After many frustrating confusions over recent years and weeks, I think I am finally figuring it out. Why, frequently, I don’t quite get it; why I don’t quite understand the desire to give up having fun because you’ve graduated uni/aren’t 24 any more; why I often feel like I don’t quite fit in. I think it’s because I live in the most English of cities, but I’m not quite English.
My mum is Irish. My sister and I chose to have Irish passports after realising that not that many other nations actually like the English, while everyone loves the Irish. Almost none of my English friends know when Saint George’s day is, but you’d be hard pushed to find anyone over the age of 18 in England who doesn’t know when Saint Pat’s day is. Although we’re 50% English and were born and raised here, we’ve had a huge Irish influence throughout our lives.
Mum having nine brothers and four sisters was one of these influences, along with our countless cousins. Due to Mum being number 11 in her siblings, by the age of 20 I had cousins old enough to be my parents; cousins with grandchildren. Then there’s the issue of the domineering Irish parent; I’m not joking when I say Mrs Brown’s Boys is an accurate representation of what my eldest auntie’s house was like on a daily basis. Irish mothers are offended if you don’t let them do your washing up or hang out your clean washing 5 minutes after they’ve put the kettle on in your house. And then there are the parties…
This is where I see a real divide between myself and my friends’ attitudes. Being a nation that has had more than its share of woes, the Irish know how to throw a good party and get everyone involved. I’d been to more funerals by my mid-twenties than many people go to in a lifetime, so when there’s something even remotely worth celebrating (like the arrival of Friday after a hard week at work) we pull out all the stops and everyone is invited. This is where I stumble. If there is something fun to do, I text everyone to share the fun. My English friends will only text people who already know each other, people from the ‘inner circle’ who will fit neatly into the plan which has been laid at least a week in advance. No such thing as a spontaneous mid-week drink or going to a different (God forbid) lively bar at the weekend. And going out dancing? Tantamount to being invited to a public execution!
I’ve often wondered if everyone received a memo when they were 25 reminding them not to be spontaneous or to continue having fun after said age on pain of death. Then I realised that most people did not grow up with aunties who danced into the wee small hours every weekend, into the wee small hours of their lives. Most people did not have aunties whose gardening skills revolved around rather tall plants grown on top of radiators (so that was why the heating was always on, even in the summer). Nobody I know has been to funerals with after parties that have progressed into dancing fuelled by grief, memories, music and Guinness. When it comes to socialising, not many people I know in England have a ‘more the merrier’ attitude.
So perhaps it is no surprise that I fitted so well into Madrid when I lived there; a city that pulses with parties, one of Europe’s best kept secrets. A city where the night is sacred to drinking and dancing; where there is no such thing as arriving late; a city where you can invite anyone to party with you until the first Metro home. A magical place where you sleep until 3pm before meeting everyone in the park to socialise again. Thank God I have a Spanish friend here who gets it.
If being half-Irish didn’t make me enough of a misfit, then living abroad three times and picking up ‘foreign’ ways has, even more so. But it is in England that I feel like a foreigner- not in Madrid (maybe a little in Prague, because people were so serious there). Growing up Catholic (something I am absolutely NOT, now) I understand the abhorrence of wasted food; I get the religious references in film and literature. Perhaps it is the shared religion that makes me feel more connected to the Spanish and Italians than I ever have to the English. The importance of family and sharing and communality that is absent among Protestants and the English (in my experience). I have always been drawn to that which is foreign, other. A lot of the Irish have Spanish blood in them; that could explain why so many of my students, among others, have asked me if I am Spanish or Italian. Maybe I am, somewhere along the line.
And so I dream of my next escape, longing for places where everyone is invited, where there is guaranteed sunlight.