Tuesday, 10 February 2009

learning from other cultures

I don't often play the stereotypes game, but every now and then I run across a clear and present example. One such occurred a couple of mornings ago at the local YMCA. I was changing from squash gear into street clothes. Now, usually these are variants of the same species of clothing -- ripped, baggy, perhaps on their second or third wearing. But on this particular morning I was climbing into a suit, and my friend Dan commented. He's a chatty guy, Dan, always with a story or a joke. He's as Irish as a pint of Guinness and a black eye, and not trying to hide it. This morning he said something along the lines of, Well, now, Richard, aren't you looking smart. You might be on your way to a real job for a change.
I was frowning into the mirror, trying to get the ends of my tie to come out the right length. I turned with a serious expression and said that actually I was on my way to a funeral. Which was the case. Dan could tell I was not joking, and his face changed.
He did not say a word except, I think, Oh. Or perhaps, Tsk. But in that one utterance, and a quick grimace (a flash, no more), he managed to convey all the nuances of sincere sympathy, grief, and acceptance of the human condition -- and at the same time stay safely within the limits of our own casual friendship, and the public venue in which our conversation took place. It was a bavura performance, a real tour-de-force of emotional projection. I took comfort from it. And I remember thinking, as I walked across the parking lot to my car, The Irish are good at funerals. I don't know which of the cultural mythologies is responsible -- if it's the hundreds of years of oppression, or the soft wet climate, or the combination of whiskey and Catholicism. But if it's anything to do with death, the Irish are all over it. It's not just that they have lots of practice -- they (pardon the general statement, but then this whole post has been an exercise in stereotyping) seem to enjoy it. The lads in the picture are in fact on their way to a funeral. Next one I go to, I am going to try to think myself into an Irish state of mind.


Marilyn said...

I hate funerals. They're so uncomfortable.
Maybe they should be more like a party.

Richard Scrimger said...

Sounds like a good idea. But everyone is so sad at a funeral. Makes for a tough party ... RS