Local Customs in Ireland

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Customs of Ireland

Visitors to Ireland will find the Irish one of the nicest nationalities in the world. It is not uncommon for locals to approach confused looking visitors and offer their help.

Often, in smaller towns and villages and especially on a country road, if you walk past somebody it is customary to say hello. They may also ask you "how are you?", or another similar variation. It is polite to respond to this greeting but it is not expected that you would give any detail on how you really are, if the person is a stranger - a simple hello or "how are you?" or a simple comment on the weather will suffice! In this regard, try something like "Grand day!" - if it isn't raining, of course. To which the response will generally be "It is indeed, thank God".

When driving on rural roads, particularly where a driver has to pull in to allow you to pass, it is customary to wave a thanks to the other driver, by raising your hand from the steering wheel. This is particularly prevalent in rural areas of the West of Ireland where many drivers will automatically wave at everyone who drives past them. A polite hand wave (or even with just the index finger raised from the steering wheel) is customary and will be appreciated.

When accepting gifts, a polite refusal (such as, "no really you shouldn't") is common after the first offer of the item. Usually, this is followed with an insistence that the gift or offer is accepted, at which point your answer is likely to become more recognized. However, some people can be very persuasive - this isn't meant to be over-bearing, just courteous.

One thing which some visitors may find disconcerting is the response an Irish person may give to a "thank you". Most Irish people will respond with something along the lines of "It was nothing" or "not at all". This does not mean that they didn't try hard to please, but rather it is meant to suggest "I was happy to do it for you, so it was not any great difficulty" (even though it may have been!).

The Republic of Ireland and Britain undoubtedly have notable similarities, but Irish people generally take great pride in the cultural differences that also exist between Ireland and Britain. Locals can be quite offended by tourists who do not acknowledge or show respect to these differences. Indeed, it is not uncommon for foreigners (both before and after arrival into the country) to foolishly assume that Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom (like Scotland or Wales). This incorrect assumption will generally cause great offense to locals, who take pride in the Republic of Ireland's status as a state independent of the United Kingdom.

Following from this may lead to curiosity about the differences between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Public or semi-public discussions about religious differences, political views and 20th century troubles are generally avoided by locals on both sides of the border. This is because opinions between individuals are so vastly divided and unyielding, that most Irish people (of moderate views) have grown accustomed to simply avoiding the topics in polite conversation. Most Irish are moderate in their view but it is wise to avoid any political or religious discussion unless it is mentioned to you. Tourists (who are often fascinated by the history of the division) would be advised to show respect and caution if they choose to discuss the differences of opinion that still exist on historical matters.

The Irish are renowned for their upbeat sense of humor, but their humor can sometimes be difficult to understand for more unfamiliar tourists. Joking on almost any topic will be welcomed, although even mild racism is not appreciated by the majority. Most Irish people are quite happy for friendly jibes regarding the Irish love of potatoes and drinking alcohol. However, any jokes regarding the potato famine of the 19th Century in which over a million people died, could in many instances cause a similar amount of offense as joking about the September 11, 2001 attacks would in the United States.

LGBT visitors will find the vast majority of Irish accepting of Same-Sex couples. Ireland has recently enacted civil unions and opinion polls show a large majority of Irish in favor of same sex marriage. Care should be taken outside cities and large towns. Conservative values still hold dear in rural Ireland but most rural people will follow a "if you don't annoy us we won't annoy you" attitude. Ireland has very strong anti-discrimination laws and any breach should be notified to the Equality Authority. Most cities have a strong gay scene but gay people will be welcomed in all clubs and bars. Common sense should prevail in all areas but particular care should be taken in poorer areas. Some gay visitors may find themselves the butt of mild homophobia in more working class areas. However this is normally the Irish sense of humor at its most intolerant. If one feels this is not the case then common sense should prevail and if they feel in danger the Garda should be called.

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