An Irishman’s Diary on language and insincerity
Time to axe the formulaic welcomes and redundant gratitude
“In general, let’s redact céad míle fáilte down from a hundred thousand to, say, a dozen a year, tops.” Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
If you’re Irish come into the parlour. There may or may not be a welcome there for you, contingent specifically on the precise circumstances pertaining at the period of time under advisement. Terms and conditions apply.
Scene One. Doors to automatic. “You’re all very welcome aboard this Aer Lingus flight to Paris Charles de Gaulle.” No, we’re not “very welcome”. This is not a social occasion. This is a commercial contract. We’re paying you to fly us to Paris CDG. You’re flying us to Paris CDG because we’re paying you to do so. Do try to suppress that Irish compulsion to turn every transaction into a relationship. Now get on with serving the drinks.
Change of scene, from somewhere several thousand feet over Tuskar Rock to the studios at Montrose.You’re watching the evening news, and it’s the commercial break, and you’re grinding your teeth over all the “fragrancing” and the “volumising” of eyelashes, and you’re thinking these people who promote female slap so inventively should get some kind of recognition for expanding the vocabulary of English.
I recommend a long vacation on Devil’s Island involving chains and whips and high, painful temperatures.
The commercial break comes to an end. Time now for that old chestnut, commented on by many other social critics and cultural commentators before now, and not strictly relevant to the thesis at hand, but worth a side-kick. “You’re welcome back to 6.01”. Eh? I haven’t been anywhere. I’ve been sitting here in my Grumpy Old Man T-shirt, sipping my glass of Wincarnis, while you’ve been away from my screen, getting up to goodness knows what deviltry.
But, to get back on track, there’s “You’re very welcome to the studio” or “Thanks very much for coming into the studio”.
First, presenters, there’s no need to thank the guest before the interview starts. Get right in media res and skewer them with your rapier-like questions. Then thank them at the end as they limp off, bleeding on to your semi-State carpeting. One expression of gratitude is quite enough.
Anyway, most of them aren’t doing you a favour by coming in. You’re doing them a favour by giving them a platform to throw their pennyworth into the debate.
I once even heard a presenter thanking an RTÉ colleague for “coming into the studio” to report. At which, what else can one do but what I did? I yelled at the radio: “That’s what he’s paid for!!!” (And once a presenter said to a guest: “You’re obviously very welcome.” Obviously? What the Sam Hill is that supposed to mean?)
I’m told that round Galveston and Fort Worth way you can see, as well as the car-bumper stickers proclaiming: “Insured by Smith and Wesson”, others that say: “Welcome to Texas. Now go home”. This may seem a mite rude, but consider. The first part is the robotic and insincere of which we have been speaking. The second says: we are very pleased with where we live and have no need or desire for the approbation of the strangers moving among us. It may not commend itself as an attitude to, say, Tourism Ireland, but at least it’s honest.
But back again to the broadcasters. Another good opportunity for shouting at the media is when the presenter, speaking to a remote contributor on an obviously mobile link, says something like: “Oh dear, the line has dropped out.” The correct response to this is, at a suitably high decibel level: “It’s not a line! It’s an unreliable mobile connection! That’s the point! If it had been a line it wouldn’t have dropped out! Did Alexander Graham Bell toil in vain?”
Here’s a revolutionary thought, broadcasting persons, which may not have occurred to you, dazzled as you may be by pocket-sized gizmos. Ban all interviews by mobile phone until the technology has improved sufficiently to be as reliable as fixed-line communication. And that’s some way ahead, I’ll wager.
In the meantime, TV and radio presenters – and cabin staff – think what you’re saying. Axe the formulaic welcomes and the redundant gratitude. In general, let’s redact céad míle fáilte down from a hundred thousand to, say, a dozen a year, tops. Let’s hear it for la belle dame sans merci, which, as a former student of the French tongue, I feel confident in translating as “the beautiful lady without thank-you.“