Martin Kreklau in Dublin
Rage against the machine
The Irish are far less confrontational than the Germans. In fact, they usually go out of their way to avoid conflict, especially of the verbal variety. If you have to argue a point with an Irishman, his reluctance to engage in a dispute will be plain to see. In Germany, if you are in the supermarket, for example, and taking a little longer than usual to feed your empty bottles into the machine that refunds the deposit, you can be quite sure someone else in the queue will make disparaging remarks. In Ireland, that would be unthinkable. On the contrary, someone would probably come up to you and explain that it doesn’t work if you put the bottles in neck first, and that’s why the machine is making that alarm noise. This willingness to help others is a very endearing quality in the Irish – though it can strike a German as bordering on the absurd.
The new check-out system in Irish supermarkets is a good example. In Germany we are still used to a bored-looking woman scanning our shopping at the till; in Ireland this person has largely vanished, to be replaced by a machine that invites you, in a friendly female voice, to ‘Please scan your items’. There is usually one bored real-life check-out girl left, for the old folk whose counterparts in Germany are the ones who put bottles into the deposit refund machine the wrong way round. I have to admit that I went to the oldies’ check-out first, for fear of making a fool of myself – which I duly did when I finally decided to give the new technology a go.
I stood at the machine and hadn’t a clue what to do. The supermarket was full of lunch-time shoppers – it would be full just when you decide to try something like this, wouldn’t it? I obey the friendly voice and scan my first item. There’s a beep, and the price appears on the screen. ‘Ha!’ I say to myself, ‘I’m not so stupid after all’. I scanned the second item, but that’s where I ran into trouble: no matter what way I positioned the item on the scanner, the price wouldn’t show up on the display. Panic took hold in direct proportion to the length of the queue behind me. At this point a young woman took pity on me, pressed ‘Cancel’, and showed me how the machine worked. First you put all your shopping down on the left of the machine. Then you scan the individual items, and put them down on the right. Built-in weighing scales check the item you’ve just scanned. Otherwise you could scan a packet of biscuits but take a bottle of wine. When you’ve scanned everything, press ‘Finish & Pay’ on the touch screen, feed in the money, take your change and your shopping. Simple as that.
I smiled, thanked her, and we said goodbye. If this scene had played out in Germany, I would probably have heard people muttering ‘Some people don’t even know how to shop!’ or ‘How long can it take to buy three items?’ There are several advantages to the Irish approach: 1. You can have a chat (very important in Ireland); 2. You feel good because you’ve helped someone else; and 3. You finish your own shopping faster because by showing the slow-coach how it’s done, you finally get rid of him. Maybe the Germans should take a Goethe maxim to heart,
‘Der Rettende fasst an und klügelt nicht’ ('The Rescuer must act, not reason fine.’)
Never Mess with Dublin Bus
There is more luck than logic to getting around by bus in Dublin. Whether – or when – a bus comes seems to have less to do with its schedule than with the bus driver’s mood. And in the mornings, that mood is, in a word, bad. The root of the problem is that Irish bus drivers prefer driving to stopping. So it annoys them when anyone wants to get on or off, as this clearly interrupts the ‘flow’. Since people clearly get on and off buses rather a lot, you can imagine how many times a day a Dublin bus driver gets annoyed. If he has reached the end of his tether, he is even capable of skipping bus stops or changing his route.
This morning I took a chance on a bus which I thought should take me in the right general direction. I hopped on and asked the driver politely ‘Do you go via Merrion Square?’ The driver casually replied ‘No!’ as the doors closed behind me, and drove off. When he noticed my somewhat irritated expression, he just said ‘Get off at the next stop!’ The fact that this wasn’t remotely in my direction didn’t seem to bother him. He just wanted to drive, not waste half a lifetime at a bus stop explaining to someone that he didn’t go to Merrion Square. Right?
After I’d walked all the way back to the right bus stop, the right bus soon came along and I was – so to speak – on the right track. I made myself comfortable upstairs on the double-decker, right at the front, with a prime view of the early morning bustle. While stopping at a traffic light on O’Connell Street I witnessed a close encounter between man and bus. The light had just turned green for the bus, but there was a young guy sauntering across the street regardless. A take-away coffee in one hand, a croissant in the other, the track-suited guy (who didn’t look remotely like he’d been jogging) continued at a deliberately unhurried pace and threw the bus driver a look that seemed to say ‘Ha! I’m so cool and you’ll have to wait until I’ve crossed the road because you can’t just run me over!’ Well. He obviously hadn’t reckoned with the bus driver, who put the boot down and charged straight at him. Mr Cool obviously decided ‘Er…I might be pushing it a bit’ and speeded up a little – though without losing the cool demeanour. The bus driver blasted the horn as he drove past, almost grazing Mr Cool’s back and giving him such a fright that he spilled hot coffee all over his grey tracksuit.
I couldn’t see the bus driver’s face but I’m sure it was covered from ear to ear in a triumphant ‘Gotcha’ grin. It’s at times like this that the Dublin bus driver smugly says to himself, ‘Never mess with Dublin Bus!’ Incidentally, passengers here always thank the driver when they are getting off the bus. This says less about Irish politeness than it does about bus-driving in Dublin, for the gesture really means ‘Thank you for getting me here in one piece, in spite of everything.’ As far as punctuality is concerned, recent attempts to install electronic timetable displays at bus stops could almost be described as ‘cute’. These displays are meant to tell you which Dublin Bus is due at your stop next. But as we already know, the timetable is in the driver’s hands, so you can still spend a lot of time in joyful anticipation. The display says your bus will be there in 13 minutes; 10 minutes; 5 minutes. Then it’s due in 2 minutes – until it suddenly vanishes off the electronic display and doesn’t appear at all.
I thanked the bus driver anyway and was about to congratulate him on his glorious victory. But he’d already driven off.
The abbreviation for Dublin Bus is, of course, DB. I sometimes wonder whether there is a jinx on that particular abbreviation: Deutsche Bahn (DB) isn’t exactly associated with reliability these days either, is it?
Eye of the Storm
The weekend is approaching, and with it a low pressure weather system. The sun has been blazing all week while people have been sweltering in their offices, but as soon as time off beckons, along come the wind and rain with a vengeance. At this point I must correct a common misconception about the Irish weather once and for all: It does not rain all the time; it rains most of the time.
It is interesting to observe how different demographic groups in Dublin respond to the fickle weather. Group 1: the tourists. Common-or-garden tourists are easily identified by their showerproof jackets, rucksacks, cameras slung over shoulders, and the way they pore over their maps while waiting for the pedestrian light to change (something the Irish never do). Their reactions to the weather vary according to their country of origin. German tourists, generally speaking, are not bothered by the fairly frequent mist and drizzle (a.k.a. ‘soft rain’). They get plenty of this at home, after all. Not so the tourist from more Mediterranean climes, e.g. the Spanish or Italians. As soon as the first raindrop lands on their otherwise sun-kissed noses, out comes the umbrella. This often leads to an entertaining performance involving man versus nature, for most of the southern Europeans visitors haven’t reckoned with the Irish wind factor. Their umbrellas are likely to be blown inside out or shut again as quickly as they are opened. And so the poor tourists often get wetter trying to protect themselves from the ‘soft rain’ than if they just had kept walking and ignored it.
Group 2: The natives. The Irish are, naturally, well used to their weather, and they have plenty of wisecracks to prove it: ‘The only thing you can predict about the Irish weather is that it’ll change’, or Question: ‘How was the summer in Ireland?' Answer: 'I think it was on a Thursday.’ In effect, this means that the average Irish man or woman won’t put on a hat unless it’s bucketing rain or take shelter unless it’s positively torrential. And no one takes any notice of the wind unless there’s a hurricane warning. Wind isn’t really considered wind if it wouldn’t blow slates off a roof. So, while the poor tourists battle with the wind and their umbrellas, the Irish are completely unruffled. Their reaction to sunshine is radically different, however. No sooner has the sun even thought of penetrating the usual layer of dense cloud than the Irish start stripping off, as if in reflex action. Once the temperature has reached 12 degrees or higher, the women suddenly appear in the tiniest of mini-skirts, the shortest of shorts, and flip-flops; the men in shorts, t-shirts and sandals. No one would dream of wearing tights or socks in such heat…
Translated by Rachel McNicholl
Martin Kreklau was born in 1986. He studied German literature, journalism and ethnology. Following his internship with the Goethe-Institut in Dublin he is currently working for a major media group in northern Bavaria.