Not speaking

Jan 9th, 2008 | By | Category: Ireland

Harry Eyres was in sublime in form his Slow Lane column in last weekend’s Financial Times. The evocation of Home Counties rural England at the turn of the year captured the timelessness he sought. One line jarred though, a moment that was special also seemed deeply sad.

I tramped through the boggy clearing where a single lowish oak tree stands. Reaching the road on the far side; I heard a man’€™s voice, ‘€œI took part in the twenty-fifth anniversary of King George V’€™s coronation,€“ that was in 1935’€“ and caught the flash of a friendly smile. Perhaps we have lived in the same village for decades and never exchanged a greeting.

Perhaps we have lived in the same village for decades and never exchanged a greeting? In primary school days I was given a dressing down at school on one occasion for not speaking to people that I passed on the road – I must have been all of ten years old. Even now, close on four decades later, people in my Somerset home village will at least nod if they pass you. It would be hard to imagine having lived for decades in a village and never having exchanged a greeting. In rural France, where we rented a farmhouse for a number of holidays, every driver we passed on the little roads waved at us as they waved at each other.

In south Co. Dublin, it would be easily imaginable. Moving from the North nine years ago, where everyone spoke, it was a culture shock to walk to the local shopping centre and to nod at people on the way and for them to simply pretend you weren’t there at all – eyes pointedly fixed forwards as they listened to their personal stereo or focused on their power walking. It is a local phenomenon, in other parts of Dublin there would be a stream of greetings – walking through a poor area of the north inner city in a clerical collar one Saturday morning, every person I passed said , “Morning, Father”.

Perhaps people walking down my road have such full lives that they haven’t time to greet strangers; perhaps they don’t like strange men; perhaps they don’t like clergy; perhaps they don’t like Protestants; perhaps there are lots of reasons why they must pass by without a hint of recognition that there is another human being nearby. There certainly would not be any prospect of the flash of a friendly smile that Harry Eyres met in his village.

The Irish Government is spending millions on its Taskforce on Active Citizenship and its hopes of reactivating community life. If people will not even say “Good Morning” to someone they pass along the road, the prospects of community are very slim.

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  1. Ian I just don’t get it. I’m a great one for smiling at people I pass or saying hello but you’re right the ‘avoidance glance’ is becoming far too familiar. It’s a city thing. I walk each morning as do many of my neighbours, we don’t know each other that well but always say g’day. It’s a strange thing when a complete stranger at the checkout asks “How are you today …?” (without giving a toss I might add) yet genuine greetings are few and far between. Mind you, bushwalkers have it . .road walkers have it . . vintage and veteran car drivers have it . . small community shopkeepers have it. The multinational malls want it but don’t know how to get it . . Keep waving, keep smiling, keep tipping your hat! I’ll keep the dream alive on the other side of the globe. *will say hello to every person I encounter tomorrow and guage reaction* Mind you, it’s a mean b*****d that won’t say hello to a vicar when he smiles!
    PS: My son is 21 and a chronic g’dayer! G’donim!

  2. I think it’s a suburban thing rather than a city thing, where Katharine is Rector in the inner city the Dubs still greet you.

  3. Ian, I’m a huge believer in giving ‘smiles’. It costs me nothing but the rewards are huge. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Incidentally, I was visiting my old pair yesterday in their nursing home and was reminded of your post on the effects of ‘Music’. I took them to a sing-along session where the music was led by a wonderfully talented pianist. It was fascinating to watch all the old folk ‘come alive’ when a familiar/favourite tune was played. Lots of memories in that room.

    btw I see you’re having a problem linking to Baino’s site. I finally solved that problem by clicking on WordPress, then fill out Nickname and http: and it should work!

  4. The nodding and smiling has certainly disappeared from East Devon with the majority of it over-run with gotta-have-it now, me,me,me, in your face outsiders, You only have to visit Waitrose in Sidmouth to encounter that attitude. What is great is to visit Western Ireland and have total strangers still put their hand up, like as Ian said the locals used too where his good self and me grew up.I hope Ireland doesn,t lose that warmth and welcome.

  5. I am at a loss as to why people don’t speak! Surely the world is happier for everyone when everyone smiles? In France the behaviour would be unthinkable.

    Steph, I am glad the sing-along session was helpful. The local home here has a great pianist who gets people to sing their favourite pieces and when they forget the words, sings along with them. It’s very humbling to watch her at work.

  6. Hi there, I just happened upon your blog while reading Head Rambles and noticed the Ballybrack comment which I had a good laugh at, I’m from Ballybrack but currently living in Sydney and after reading this post I totally agree, I can’t understand why people have stopped saying hello, here in Sydney where I live people are really friendly and it’s such a nice change.

  7. Hi Simon, I used to think that maybe it was about communities – you spoke to everyone because you assumed that they were part of your community – but the rural French wave at everyone, even people in Irish registered cars. I think there is a class thing, it’s the middle class people who will pass you by.

  8. I would agree with that and just to prove my point on my home from work yesterday I stopped off at my local newsagent and the man working there could not have been more friendly, he just started chatting away as soon as I walked in, since when did this stop in Ireland?

  9. Simon, It’s not everywhere. You know the patch, I go down to Tesco and the ladies on the checkouts chat away and the lady in the newsagents always talk; I go down to Ballybrack village and they will talk; but I go down Church Road towards Rochestown Avenue and the walkers just pass you by. Older men will speak and couples will speak, but there are women who would step over you if you were lying ill – yummy mummy types mostly. I found it really odd when I moved from the North nine years ago, where there was always great banter, to meet people who acted as if you just weren’t there.

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