Colm O'Regan: Eating out was a welcome return to something I realised I hadn’t been doing in a while: people watching

"Eavesdropping in Ireland has always been difficult — we can be very cagey here, with built-in mechanisms to say nothing at all while still making a noise."
Colm O'Regan: Eating out was a welcome return to something I realised I hadn’t been doing in a while: people watching

 

Chips. What would we do without chips? The fossil fuel industry gets all the rap for climate change but not enough attention is paid to small children who were PERFECTLY HAPPY TO EAT THAT THING YESTERDAY AND HAVE SUDDENLY GONE OFF IT WHATEVER’S THE MATTER WITH THEM.

But they never go off chips. They’d eat chips dipped in creosote.

We stopped for chips when we were in town. We are slowly getting used to what’s open or not, and without access to Attorney General advice, we’ve having been taking it handy. But last week we finally sat down as a family in town for a meal. Of chips. But they were in a restaurant and outside like the Continentals do. And it was a welcome return to something I realised I hadn’t been doing in a while: People watching. With avoidance and distance being part of the culture for so long, there’s less opportunity to have a good old sneaky stare at people. There is an extra licence to look around you when you are waiting for your food. The children were occupied with the Keep Them Occupied Crayons supplied by the restaurant, so apart from occasionally praising something, we could watch in peace. The world moves past you like a sort of live streaming event but in real life.

There aren’t many tourists but the one I saw was the touristiest. A 60 year old America-tanned or Germa-tanned man with runners and knee high socks. From the waist down dressed like a Harajuku girl. A reminder that once upon a time, wearing khaki shorts and knee-high socks was the height of Holiday Brochure chic for the discerning gentleman.

It was a chance to observe groups of teenage lads. Doing what teenage lads do best: managing that tricky balancing act of bravado, being noticed, blending in, trying to look grown up but still be cool all at the same time as being a teenager and trying to figure out where to put your limbs. And looking so much younger than you think you are. It nearly made me teary with empathy as I remembered being a teenager and the 24-7 discomfort of being alive.

Or maybe they were grand. I was a bit of an over-thinking ‘dose’ and looks like nothing’s changed.

And then there’s the eavesdropping. Eavesdropping in Ireland has always been difficult. We can be very cagey here. The various forms of Hiberno-English and English-As-We-Speak-It have built-in mechanisms to say nothing at all while still making a noise. The lookits, shur this is its, stop the lightses, don’t be talking to mes, gwayouttathats, dheras, eras and mushas, winks, nudges, eye rolls. Hundreds of years of hiding, with varying success, rebellion plans from spies and the British are still in our DNA. The fear of who’d be listening and get offended, and latterly a fear of being sued in the defamation capital of the world, have replaced fear of the Crown Forces as a motivation to ‘keep that to yourself now’.

One bright spot for eavesdroppers: there are more people in Ireland now for whom Irish-English is not their first language. Their actual English is usually flawless. It’s just that some mightn’t have been here long enough to obfuscate and Dhera it up.

And where two people who came from outside of Ireland from different countries and speak different languages and English is the common language, it’s way more eavesdrop-able. A man and woman couple speaking accented English walked past our table. “It’s a big decision. I think we should discuss it some more,” said the man.

And then they were gone. Before they’d got to the juicy bit. I’d have followed them only the chips arrived.

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