We all get hit by wild stereotypes. Carpet-bombed generalisations throughout our lives that smack of reckless, blinkered ignorance. But at no point does it get flagged and flared up more than when we travel (except maybe in war zones).
The hostel is the drinking hole in the traveling wilderness, the gathering place for mammals of all nationalities. The excitable and broad-shouldered Australians and South Africans fully clad in national colours, transfixed by the outdated television teetering above the bar in an unstable metallic cradle, broadcasting live sports direct from murky time zones. The US and Dutch contingent vying for the loudest conversation award around a podium of barstools. The Englishmen in the corner nursing severely sunburnt skin by drinking themselves into the limp arms of paralysis and asking to borrow more aloe vera.
And then there’s the Irish Guy. Sitting. Perfectly content on his own, with an abstract Philip K. Dick novel splayed on his table, until he inevitably becomes the prophet of laughter in amongst the drunken haze. You’ll find him surrounded by a few fans he’s made with his jovial accent and comic timing repeating the history of the Blarney Stone with feigned abandon for the glaring irony.
I’m on an Irish passport, but my half-Zimbabwean, half-English accent is the first of many barriers stopping me from coming close to being that guy. The others include an almost fanatical knowledge of absurd facts, such as: the Earth has two moons, one of which is called Cruithne (which, according to British general knowledge show Q.I., is true). Or that ability to entrance entire hostels with random tales that turn fully grown adults into malleable, drunk children being tucked in with a bedtime story they’re more than happy to hear every night.
One of my ancestors fits the description: Buck Whaley. The son of a man nicknamed “Burn-Down” Whaley, who, according to the printed memoirs in my grandfather’s study, used to go around burning churches in Dublin. Buck sounds like the kind of guy that, if alive today, would be wooing travelers with tongue-foolery and carrying out sensationally stupid dares. In his memoirs he is said to have succeeded in two ridiculous travel- and drink-related things: to jump out of the first floor of a pub and land on a horse in exchange for a drink, and to walk from Dublin to Jerusalem (I know).
Traveling alone in Australia and South America, I met three such magnetic green beings. One was a weedy Frodo Baggins lookalike with a firing squad of quick-witted comments, a Kryptonite-coloured Irish soccer t-shirt, a first name that I swear was Paddy, and a surname that was equally stereotypical. The second was a young woman traveling alone on a bus from Buenos Aires to Rio, and the third was a national rugby player on the outskirts of the Brazilian capital, who took time off after a tour to travel alone, a dignifying core amidst overexcited travelers.
The Irish cause problems with few politically, and having one of their passports allows pretty smooth travel around the world. Maybe the Irish have a longstanding single-track approach to foreign policy, which is that all of its citizens must go abroad at least once and fly the flag for the Emerald Isle, drop knowledge bombs on how Guinness was created, wake up looking more spritely than other nationals, have pre-planned and superior comebacks to jibes about potatoes and leprechauns that intellectually wound would-be jokers, steal your women/men, and inexplicably charm you into laughing about it with them the next day.
Whatever it is, here’s to the Irish guy — your achievements haven’t gone unnoticed. You’re a notable fixture on the hostel landscape and a must-see on any traveler’s itinerary.
When was your last sighting of the Irish guy?