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Brianna Parkins: I’m off to the Gaeltacht to learn how to apologise like a real Irish person

After three years in Ireland, it’s also crucial to understand all the things ‘I’m grand’ can mean

‘There seems to be a grant for everything in this magical place.’ Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

There are some things I feel I missed out on by growing up in Australia rather than Ireland. An intact ozone layer is one of them. But my main regret is never have gone on a Gaeltacht holiday as a teenager. Friends describe with joyful nostalgia the fear of getting sent home for uttering a sentence in English, hosts watering down milk, phones being confiscated, and having to take part in mandatory recreational activities like enforced set dancing.

It’s surely testament to the Irish tendency to make the best of everything if they can look back on what sounds like juvenile detention with such fondness.

I, sadly, missed out on this seminal experience. But next week a friend is celebrating their 30th birthday in a Gaeltacht area. To get into the spirit each house has an assigned bean an tí. (It took me 20 minutes to get that comma thing up on the keyboard.)

A module on all the types of 'I'm grand' will include a workshop on what to do if you suspect someone Irish is mad at you but just says they're grand. They will not tell you they are mad at you but will tell everyone around you instead

The weekend also coincides with my third year in Ireland, and as usual I am looking for ways to make someone else’s special occasion about me. I will turn this weekend into the Gaeltacht experience I never had. But with some key changes. This is the pilot of a programme aimed at us foreigners, a voluntary intensive course, teaching us everything we need to know about life in Ireland, that will ease us in nicely. It might provide a nice Aran-knit cushion against culture shock.

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Before I submit my application for a grant to make this happen (top tip: there seems to be a grant for everything in this magical place) I had to sketch out my loose lesson plans. These are just the basics for now.

If you ask an Irish person how they are they will always answer with “I’m grand”. This covers a vast span from “I’ve just won the lottery and remembered to use all my Dunnes vouchers before they expire”, to “My partner has left me, and I have a mandatory recurring meeting with my boss at 5.15pm on Friday scheduled for the rest of the year.”

An entire module in this course will be devoted to discerning the difference between all the types of “I’m grand” and what they actually mean. This will include a workshop on what to do if you suspect someone Irish is mad at you but when you ask them directly how they are they have simply said “grand”. They will not tell you they are mad at you but will tell everyone around you instead.

Conflict makes these people even more uncomfortable. Trap them somewhere in close range where they can’t escape, such as in a car on a motorway, and calmly ask “Are you thick with me?” to get it out of them.

Instead of a verbal apology after a disagreement, you can stick your head around their door and ask if they want a cup of tea. Then you serve it with the good biscuits

The module will also include the art of making up with someone after a disagreement. Instead of a verbal apology, you can stick your head around their door and ask if they want a cup of tea. Then you serve it with the good biscuits. This part of the course is taught by my mam.

It will be grand. This generally means what looks like disorganised chaos has a flow and rhythm to it. It will eventually be done. But no one knows or seems to care how or what happens in the interim.

For example, in other countries it’s possible to open a bank account by bringing ID to a branch; they give you an ATM card in return, on the spot. In Ireland you will be told you can do it from your home country before you leave. But when you turn up to the bank on arrival they tell you there is no record of your application. You point to their own email correspondence. They shrug. Bank then says you need another letter with your home address on it. One from a Government organisation like Revenue. You explain you can’t pay tax yet because you don’t have an Irish bank account to get paid into. You cry at a branch. Then your friend’s aunt’s hairdresser’s niece who works at a bank sorts it out. Your card will be posted to you. They post it to Australia. Where you opened the account they said didn’t exist. Eventually you get your card. See, told you it would be grand.

People seem to walk on both sides of the street. They refuse to pick a side. This has nothing to do with the Civil War; it’s because no one is paying attention. They’re looking around at everyone else. Having a good old nose.

If you are in a shop and in a rush, that is your problem. The person behind the till is having a 20-minute conversation with someone from school. You only have yourself to blame for leaving something to the last minute

They will attempt to mimic your accent at some stage – especially if you are Australian. They think because they have watched Home and Away they sound native. They are wrong. But if you lie and say “That was great” you will give someone the gift of being delighted with themselves. A priceless reward.

If you are in a shop and in a rush, that is your problem. The person behind the till is having a 20-minute conversation with someone from school. That’s their God-given right, and you only have yourself to blame for leaving something to the last minute.

These are merely the basics, based entirely on personal failings. I am open to all other module suggestions. I’m just waiting for the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport, Media and Correcting People Pronouncing Siobhán as Sigh-ob-han (presumably) to get back to me about my grant. I’m sure it’s in the post as we speak.