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Gowan, gowan, gowan…

The original “Irish host”

I’m starting to realise there is something about Irish people that they can never say yes to thinks on their first go. It’s like we don’t want our first answer to be our final answer.

A: “Will you have a drink?”

B: “No I’m grand thanks, I won’t.”

A: “Ah you will, you’ll have something.”

B: “No honestly I’m fine thanks.”

A: “Ah go on, a glass of wine?”

B: “OK, a small glass just, thanks”

Person B usually wants to say yes from the first time they were asked. I think it’s usually a mixture of politeness and wanting to be asked again to make sure they really want to offer. Equally, person A, who is also Irish, doesn’t like their offer to be turned down because at least if they have a drink, a cup of tea, a sandwich, or even just a glass of water in their hand, it means they are being ‘looked after’. Through no scientific research whatsoever, I am of the opinion that this is mostly an Irish thing. Irish hosts don’t want their guests to be without anything and Irish guests don’t want to be so rude as to accept anything and everything they are offered. It happens with food, drink and invitations. “Ah you’ll have a drink, or tea or something, surely?” “Will you have something to eat? You will, we have chocolate, crackers, I can make a sandwich, it’s no trouble.” “Stay for dinner sure! Ah you will, go on , sure where would you be going?”

When Irish hosts and Irish guests come together, everyone is happy. The hosts don’t want their guests to be empty-handed and the guests, while¬†adamant¬†that they will politely reject the first offer, are happy to be pushed into agreeing on the second or third attempt. However, I have seen situations where opposites do not attract. A straight talker, who is not familiar with the “Irish way” might meet an Irish guest and the conversation might go more like this:

A: “Can I get you anything, tea, coffee, wine?”

B: “Ah no I’m grand thanks, I won’t.”

A: “OK”

Person B is left livid, but only at themselves as they just realised they said no and what did they expect? What they forget is that they expected the “Irish host” response of forcing them into saying yes. But they know they have only themselves to blame for missing out. If they wanted something, why did they say no?

It’s an interesting mentality that a lot of Irish people seem to have adopted. Needless to say it is somewhat flawed. If you miss out on the “final question,” which may very well be the first, you miss out on what you want. Some people are willing to go back on their response but most of us feel like fools for admitting that we changed our mind in the space of five seconds. “Actually, I will have a cup of tea, if you wouldn’t mind…”

Why we do this, I don’t know. I’m guilty of it myself, but I’ve seen it go wrong. My only word of warning to those who are familiar with it and find themselves politely saying no, is you might not be offered again so be prepared to not get what you want. After all, you did say no.


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