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Asking somebody "what do you do" in Ireland

I always noticed when the non-Irish in
Ireland asked me "what do you do?"

This type of question is not typical amongst the Irish. At least, it is enough less typical that I notice its use amongst foreigners.

I say "foreigners" — I'm a foreigner. I'm American; and you can bet that Americans are deeply concerned about "what you do" for a living.

Among the Irish, it doesn't matter as much. It's true that Ireland is "westernizing" dramatically, that employment is a much more common condition here than it was just a few years ago; and that for this reason the status of one's job has most certainly gained in importance.

But, as a habit, I mean — as a custom, the Irish will generally not be as obsessed with your job as most other peoples will.

• There's a Moroccan fellow whom I met a while ago when I was showing him a room in the apartment where I hold the lease. Every time we stop to talk on the street, he asks me straightaway "are you working?" I don't know whether he means "in general" or "today." But I've taken to saying a polite hello and keeping on the move. (The Irish will ask this question — but it always clearly means "are you working in general," and is a benevolent matter of interest.)

• A Slovakian woman, to whom I also showed a room, asked me "what do you do" in our initial contact. It's a natural question, but the way she asked it — as if she needed to know — struck me as familiar. American.

• I was recently at a pub where an acquaintance introduced me to a New-Zealander. He asked me straightaway "What is it that you do for work?" I was actually flummoxed by the question; answered it incorrectly, and had to correct myself.*

• My German flatmate just now asked me — inspiring me to finally write this page — "are you working today?" There are only so many ways you can answer that question; I said "no." She said "lucky you;" and I agreed.
— 17 May 2006**

      **Edited for clarity

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* I work in industrial cleaning, when I work. Mostly window-washing, including initial-cleans at construction sites; also carpets, floors, general site cleanups, and miscellaneous related tasks.

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