‘I’m now part Irish, part American, part insufferable’

I say no, I don’t say sorry, and I never thought I’d find myself in a church again. But here I am

Quentin Fottrell, New York: “I’m envious of friends who moved here 20 years before me and still have their giddy Cork accents.”

Quentin Fottrell, New York: “I’m envious of friends who moved here 20 years before me and still have their giddy Cork accents.”

 

After living in New York for six years, I’m not quite the same person I was before I left. Well, I’m the same and yet different. I cherish my Irishness, even as I try to tone down my offensive south Dublin mid-Atlantic twang, something I admit I had before I left.

I’m envious of friends who moved here 20 years before me and still have their giddy Cork accents. “We can’t all speak like Tom Cruise in Far & Away,” I’ve told people time and again.

Here’s the most embarrassing (and delicious) example of coming face-to-face with my own stage Irishness. A couple of years ago, I ordered a burrito in Chipotle for lunch. I was wearing my usual early fall/autumn attire: an old battered derby and a bottle green vintage tie with the image of a Victorian woman cycling gingerly across my chest. It was also Halloween.

“What did you come as?” the cashier asked. “I just came as me,” I replied.

I have a complex relationship with American English. I used 'awesome' once without irony and immediately regretted it

Of course, the best (and worst) parts of being Irish have nothing to do with how you look or sound. Case in point: the time a colleague gave me a compliment in a crowded elevator.

Her kind words were delivered with such earnestness and conviction that I didn’t know quite what to do with them. So I did what any self-respecting Irishman would do: I made a self-deprecating remark. It was followed by a long, awkward silence.

I never made that mistake again. New York is at the centre of the country’s financial system, media industry and theatre community for a reason. People here work hard and take pride in it. And so do I.

In fact, Americans work an average of 20 per cent more hours than Europeans, according to a study by a German, American and Canadian economist and released last year by the Institute of the Study of Labor in Bonn, Germany.

As a result, we New Yorkers take our leisure time as seriously as our compliments. In Dublin, I often ran 10 to 15 minutes late. And now? When the clock strikes eight, I appear as if by magic just like Mr Ben – and without some crazy story about how I fell down a manhole en route. (Weird side note: that did actually happen to me once when the cover flipped on its axis. My saving grace: my head and elbows remained above ground.)

I have a complex relationship with American English. I used “awesome” once without irony and immediately regretted it.

‘Banjaxed’

I relish Irish colloquialisms such as “chancer,” “gazumped” and “banjaxed”. But I don’t say “sorry” when I address a stranger.

I say “ma’am” or “sir.” It’s proper and I like it.

Nor will I do that Irish, overfamiliar thing of slagging you off when we first meet as a cheapskate, fast-track way of breaking the ice.

I now speak as if I’m on network television. That is, I don’t swear. Okay, hardly ever. And if I do, I give myself a seven-second TV delay. That is, I’ll mouth the word mid-sentence, but no sound will come out.

Puritanical as it sounds, it’s a huge boost to my quality of life. It’s very rare to hear Americans dropping F-bombs. It’s the worst thing about standing at the carousel in Dublin Airport: listening to people around me say F-this and F-that.

Americans are not afraid to say no and, now, neither am I. No more dilly-dallying. When I want to say “no” I do – or “alas, no” to soften the blow.

You don’t have to ask me twice if I want a slice of cake. I’ll say “yes” the first time. (The same goes for referenda for those who recall Nice and Lisbon, which were both held twice.)

Americans are enviably, deliciously direct. It’s a nice to live free from torturous indecision and anxiety.

Religion

Of course, fundamental cultural and social differences remain. Americans are more likely than Europeans to believe that they, rather than the state, control their own destiny, according to a study released last year by the Pew Research Center, a think tank in Washington, DC. More than half of Americans say that religion is important to them, a higher percentage than almost all other Western European nations.

I officially left the Roman Catholic church in Ireland during the days of CountMeOut.ie, and, since moving here, joined my Unitarian Universalist church in New York. It is a liberal religion that welcomes you, whatever you believe and whomever you love. We focus on social justice in the Here and Now rather than social mores in the Ever After.

I never thought I’d find myself sitting in a church again. But there you are.

I took my own version of religion with me, but I left the Celtic Tiger at home.

I no longer spend my downtime in pubs. I live half a block from Central Park and play tennis at 6am and run around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir on balmy summer evenings.

So I’m part Irish, part American and part Insufferable.

If you were to tell me as much, I’d look you in the eye and say, “Have a nice day.” And I would mean every word.

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