been privileged to land on the most influential island in the world.

We need validation all the time that we're interesting, that the country is great, that the Lakes of Killarney are amazing, that the Government is crap, that it's far dearer here than anywhere else in the world. Basically, we don't believe that anything is true unless a foreigner tells us it is.

But to come the full circle, should we tell the tourists to stick out their hands to stop the bus, or should we simply let them stand there and find out the hard way?

Maybe it makes life more interesting discovering this ridiculous custom for themselves. It gives them a good anecdote when they get back to Omaha: "You know that in Ireland, when you want to stop the bus..."

"Unbelievable," answers Ted. "I never knew that… it doesn't say anything about that on Google."

Oh sorry, it is on the Dublin Bus website, but it only comes third in a list that begins: "Buses collect passengers at bus stops and bus shelters."

Would you read on after that stunningly informative opening line?

Sunday Independent

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