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Brianna Parkins: ‘In Ireland you can be anything, as long as you’re craic. But that has a dark side’

We excuse bad behaviour because ‘it’s only a bit of craic’, but that’s not true craic

I’m Australian, and I was once asked on the radio what expats make of Ireland. “I’ve heard one person describe it as frustrating as having sex with a flaccid penis,” I replied honestly. What I didn’t say was that person was actually me.

Don’t start – unless you can honestly say you have never once given out about Ireland. Of course you have. We all have. Giving out is an Irish birthright. It’s so State-sanctioned that we have a daily Government-funded vehicle for it. It’s on RTÉ radio and it’s called Liveline.

We’ve all felt frustration living here. House prices going up. Wages stagnating. Rents out of control. Foreign investment firms moving in. Generations of young people who can’t move out or, worse, feel their only option is moving across an ocean, breaking thousands of mammies’ hearts in the process. Higher personal-income taxes but not much back via an overstrained health system. Needing to own both summer and winter jumpers.

I once watched a man step on one of the abundant dog turds that Dubliners are great at leaving around on footpaths. 'Foooook!' he yelled. 'Foook this fooking place'

Once, when sitting in the park with another foreigner, I watched a man step on one of the abundant dog turds that Dubliners are great at leaving around on footpaths.

“Foooook!” he yelled, picking up the sole of his trainer to inspect the brown smear. “Foook this fooking place.”

My companion and I were unfazed by his outburst. It’s hard to save face when you’re hopping up and down trying to scrape dog turd off your shoe, so by all means throw a good cathartic tantrum.

“I am surprised this is the first time I’ve seen this happen,” said my fellow foreigner. “If I was Irish I would yell this every day. How do they always seem so happy?”

I know the answer. It’s the same one I give when taxi drivers ask why I would move to Ireland from Australia when everyone usually travels in the other direction. “But why?” they ask in a tone that is really saying, “Are you well?” “Because of the craic” is always my response. (Technically, I moved here because I was offered my job, but also craic).

Craic is the implied social contract to sustain the good atmosphere and continued fun of everyone, sometimes at your own expense. For example, once I was at an Irish house party where one jarred attendant declared that the floor was lava, meaning the children’s game where players can’t touch the ground.

Instead of ignoring him or putting him to bed with a spew bucket and some water, what did we do? We leapt on the sofa like eejits, scattering cushions across the floor to make a safe passage to the drink in the kitchen. Craic was sustained.

The willing suspension of disbelief is a pretentious term for when we get into TV shows and movies even though we know the stories in them can’t be real. We still enjoy them anyway. The willing suspension of craic sort of works the same. You know that what you’re doing might not make sense, and that you’re lepping about to keep a jarred acquaintance entertained, but that’s the point – the entertainment of the crowd is put ahead of the individual’s dignity.

Someone said the magic words: 'Don't be shite craic!' So the shot went down, the vomit came up. Then down again. Because puking and getting everyone kicked out would have definitely been filed under shite craic

Craic is a group pursuit; your personal needs and wants don’t matter. I once had to discreetly swallow my own vomit in a nightclub out of craic preservation. I didn’t want the Jägerbomb – I was quite insistent. Then someone said the magic words you say to any Irish person to get them to do something stupid: “Don’t be shite craic!” So the shot went down, the vomit came up. Then down again. Because puking and getting everyone kicked out would have definitely been filed under shite craic.

The number-one rule in Ireland is that you can be anything you want as long as you’re craic. But it also has a dark side. We excuse bad behaviour because “it’s only a bit of craic”. We are afraid sometimes to say someone is making us uncomfortable, in case we ruin the craic. But that’s not how true craic works. If someone’s idea of craic encroaches on your safety and comfort, and therefore stops you from having craic of your own, then it is not true craic. (I think this is at the bottom of the Constitution, but you’ll have to check.)

It’s important to note that the Irish will knock craic out of anything. They are the Bear Grylls of craic, rustling it up with makeshift tools found in hostile environments. The Irish fans at the Euro 2016 tournament are testament to this. Using only facepaint, guitars and good humour, they have won over the world.

There comes a time where you have to decide which side of craic you want to be on. Mine came in my early days in Ireland. I was in Coppers nightclub in Dublin. I had heard Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer at least twice at that stage, so I’m guessing it was 2.37am.

A woman using a wheelchair was going around the dancefloor putting people in her lap while doing some quite impressive wheelies. She asked me if I wanted a turn. I panicked. Was this okay? Was this ableist? Was this appropriate?

“Come on. It’s a bit of craic!” she said. So off we wheeled to the Grease megamix. New friend made. Commitment to craic affirmed.