Friday, June 18, 2010

The Irish work ethic

“Is this a good time?” I asked when I arrived at the priory. It was indeed the time we had arranged for me to come help preparing the apartment upstairs for the arrival of guests the next day, but I’m always a bit self-conscious about being on time in Ireland.

“Yes, it’s a perfect time,” Fr Padraic said as he welcomed me inside. “I was just about to smoke a cigarette; would you like to join me in the back?” Since he had been a bit overwhelmed with the amount of work that needed to happen that day (thus my offer to help), I assumed it would be a quick break.

I had yet to learn about the Irish work ethic.

Fr Padraic smoked a cigarette as he checked on the plumbing work being done out back. Then he invited me back inside for tea.

Ready for the mountain of tasks for the day, he went to the office to put some finishing touches on his dissertation he was about to get bound. Then he smoked another cigarette.

Dissertation in hand, we walked to the binders, only to discover upon arrival that the title page had a smudge. We returned to the priory to print out another title page. Then he smoked another cigarette.

We returned to the binders with the new page in hand, and stopped at a department store on the way back to pick up a dresser. Tired from carrying the load, he checked on the plumbers again, smoking another cigarette amid his amicable Irish banter with the laborers. Then we went to a cafe for tea and biscuits.

Then he smoked another cigarette, musing over the great amount of work we had already accomplished, and how much help I had been.

Finally, sometime after noon we got to the main task of the day and walked to Tesco to buy dishes and cutlery for the apartment. Now that I finally had a task that felt useful, I began washing the newly purchased dishes and cleaning out the mysterious collection of entirely random objects that had accumulated in the unused kitchen. Before I had got very far, Fr Padraic interrupted me for lunch. It was a light lunch, but included gin-and-tonic and more cigarettes.

Fortunately after lunch I managed to work quickly enough to finish the kitchen and help Fr Padraic select some curtains online for one of the bedrooms. Then it was time for another cigarette.

As the day waned, we walked to the store to buy the curtains. Upon our return, Fr Padraic bumped into some people he knew and invited them in for tea. By the time that was over, thoroughly exhausted from the day’s tasks, Fr Padraic thanked me for my invaluable help and escorted me to the door. “What a lot of work we’ve got done today!” he exclaimed with all sincerity as I left the priory.

Of course, jokes about the work day with Fr Padraic aside, I know that Ireland has had more than its fair share of brutalizing labor inflicted upon it over the years, so I do not actually intend to imply that the Irish are lazy. From what I can tell, the Irish seem to work as hard as they need to (though there are many places where the Irish and Americans would quibble over the definition of “need”), but no more than that. If they don’t need to work as hard, they don’t; and when they can relax (and enjoy a cigarette), they absolutely do.

It may look lazy to an American entrepreneur, but there is something profoundly healing to me about a work ethic that strives for nothing more than the day’s tasks, that does not try to get 25 hours out of a day nor would work the full 24. Pitfalls of the Irish economy aside for now, there is much for me to learn from it.

“Give us this day our daily bread,” we pray, and ask nothing more. “Give us this day our daily tasks,” the Irish might also pray, and expect nothing more. Fr. Padraic accomplished what his Tuesday demanded, and nothing more. I’m sure he went to bed feeling content... after he smoked another cigarette.

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