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The maddening Irish sidewalk


Kilkenny, November 2007 —

Ever since I lived in The Netherlands for a year-and-a-half, I have been unable to tolerate the way that Irish people walk in public.

I get exasperated, flustered, and angry — and then I feel guilty, because I love the Irish; and the country has been good to me. But Irish pedestrianism is pure maddening.

Central Oregon drivers are as bad as Irish pedestrians....

Today, a Saturday, I was out on the town looking for some clay pots for a couple of houseplants. The only word that I could think of that would describe the Irish on crowded sidewalks is "oblivious." The word is especially applicable to the women, and then especially to the older middle-aged women.

It is not a benevolent word, and I realize that; and I do feel a certain pang of guilt, writing it so.

But there it is.

You see, in Holland (I was there recently, and loved walking in public,) people are implicitly aware of the physical presence of other people in motion. It is in their culture to automatically predict, anticipate, foresee the location of their fellow pedestrian in the immediate future. It's a bit of magic, and a magic that feels good.

The Dutch will make small adjustments well in advance of encounter, based upon subtle clues of trajectory and minor differences of who's coming up to which side of whom.

The Dutch, also (to give the obverse of this characteristic,) can be arrogant and may step right into the path of another whose familiarity with "the dance" is less-developed, or in a situation where one is presumed lesser.

But scumbags are everywhere. Generally speaking, the Dutch move through crowds of each other with finely-tuned graciousness and a skill that is an experience to be savored.

An Irish woman will be walking toward your left side, and three meters in front of you will change cant and all of a sudden she's walking toward your right side. She doesn't know you're there. You either change course or you bump into her. If you bump into her, she will be exquisitely and beautifully polite. She just didn't see you.


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