The Irish Complaints

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Puffed up Irish pigeon, St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, on a cold April day

I’m just back from a week in Ireland. The brogue is still in my ears, and this morning’s gentle rain and greening lawns remind me of the island I left yesterday. I’m in that jet-lagged head-space, neither here nor there and moving around in a kind of daze. With that in mind, I’ll share a few impressions and ask you a question at the end.

Our group of 45 American tourists traveled by bus from Galway to Dublin, viewing a wide range of landscapes and getting a taste of the history, the people, and the charming pubs, snug and cozy in the April chill. Our first three days were sunny, with temps in the low 60s. “It’s like this all the time here,” said a young barkeep with a wink that made me smile.

I come from a culture notorious for complaining, often with good reason. Polish people had it tough in the old days with all those Cossacks invading and now it’s stuck in our DNA. And let’s face it, Americans have taken up the cause in recent years. It was a nice break to get away from CNN and MSNBC. I marveled at the cheerfulness of the Irish people, friendly and laughing despite the gloomy weather.

And I wondered about Americans, the ones on our trip, and the ones I encounter in my daily life. Me too, of course, for I’m a complainer raised by complainers, and I struggle to rid myself of the habit, not with a faked rosy outlook but by re-framing.

My husband would surely say I saved my negative comments for his ears alone, but I really noticed, this past week, how many little things people turn into catastrophe. One lady “hated” the breakfast at our hotel. Another “couldn’t stand” the heat in the dining room. Two people at dinner said the Polish people collaborated with the Nazis, the proof being “all the camps were there” and the world was a mess because of “radical Muslims.” My husband and I politely disagreed, but they weren’t really listening. The service was slow, the waitress “didn’t need or deserve” a tip. Can you imagine the look I got when I tipped her anyway?

Our flight home was cancelled, and we found out at 5 a.m. in the hotel lobby, with suitcases gathered around. Worst-case scenarios spread but, in the end, we were rescheduled on a flight that brought us home just three hours later than planned. I watched two good movies on the plane and had a nice long nap.

The line at immigration in Newark was long, so more doom-saying ensued. “Have you ever seen it like this?” “This is ridiculous!” Etc. Etc. Etc. In fact, we were only in line for 20 minutes or so. Not bad for re-entering a country where we aren’t refugees and have good homes, our own cars to drive there, and people we love waiting for us.

Yes, this blog post has been a big complaint about complaining. I haven’t changed, but I did try to re-frame. Or, writer that I am, rewrite!

How do you handle negative experiences? Tell us your tips in the comments section and you’ll be in the drawing to win a signed copy of The Gardener by Seamus Dunne. This paperback was a happy discovery at Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop in Galway. It’s a perennially relevant novel about a former German soldier living in Ireland and how he handles his town’s reaction to a band of gypsies.

This month’s winner of the anthology containing my story, “Dinner for Five,” The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory, is Bobbi Smisko. Congratulations, Bobbi and thanks for your comment last month!

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