by Robert Seutter, contributing writer (who is not Irish, but has been hanging with Celts for a long time as a traditional Celtic storyteller.)
The term “Plastic Paddy” is sometimes used for:
- Folks who only celebrate their Irish heritage one day a year.
- People who are actually native born Irish who forget their nationality in England.
- Someone who buys land in Ireland and is now ancient with Irish culture.
- Someone who can’t find Ireland on a map, and has no knowledge of modern Ireland or its actual history (good and bad).
10 Handy Tips to Avoid being a Plastic Paddy on St. Patrick’s Day
- Don’t say “St. Patty’s.” Say “St. Paddy’s” if you must, but generally, it’s more respectful if you say the whole thing: “Saint Patrick’s Day.”
- Forgo the “Kiss me, I’m Irish” plastic beer mug with antennae and shamrock glasses. Or at least wait until you are completely: “elephants,” “flaming,” “gee-eyed,” “locked,” “sloshed,” “steamboats,” “scuttered,” “paralytic,” “ossified,” “plastered,” “bollixed,” “fluthered,” “langered,” “petrified,” while “on the lash, on a piss up, drunk off one’s face.”
- Contrary to popular belief, the Irish themselves don’t wear a lot of kelly green, and never say “bejabbers” or “begorrah.” That’s Hollywood faux-Irish and a dead give-away. Well that, and your average American is about 50 lbs heavier than your average native Irish person.
- Ireland is the land of music. It is the only country in the world with a musical instrument as its national symbol—that would be the Trinity College Harp, also known as the Brion Boru or O’Neill Harp—both on the flag and on the Guinness bottle. There are tons of excellent rock bands that originated in Ireland (U2, the Pogues, and hundreds more). But if you go into the pubs and see a seisuin (session or sesh) traditional music jam going on, it helps to know the tunes. And for that you need to give a listen to the disciples: The Chieftains, The Clancy Brothers with Tommy Maken, and Van Morrison.
- If you are person of Irish-American descent, please refrain from talking about the IRA, or Orange vs. Green, as if it’s your fight. You really don’t want to get involved. Really. Remember, tens of thousands died, and the peace agreement was only 20 years ago.
- Irish food. Every year, people drag out the corned beef and cabbage, plus potatoes, which is decent enough. Except you should know that corned beef isn’t really traditional Irish cuisine. When the Irish lived in the slums of New York they borrowed corned beef from their Jewish neighbors, and it became a tradition here in the U.S. for the American-Irish. Potatoes are a mixed blessing. While Irish potatoes are delicious, the potato itself is sort of a poster child for the great potato famine. Potatoes originated in South America and were forced on the Irish as a sustenance crop. The breed chosen was not well adapted to wet and soggy climates. And when the blight came, millions starved. But aside from that depressing note, Ireland is now justly famous for their dairy with famous butter and cheese, plus award-winning salmon, beef, and pork. If you get a chance, try some traditional and new Irish recipes. I heartily recommend colcannon (a mashed potato recipe), homemade Irish soda bread, boxty (an Irish potato pancake), and many of the stews and soups.
- There are other days besides March 17th on which to explore your Celtic heritage! St.Patrick’s Day was mainly a quiet, religious holiday in Ireland until the American Irish of New York, Boston, and Chicago decided to make a big deal of it. Strangely enough, now it’s becoming a bigger deal in Ireland and more of a party, especially when the tourists are around. By the way, most major cities have Celtic cultural centers and events. You can catch a seisuin, learn some Irish (Gaelic), and have some fun dancing as well.
- If you want to try an accent, don’t go with the leprechaun “ay-tadai-tadai.” Hollywood Irish is painful to anyone who knows what the Irish actually sound like, which is quite varied. An ancient culture, the Irish have a wide variety of accents, and the Dublin accent is what most of us associate with a modern accent. I would recommend some real Irish movies: “The Commitments,” “Waking Ned Devine,” “The Guard,” “Snapper,” and “The Wind that Shakes the Barley.” For accents, avoid any movie with American lead actors in general. Oh, and be prepared to swear colorfully.
- “Blarney, blarney, blarney….” is actually an historical phrase from Queen Elizabeth, after being frustrated with the eloquence of Lord McCarthy from Blarney. The Irish consider language an art, and being entertaining, witty, and able to share a story is part of the Irish culture. So much so, that some of the greatest of writers and speakers like Swift, Yeats, T.S. Eliot, and many more come from Ireland. And so there is a fast moving stream of phrases and slang at Irish gatherings: “God used him as a blueprint for gobshites,” “Any friend of yours is a friend of yours,” “Her looks improve with distance,” and “seachain an duine a bhionn ina thost,” which means “beware a person of few words.” If you can’t keep up, just smile and buy another round.
- Respect. There is no other culture in America that allows itself to be characterized as drunken, violent louts. Or embraces the idea that, “on this day, everyone is one of us.” Some of the cartoons you see of the Irish actually have some fairly racist lineage. And the phrase “luck of the Irish” doesn’t tell you that for a very long time, it was truly awful, horrible luck. Ireland has a young, active, and vibrant population, neither saintly nor perfect. They love visiting here, and don’t really care that your mother on her father’s side is a Murphy, Lynch, O’Neill, etc. But if you show respect for modern Ireland, a bit of knowledge about the culture, and willingness to buy a round and listen, you’ll go a long way towards not being a Plastic Paddy.
Robert Seutter is a graduate of USC’s Navy-Marine Cinema Program; a professional storyteller, known as True Thomas; a sci-fi novelist; a scholar of folklore, myth, and legend; a proud geek and a gamer since D-20 dice were carved from mastodon bones!