so that happened

“Irish People, Am I Right?”

-Irish People, Am I Right--

I daydreamed as I stood in line for the till, cradling my carton of milk and loaf of bread like precious cargo. The shop is usually pretty quiet mid-morning, with only freelancers and frazzled parents usually stopping in for essentials. The man in front of me was taking his time, and slowly my attention drifted back down to earth and settled on his lanky figure. His clothes were ill-fitting and dirty. His hair hadn’t been washed in any version of the recent past, and his cheeks were hollow. He was buying cigarettes and a six-pack of beer.

“I just lost a hundred on a horse,” he said to the young guy working the till. He sounded both apologetic and desperate, as if this grocery shop employee could hear his confession and grant him forgiveness as part of the transaction. “I lost a hundred on a horse,” he muttered again, his eyes wide and panicked. “That was me last hundred, you know?”

The guy on the till – a good-looking twenty year old with West Asian features – raised his eyebrows, pursed his lips and nodded in the universal expression for ‘Ooookay then!’

He rang up the beer in silence.

“I just need a drink to take the edge off, you know. Like, that was me last hundred.” The man gulped and his fingers fluttered nervously on the edge of the conveyer belt. “It was a good tip. It was a good tip I got about the horse, but it just… These things happen, you know.”

The words just poured out of him. He kept repeating himself. He was fixated on the horse and how it had run the race and what had happened to keep him from winning. The conditions weren’t favourable. The horse started wrong. The jockey didn’t make the right calls. All the time he was talking his fingers danced along the metal edge of the till and his eyes darted nervously across the back wall.

“That was me last hundred. I can’t believe it, you know?”

I watched him, and my heart hurt for him. I’ve been there. Maybe I haven’t been buying-a-six-pack-and-a-carton-of-smokes-at-11am-after-losing-my-last-hundred-on-a-horse kind of there, but I’ve definitely experienced that feeling of having Messed Up that hits like an avalanche and robs you of reason. I’ve felt that horrible, unrelenting anxiety close over me. I’ve had moments that made me want to vomit because in the panic of the moment I feared I’d dug myself a hole that felt like it might be a grave.

The man’s gaze flicked blindly over his cans and his packet of cigarettes. It bounced across the plants stacked next to the door, ricocheted off the bottles of Jack Daniels behind the till, and finally came to rest on the cashier, who stared at him with ill-concealed disdain.

“That’ll be €21.90,” the twenty-year old said cooly. His eyes met mine for a moment and the faintest flash of a smirk crossed his face.

There was a strained silence as the man nodded to himself and pulled change out of his pockets, counting out the exact amount. He handed it to the boy, and picked up his things. He stood for a moment, as if waiting for something more – help, maybe, or absolution – then nodded once last time and dragged himself out of the shop. The cashier and I watched him leave in silence, then I placed my items on the belt and gave the guy a small smile.

He started to scan my items and shook his head. “Not even 12pm,” he said to me in a half-amused, half-disgusted tone of voice.

“Irish people, huh?”

He caught me so off-guard that I simply stared at him. I tapped my card against the machine, picked up my stuff and walked out without saying a word.

Afterwards, I kicked myself for not having said anything, but I was so surprised at the number of assumptions he made in that moment that I was struck mute. Consider for a moment that to make that throwaway comment he had to have thought:

  • That all Irish people are alcoholic gamblers
  • That I am not Irish
  • That I agree that all Irish people are alcoholic gamblers
  • That I feel justified in judging strangers based on two-minute interactions

I mean… None of those things are true.

I’ve touched on the fact that I don’t look Irish before, but I think that’s the first time somebody has felt comfortable enough assigning me a background that they’ve dragged me into a conspiratorial bit of casual racism against Irish people. It would be more understandable if this had happened abroad, but we’re in Ireland! Not a huge leap to think I might be Irish despite not looking the part.

Anyway.

I haven’t seen the gambler since.

The cashier still smiles conspiratorially at me anytime I go to the shop.

How should I have handled this? Have you ever had anything like this happen? I’d like to somehow slip my Irishness into conversation next time I get caught at his till, but I now actively avoid him if I see him working. The whole thing just makes my skin crawl.

I hope the gambler is okay. I hope his panic passed. I hope he’s backed off from backing horses.

 

 

34 thoughts on ““Irish People, Am I Right?”

  1. Your writing is beautiful. I’m utterly drawn to it and await every instalment with undisguised hope that the next piece will be as beautiful as the last. Here’s one of those koala hugs to celebrate the beauty of words and your gift of being able to arrange them in a way others can’t.

  2. That was so lyrically written, so evocative. You weave your words and craft your stories so masterfully it takes my breath away.

    But then, you ARE Irish. You know how they are.

    😉

  3. ALL THE TIME!!!!
    Not exactly with regards to nationality (although I don’t have red hair therefore I cannot possibly be Scottish!!!!) but more the area I live. The village I come from does not have an enviable postcode, its deprived, a lot, but definitely not all of the residents are just like your gambler (I have that Kenny Rogers song stuck in my head now) drugs, alcohol and poverty are a real issue here. When people ask where I am from or where I went to School I am usually on the receiving end of shocked looks and negative comments about the place I call home. The latest was ‘Wow are you the last remaining human in …….!’
    One of my biggest peeves is judgemental people…and snobbery… well really anyone who is not nice to other people!
    I hope the Gambler is OK. I usually say nothing in these situations too but you should totally rock your Irishness next time you see him!!

    1. Wow, that’s uncalled for. I mean they realise you know other people who live there, right? So they may be insulting friends or family?

      RUDE!

      I was in the shop today and he wasn’t there so maybe he’s gone? I would be okay with that outcome.

      1. Yeah I have friends and family there so I feel guilty when I don’t say anything back, usually they expect you to laugh with them?!?
        Maybe rude boy insulted the wrong person and now he is scared to come back to the shop!!!

    1. I wish I knew, Rob. I wish I knew.

      Apparently self-hosting has yet to reveal many of its mysteries to me…

  4. ooh this caught my eye in the facebook group! I’m in Belfast but the passport says Irish so I’m legit. The government says so (for now). What a douche canoe. You should have thickened your accent and said “yea, we’re obviously all alcoholic gamblers” and then walked off.

  5. Beautifully written as always. I once at a grocery store and a woman started chitchatting with me and then she asked, “Why are you here?” And I was confused, as in why am I in the grocery store, or in the city (I mentioned to her that I just moved) and she was like “No, why are you in Canada? Do you work for an embassy?” I was like err, n-n-no, I live here, I am from here! Just the form of casual racism you encounter time to time. But you wouldn’t know, you’re an Irish in Ireland.

    1. Why are you here. What on earth. You should have narrowed your eyes, gazed off into the middle distance, and after an uncomfortably long pause grabbed her arm tightly and said, “Why are any of us here, really?”

  6. Well that’s awkward. If it were me, I’d continue avoiding him. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life, no matter the source. Sounds like his mind is already made up. In my experience, you’re not going to change someone like that. As they say: You can’t fix stupid.

  7. What I find is that most often ignorant or insensitive people don’t even remember doing it because it happens so naturally and regularly with them. He may not even remember the comment he made to you about the guy. I totally get why you want to let him in on you being Irish, just don’t get your hopes up for a dramatic finale. I have often had this situation happen to me growing up because people never assume that I’m Haitian because of my light skin. I never used to speak up, but then I started saying either, “Now that’s not all true” in a pleasant way or, “Do you have a problem with Haitians because I’m Haitian” and then they start apologizing. But even if he were to apologize he probably wouldn’t mean it. I say put this one behind you and try to prepare for the next time. Usually kindness works better (unfortunately)!

    1. Of course. You’re right; he probably doesn’t even remember thinking it much less saying it. I like “Now that’s not all true/just not a thing” in a gentle tone, definitely more up my alley than the meet-me-outside style brawl I was imagining!

  8. At 20, it’s easy to be judgmental. Not enough time to make the big mistakes. In all situations like this, I feel better about myself when I speak up. But make no mistake, educating the kid was only going to drive a spike in your limited relationship. Only experience is going to give him the compassion he needs to navigate situations like that, and it sounds like he hasn’t had those experiences yet.

  9. You hope but the odds are too high. I have a brother in law that swore left and right he’s never going to touch the horses again. This was when he was lying in ICU thanking who ever is up there that’s giving him a second chance of life. It didn’t last.

      1. Still at it. He just had his 60th birthday and his siblings gave him a gift card to go play with his horses. We have an in joke -around Melb Cup day he’s never around as he’s gone to feed the horses so they run well for him 😊

    1. I wish I could tell you where my follow button is, but I can’t find it ever since switching to self-hosting. I think subscribing is the new following! Although if you hear any gossip about runaway follow buttons, let me know because I wouldn’t mind getting mine back!

  10. How should I have handled this? Have you ever had anything like this happen?

    Yes, this type of prejudice, presumption, and unsolicited opinion happens quite often where I live (temporarily) in Texas — a small rural town outside of San Antonio. How, you might ask, being an Anglo-caucasian in a very conservative state? Easy. Everyone here assumes 99% of the time based on my skin-color, my clothing (work or casual), my speech and vocabulary, as well as my… how can I say… extroverted, warm, politely assertive personality that I MUST BE a conservative ‘born-again‘ Christian. Because over 80% of our population, especially in small rural towns, ARE fantastic upstanding Christians! Unless of course they first notice my book I’m reading: “Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation.” Hahaha.

    Bwahahahahaha!!! This sometimes makes me laugh immediately; I can’t help it because it is SO very far from the truth. In fact, if they knew better, they’d run and FAST! 😈 😛

    How I’ve handled these frequent occurences? When I’m done chuckling or laughing, I simply explain I am ________ (my name), I’m a human being from planet Earth. Glad to meet you! This usually disarms them nicely and they are unsure how to respond. I thoroughly enjoy this approach; it puts us on ‘even ground’ as total strangers NEEDING proper introductions and sharing which require more than your gentleman’s 2-minutes.

    If it doesn’t happen, then I’ve saved both of us valuable time and energy; everyone leaves happy, no worse for wear. ☺️

Leave a Reply