Opinion Kevin Myers

Tuesday 19 February 2019

'Those traditional Irish good manners often simply vanish'

Kevin Myers

TOM Foley, the outgoing US ambassador, is no doubt relieved to be going home as I suspect every returning American diplomat usually is. He'll probably have plenty to fill his time once he is back in the US, but if he doesn't, he might consider opening a college to teach aspiring diplomats how to survive if they are sent to Ireland.

The first lesson is that traditional Irish good manners quite often simply vanish the moment the US is mentioned. So the newly-arrived first secretary, Hiram T. Wannabee, say, introduces himself in a social gathering in Dublin 6 to a well-dressed woman of a certain age, and she instantly replies, "WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO CLOSE DOWN THE TORTURE CENTRE IN GUANTANAMO?"

"I beg your pardon, ma'am, it is not a torture centre, but a detention centre, for holding some of the most dangerous men in the world. Do you want us to release dedicated Islamist terrorists, and are you going to explain to the next of kin of the people they subsequently murder -- and these might number in the thousands -- why you thought it better that these men should be free?"

"WHY DOES THE US IGNORE EVERY SINGLE PROVISION OF THE GENEVA CONVENTIONS IN THE TREATMENT OF THESE ILLEGALLY-HELD PRISONERS?"

"Well, ma'am, as you know, the Geneva Conventions apply primarily to uniformed, lawful combatants, but not to terrorists captured while fighting in a foreign country, which is the case for many of the detainees in Guantanamo."

"WHY DO YOU CALL THEM TERRORISTS, WHEN THEY ARE FIGHTING THE ILLEGAL OCCUPATION OF AFGHANISTAN BY US AND BRITISH FORCES?"

"Ma'am, I'm sure you read the newspapers, so you'll know that not merely are those forces in that country at the invitation of the Afghan government, but also on the direct authorisation of the general body of the UN, with the approval of the Security Council. Ma'am, may I be a little direct, if you please? I don't want to be personal here, but I wonder very much if you'd mind not addressing me like a crowd. We are two feet away from one another, not in separate buildings."

"TYPICAL! WHY IS IT THAT YOU YANKS CAN COME TO OTHER COUNTRIES AND THROW YOUR WEIGHT AROUND AND TELL US HOW TO THINK AND ACT AND EVEN SPEAK? I SUPPOSE YOU'LL WANT US TO TALK AMERICAN NOW AND CALL THE FINAL LETTER OF THE ALPHABET ZEE, IN THAT IMPERIALISTIC WAY YOU HAVE."

"Not quite. I rather like the British way of saying zed. It makes more sense. No confusion with the third letter of the alphabet."

"WHY DO YOU CALL IT THE BRITISH WAY WHEN YOU KNOW WE ARE IRISH? ARE YOU DELIBERATELY TRYING TO BE OFFENSIVE, AFTER 800 YEARS OF BRITISH OPPRESSION?"

"I guess that was kind of tactless of me. Forgive me. But the English you speak is rather more like English-English than American-English. You use British spellings. And so on."

"I SEE. AND WHAT DOES 'AND SO ON' MEAN? ARE YOU SAYING THAT WE ARE IN SOME WAY INFERIOR TO THE BRITISH?"

"Not in the least. I've had conversations every bit as animated and interesting as this in Islington, London."

"HOW DARE YOU PATRONISE ME BY TELLING WHERE ISLINGTON IS? NEXT YOU'LL BE TELLING ME THAT LONDON IS IN ENGLAND. GOD, YOU AMERICANS. NO WONDER YOU ARE DETESTED EVERYWHERE ACROSS THE WORLD."

'Not quite everywhere, you know. The US is held in high esteem in those East European countries that were forcibly tied into the Communist bloc for nearly half a century."

"HA! AND NEXT YOU'LL BE TRYING TO GET US INTO NATO! ANOTHER IMPERIALIST PLOY! BUT YOU WON'T SUCCEED, BECAUSE WE IRISH PEOPLE CHERISH OUR NEUTRALITY TOO MUCH!"

'Begging your pardon, ma'am, but I don't call an inability to defend a single beach, or guard a cubic meter of airspace, 'neutrality'. I call it military dependency."

"IT IS NOT DEPENDENCY TO THINK THAT THERE ARE BETTER, HIGHER THINGS IN LIFE THAN GUNS! WE CHERISH ARTS AND LETTERS AND THE THEATRE! LOOK AT OUR WRITERS! WILDE! SHAW! BECKETT! JOYCE!"

"True. But none of them born after independence."

"HEANEY! FRIEL!"

"Both products of the educational system of the United Kingdom. Well, it's been a real pleasure meeting you, ma'am, but now I must spare you the further burdens of my company. I see the Minister for Garrotting & Beheading over there."

"Psst, before you go. My son is leaving college soon. Any chance of you fixing up a US immigrant visa for him?"

kmyers@independent.ie

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