“She’s actually from Cork,” Random Irishman #1 indicated about the woman who had just sat down, “so she has that terrible accent. Show her your imitation of a Cork accent!”
Having urged many a foreigner to imitate an American accent before, I recounted a gentleman’s words to me in a park the previous day. The Random Irishmen rolled in laughter and the Random Irishwoman rolled her eyes.
Eager to get the attention off of my poor imitation of a Cork accent, I turned my attention to her silently smiling friend. “Where are you from?” I asked.
“Poland” she answered in her quiet voice.
“Oh really?” I brightened. “I’m actually a quarter Polish! My grandmother is from Poland.”
“What is it with you Americans?” Random Irishman #1 cut in with the urgency that alcohol induces. “You’re always obsessed with these fractions, as if it gives you some kind of credibility if you can say you are five-eighths Irish or something. What does that even mean anyway?”
“I was just making conversation,” I said innocently, taking another swig of my Beamish, “finding some commonality to draw her into the conversation. What should I have said?”
“Just say, ‘Oh really? My grandmother is Polish.’ You are American. No one cares about the fraction.”
* * *
The next day, when my previous conversation with a bookstore owner on Wednesday led to dinner with an English/Canadian/American family on Thursday which led to hanging out with a French woman on Friday who passed me off on her French-African friend who was in the process of passing me off on her native-Cork Irish friend, I was given the chance to redeem myself.
The native-Cork man who seemed to know the whole city stopped and gave a young woman a hug. He introduced us, and included our nationalities in the introduction. “She’s Polish,” he said of his friend.
“Oh really?” I interjected with an eagerness to learn from my cross-cultural mistakes. “My grandmother is Polish.”
“Oh, that’s great!” the Polish woman said with apparent delight. “If your grandmother is Polish, that means you’re part Polish too, right?”
* * *
There’s a lesson out there, I’m sure. It has to do with learning from mistakes, but holding the lessons lightly. It has to do with listening to people who tell you you are wrong, but not as if they are the absolute right. It has to do with recognizing your errors but not taking them too seriously.
There are too many people in the world for me to turn the pet peeve of two drunk Irishmen in a pub as a general rule of thumb for my interactions with humanity.