One of the more grotesque cosmic ironies of the age we live in is that persistent social abuse is the key to a well-rounded relationship, Kate Demolder writes.
I recently started wondering what it would be like if Irish people posted to Instagram like Americans. Their feeds steeped in professional-level, sepia-toned, middle-of-a-cornfield photoshoots, each intricately captioned in iambic pentameter, detailing step-by-step the consumptive love they have for their partner, their peers, their god, their day.
It's a nice thought, one might suggest, outing yourself as a person who cares for things, but it’s something we just don’t do here.
"Was it for this?" Pádraig Pearse might roar from a top-down Love Island jeep, pouting with his wife Margaret, only to call her a drip in the caption. Yes, such is our commitment to emotional derangement that all opposites appear to be true; right is wrong and down is up, nice is stupid and demented is nice. "I will yeah," means "I absolutely won’t" and "shut up you, ya lanky string of misery" means "I love you, very very much".
Props to anyone who tries to be fashionable in ireland i wore a red beret once in waterford and someone called me super mario— Jane (@janky_jane) August 15, 2021
It begins in primary school - the days when the classmate who fancied you bullied you, your best friend proved about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike, and your teacher called you a gurrier for writing with your left hand.
Playwrights call this Chekhov’s gun, our commitment, or lack thereof, to details that will contribute to an overall narrative. Yet even Chekhov wouldn’t make sense of the post-modern flip our well-trodden road has taken; nowadays, we’re told that telling someone they have a fat head isn’t right. But what if they do? And more importantly, what if they don’t?
Furthermore, calling someone a wet quilt when they’re being no craic is nearly illegal, and that similar offence should be taken when a sibling tells us that the tide wouldn’t take us out - an act diametrically opposed to the way we were reared.
Long be with the days your sibling screams "nappy arse" to you squeezing on jeans after a summer in the Gaeltacht, or perhaps "jambon", in deep Gregorian chant, in your direction emerging from the sea like a shank of ham.
It is with this, that I debate slagging, mocking, jeering, sneering, whatever you want to call it, is the stained glass window of Irish friendship; decorative, intricate, transformational, and oddly linked to the Church. It isn’t present in all relationships, only the ones that are really very good.
My mate is called Beefy cos he was always the smallest of the lads. Also knew a fella from Tallaght called Beebaw coz he got knocked down by an ambulance— Jen Doyle (@RedJenDub) November 22, 2020
The Yanks, of course, have their 'Yo Mama' jokes. I do hope they enjoy them, mortifying as they are. Who among us would grab them by their fanny packs and tell them otherwise? The Brits, too, love calling each other that one that rhymes with banker. It may do the job, but it’s graceless and undignified in that I’ve seen more elegant prolapses.
Forgive me for carrying a grudge, but it just lacks a certain level of Wildean wordplay we’re used to. And we are used to it. Derision, satire and slagging itself (for our UK readers, may I here inform you that our version of 'slag’ is wholly different to your own) seems to have been around since the Aristotle days, the justification of which dwelling within his suggestion that we "laugh folly out of existence."
For some reason, Paddy Irishman decided to take this and puck it out, and for that, we can now all tell each other to "ask me bo***cks" and act with impunity. For where would we be without friends and neighbours alike asking us who we think we are when we dare to put on sunglasses in the heat? Or the ability to walk down a road with a twelve-pack of toilet roll and have people tell you to "enjoy your sh*te"?
I hate buying toilet paper in Dublin pic.twitter.com/tBo9wW80ee— Killian Sundermann (@killersundymann) May 23, 2022
You might have seen that recent map of Europe, the one in which coloured dark blue are the places you’d always, customarily, receive food at someone’s house, and dark red those places where you never would. Traversing the boundaries of Southern Europe, from Spain to Turkey, was darkest, where "being offered a meal in someone’s home" appears synonymous with force-feeding.
While Scandanavia and the Netherlands beamed in crimson, both countries instead opting to sacrifice their young before offering a biscuit. The map of Ireland, naturally, leapt off the page with navy––the illustration swiftly growing sentient, proceeding to feed you like a fatted calf.
With this slightly off-topic pivot, I would like to argue that both hospitality and slagging go hand in hand in Irish culture, each sustaining the other like the Ouroborous of Hellenistic Alexandria. It’s our version of love, expression, meditation. It would take a more talented sociologist than me to isolate the differences between Scandi, Dutch and Irish psyches, but seeing as I don’t have one to hand, I’ll speculate wildly.
This is a fascinating map of whether you'll be served food as a guest in these countries https://t.co/l8NUnaEnVV— Nandita Iyer (@saffrontrail) May 30, 2022
The fact is, for all of that open-armed, welcoming spirit we like to import via overpriced tourists and live, laugh, loving Yanks, the Irish are a ratty people. We love getting one up on the oppressor (the oppressor, at any given time, could range from your teacher to the lad across the road to the cousin who’s an only child) and upon doing so, realise that we don’t know another way to express ourselves––that’s why there are some 200+ ways to call someone an ape in the Irish language while the only acceptable way we’ve grown to convey love towards another person in the Year of Our Lord 2022 is "sound".
What we can say for sure is that we do tend to do the right thing and just say the wrong thing, which is not half as bad as its reverse.
Indeed, our sharp mouths are built for surface-level eating, banshee roaring, and not much else. And the thing about Irish slagging pageantry is that even committed dry sh***s ironists wilt in the face of it. May we rejoice, this writer thinks, in our nation’s human embodiment of arseholery and get high on wine, indeed the grapes of wrath.
You don’t have to like it, no, that would be absurd. But to be unable to find anything to be interested in about it at all, well … that seems a wasted opportunity, and none of us can call you thick for that.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ.