A Look at Irish Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette
Facts and Statistics
Location: Western Europe, occupying five-sixths of the island of Ireland in the North Atlantic Ocean, west of Great Britain
Climate: temperate maritime; modified by North Atlantic Current; mild winters, cool summers; consistently humid; overcast about half the time
Population: 4,832,765 (est. 2014)
Ethnic Make-up: Irish 87.4%, other white 7.5%, Asian 1.3%, black 1.1%, mixed 1.1%, unspecified 1.6% (2006 census)
Religions: Roman Catholic 87.4%, Church of Ireland 2.9%, other Christian 1.9%, other 2.1%, unspecified 1.5%, none 4.2% (2006 census)
Government: republic, parliamentary democracy
Language in Ireland
Irish (Gaelic or Irish Gaelic) is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family, originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish. Irish is now spoken natively by a small minority of the Irish population – mostly in Gaeltacht areas – but also plays an important symbolic role in the life of the Irish state. It enjoys constitutional status as the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland and it is an official language of the European Union.
Irish Society and Culture
The Catholic Church
Most people in the country are Roman Catholic. Until the early 1990s the church had a very strong voice in society as well as politics. Their role however has diminished. There is now something of a generational divide with people over 50 still being quite observant and conservative in their views. Religion still very much has a say in society’s view of family, marriage, and abortion.
The extended family is still very much the dominant social structure although urbanisation is having an impact. Even when family members do move to the cities you will often find their ties to “home” are still very strong.
The Irish have a reputation for their wit and humour – which they call having ‘the craic’ [pronounced crack]. As well as quick tongued with jokes they also make eloquent and witty speakers. They pride themselves on being able to find humour and it is often self-deprecating or ironic. It is common for the Irish to trade insults and tease one another (called “slagging”) with people to whom they are close. If you are teased, it is important to take it well and not see it as personal. They have a rich history in storytelling which was used to pass information down through the generations (poems and songs also served the same purpose).
Etiquette and Customs in Ireland
- The basic greeting is a handshake and a hello or salutation appropriate for the time of day.
- Eye contact denotes trust and is maintained during a greeting.
- It is customary to shake hands with older children.
- Greetings tend to be warm and friendly and often turn into conversations.
Gift Giving Etiquette
- In general, the Irish exchange gifts on birthdays and Christmas.
- A gift need not be expensive. It is generally thought in giving something personal that counts.
- If giving flowers, do not give lilies as they are used at religious festivities. Do not give white flowers as they are used at funerals.
- Gifts are usually opened when received.
Visiting a Home
- If you are invited to an Irish home be on time (chances are food has been cooked and being late could spoil it)
- Bring a box of good chocolates, a good bottle of wine for to the host.
- Offer to help with clearing the dishes after a meal.
- Table manners are relatively relaxed and informal.
- The more formal the occasion, the stricter the protocol. When in doubt, watch what others are doing.
- Table manners are Continental, i.e. the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.
- Do not rest your elbows on the table, although your hands should remain visible and not be in your lap.
Business Etiquette and Protocol in Ireland
Meeting and Greeting
- Irish businesspeople are generally less formal and more outwardly friendly than in many European countries.
- Shake hands with everyone at the meeting.
- Handshakes should be firm and confident.
- Shake hands at the beginning and end of meetings.
- Make sure to smile!
- The Irish are generally rather casual and quickly move to first names.
- Business cards are exchanged after the initial introductions without formal ritual.
- Many businesspeople do not have business cards, so you should not be offended if you are not offered one in return.
The Irish have turned speaking into an art form. Their tendency to be lyrical and poetic has resulted in a verbal eloquence. They use stories and anecdotes to relay information and value a well-crafted message. How you speak says a lot about you in Ireland.
The Irish appreciate modesty and can be suspicious of people who are loud and tend to brag. They dislike a superiority complex of any sort. So, for example, when discussing your professional achievements it is best to casually insert the information in short snippets during several conversations rather than embarking on a long self-centred outline of your successes.
Communication styles vary from direct to indirect depending upon who is being spoken to. There is an overall cultural tendency for people to view politeness as more important than telling the absolute truth. This means that you may not easily receive a negative response. When you are being spoken to, listen closely. A great deal may be implied, beyond what is actually being said. For example, if someone becomes silent before agreeing, they have probably said “no”. They may also give a non-committal response. This may be due to the fact that the Gaelic language does not have words for “yes” or “no”. There is a tendency to use understatement or indirect communication rather than say something that might be contentious.
Generally speaking they do not like confrontation and prefer to avoid conflict, which they attempt to avoid by being humorous and showing good manners.
Company or organisational cultures differ widely in Ireland. As a result you may find meetings vary in their approach and substance. In one setting the purpose of a meeting is to relay information on decisions that have already been made, whereas in another it may be the time to get feedback and input.
Following on from this, meetings may be structured or unstructured. In most cases they will be relaxed. It is customary to have a period of small talk before the actual meeting which is when a rapport is built to take forward into the meeting.
Meetings may occur in several venues, not merely the office. It is quite common to conduct a business meeting in a restaurant or pub. This allows all participants to be on equal footing.
Expect a great deal of discussion at meetings. Everyone is expected to participate and they do, often at great length. The Irish like to engage in verbal banter and pride themselves on being able to view a problem from every angle.