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Hey Americans, Please Stop Pretending to Be Irish

It's a shame, America, that of all you could've inherited from us, you choose our excessive drinking and a kitsch celebration of nothing.

Photo via Flickr user Timothy Krause

Today is St. Patrick's Day, and I'm hungover. The reason I'm hungover today, as opposed to tomorrow, is that over the years I've learned that being hungover on March 18 comes with a particular type of regret. A regret dipped in green and stinking of shit, vomit-sprayed and cackling various Pogues songs at the end of my bed. But today my hangover is run-of-the-mill—I've learned over the years to drink like a professional on the 16th and avoid today's whole pissing-yourself madness.


That I'm hungover, anyway, on what's still just a Wednesday (when I knew I'd have to be up at 6 AM to write this) tells you I'm not opposed to inappropriate drinking. I, like anyone, enjoy the occasional pint of vodka—yet I resent the fact that, just because I'm Irish, I'm expected to take part in what's essentially a vomiting contest between idiots too thick to tell the difference between real and fake culture.

Even in Ireland, St. Patrick's Day is fake culture. Though the idea of celebrating our country is a great one, distilling our myriad contributions to the world to a pint of Guinness and parades of people in stupid costumes not only undermines the concept of paying tribute but also points to a basic misunderstanding of what's good—for starters, parades are shit.

I say this as an Irish person, sitting here in Ireland: My own country doesn't know how to pay tribute to itself. With a tremendous tradition in resisting oppression, and a disproportionate contribution to great art, the best we can come up with is the same Guinness-and-parade bullshit you have. It's a shame, America, that of all you could've inherited from us, you choose our excessive drinking and this kitsch celebration of nothing.

I should make clear that, unlike me, most Irish people like St. Patrick's Day. A day off work and an excuse to drink—what's not to like? But we're all universally baffled as to why you'd celebrate this, our national holiday, with such vigor. Though we respect your many Irish-American communities, and applaud their contribution to the American way of life, we sometimes regard them as more outwardly Irish than ourselves and therefore a bit cringeworthy.


Admittedly, our knowledge of them comes mainly from films like The Fighter and The Town, so maybe we've the wrong impression.

No, you've got the right impression. Photo via Flickr user Jamie McCaffrey

But it's not just the Irish who are fascinated when you Americans over-identify with your ancestral roots. When you call yourself Italian or German, it baffles Italians and Germans too. Why can't you just identify as American? For a country that waves a lot of flags and considers anything but blind patriotism in politicians an act of treason, the contradiction at the heart of your identity frustrates us. We're aware of your flaws—your wars and shitty sitcoms—so when you don't identify as American, it seems like you're trying to shirk responsibility for what your country has inflicted on ours and, in effect, have us shoulder the blame.

But your shittiness isn't unique. God knows every country has its own problems. In fact, being proud of America as an American is, theoretically, admirable—as is the concept behind your society. A place where Italian people can mix with Irish, Polish with Russian, is the dream of every openminded person. But aren't these communities generally isolated from each other and obsessed with ways of "the old country"? It strikes me that this has less to do with keeping traditions alive and paying tribute and more with being scared.

The irony is that, in Ireland and the UK, pretty much every kid wants to be American at some point. Your culture looms large over ours—Cadillacs and open roads, Clint Eastwood and Jimi Hendrix, the Empire State and Alexi Lalas. Americanism is the height of cool, and that you wouldn't want to identify with it is only as strange as why you'd want to identify with us.


The American flag waves over the Chicago River, dyed green for St. Patrick's Day. Photo by Jamie McCaffrey

But it goes deeper than that, doesn't it? Though there are certainly millions across America right now cranking U2 and thinking of long-lost relatives swimming in Galway bays, there are many more with no relation to Ireland whatsoever jumping on this St. Patrick's Day bandwagon just because it's an excuse to get drunk. Which is fine—getting drunk is great—but appropriating a culture in such a cartoonish, willingly blind way points to something more troubling than that hangover you'll have in the morning.

Though I may be wrong, it seems like there are so many different sections of America that a communal whole is no closer to existing than it ever was, and until you realize that boundaries not just between races but different cultures need to be broken down more, you'll always have an excuse to hate not only other countries but each other.

Speaking specifically as an Irish person—there are many reasons why you mightn't want to appropriate our culture. Historically, our country is a shambles. Repressed by the British and Catholic Church for centuries, we drink for a reason much more tragic than partying—we drink to cope, and learned how to do this (and to empower ourselves through drunken feats of masculinity) at a time when we were too poor to eat, too controlled to open up, and too indentured to own land.

That we still do it on such a large scale is more a crime than a celebration, and at least here, St. Patrick's Day is the public holiday equivalent of a crying clown.

When you come here on holiday, America, and drink Guinness in tourist pubs, you must surely know that what you're seeing has been created for the purposes of taking your money. The real Ireland exists in places you often don't go—Dublin's north inner city, the suburbs, regional towns full of hardworking people who want what you want: kids, houses, happiness. These are the places you'll find people you can bond with, not the cartoonish, exotic beings who haunt tourist spots like Temple Bar. Frankly, an Ireland removed from the quiet everydayness that spawned our true wonders—Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, Roy Keane—isn't one worth knowing.

At the same time, we go to Disneyland and Times Square. Most of us are only just getting into the NFL, and hardly any of us have read Moby-Dick. So our understanding of your culture is probably just as bad .

Maybe all we want when we visit a place or celebrate a culture is exactly what we expect—our own version of it. Maybe realness doesn't interest us because everything comes with downsides, things determined to kill our buzz.

Follow James Nolan on Twitter.