Working off the entirely reasonable supposition that most Indo readers lead far more productive lives than me, I’ll assume many of you haven’t gone down the internet rabbit hole that is now called #Swedengate, which cast a sinister pall over that country’s international reputation.
Why is that fine nation suddenly the target of ire around the world, from the trusted (ahem) pages of the New York Times to the dark undergrowth of sites on the internet? Well, it appears that Swedes, and many other Nordic people, have a strange and, some might say, quite terrible habit of not feeding guests who arrive at their house.
This prompted a furious reaction from many angry Swedes, who insisted this custom has always been part of their culture. In fact, they even rolled out some Swedish food scientists to explain why, in the words of the aforementioned New York Times, “Nordic people don’t share their pickled herring”.
To most Irish people, such an approach is an abomination. After all, we like to pride ourselves on the fact we’re good hosts. A recent survey conducted by Vice magazine about which European countries are most likely to feed house guests revealed some interesting nuggets.
Essentially, if you’re in a northern European country, you’d better eat before you visit or just bring your own packed lunch. In Mediterranean countries, you won’t be allowed to leave your host’s house without being fed and watered.
Here on this side of the continent? Well, it turns out the Welsh and English are bad hosts. In fact, they’re among the worst in Europe, while the Irish will ensure you’re fed properly – further reinforcing my old theory that we have more in common with the Italians than the English. In fact, I’ve always thought of us as a Mediterranean island placed in the wrong ocean due to some error in God’s planning department.
If there’s one thing we do, we like to feed our guests. In fact, I doubt any of us have ever visited the in-laws or family members without having a dinner or a giant piece of cake shoved under one’s nose, with the clear implication that any refusal will be taken as a grievous insult.
My mother used to work off the dictum that nobody would ever leave her house hungry. It also meant we used to have an unusually large number of people just popping in on a Sunday afternoon because they knew they’d be treated to a roast dinner. The night before her funeral, my siblings and I prepared a massive buffet for the wake, which left the tables groaning and the visitors stuffed and complimenting the food – just the way Ma would have wanted it.
It’s always easy to look at these surveys as a bit of harmless fun and, of course, if we manage to come out of it looking better than the English, all the better. But there’s also a far more social and economically profound reason why we should pay attention to these results – because it reminds us just what makes so many people like this country. Let’s be honest, nobody ever came to Ireland for the weather, unless they had a weird fascination with clouds. They come for the culture, the history, the scenery and, ultimately, the people.
When you consider that, according to Fáilte Ireland, 11.3 million tourists visited a pre-pandemic Ireland in 2019 and contributed an eye-watering €5.9bn to the economy that year, it’s clear Irish hospitality is something that is enjoyed and admired by people from all over the world.
We have a golden goose that other countries lack, and our reputation for warmth and friendliness – while baffling to many of us who actually live here – is that goose. But we’re in danger of killing it through a combination of greed, apathy and sharp business practices.
I was in town last Friday and it was busy with American tourists eager to sample the joys of Dublin. But how much joy is there in paying €9.60 for a glass of red wine? How much joy is there in being charged €10,000 for a rental car when, as one tourist pointed out, he could have had his own car shipped over for less?
Then, of course, there’s the spiralling cost of holiday accommodation. It’s no longer unusual to see country cottages charging three grand or more just for a long weekend, and that simply has to stop immediately.
The hospitality sector has been destroyed in recent years, so we should have sympathy for its predicament. But the current trend for massive short-term mark-ups seems to ignore the longer trend – people will simply no longer bother to visit here.
As the survey mentioned at the top of this piece points out, we have a well- deserved international reputation for being hospitable. Now is not the time to ruin that in the pursuit of a quick buck.