By Will Cook, Contributor
June / July 2004
Five phrases are all you’ll need to get along in this part of Ireland. If you learn to use them fluently you can hold your own in almost any conversation. Not only will they help to keep the patter flowing, they’ll also lend you an aura of wisdom that the natives will respect. Repeat after me:
Nothing strange in the world.
Ah, what harm?
There’s no panic on it.
And, finally, the all-important:
You wouldn’t know now, really.
That’s good, but try pulling your cheeks back a bit. It’s `wahrld’ and `haahrum.’ Draw it out. And remember, `really’ has three syllables: `ree – ah – lee,’ accent on the first. Very good. Don’t worry about how to use them. Their meanings are multiple and their applications flexible; it’s hard to make a mistake. Let’s begin:
1) When you meet someone, sidle up and ask, in a flat, declarative tone, “Nothing strange in the world…?” If they ask you first, respond with, “You wouldn’t know now, really.” It’s a kind of secret-password exchange, and either role you play will reflect your understanding that the Irish rural realm is fraught with dangers of an unspecific and possibly otherworldly nature. It’s similar to our “anything new?” with a paranoid twist. For emphasis, adopt a slightly defensive posture when you ask it; as if you suspect that those pesky leprechauns really might be listening.
2) Say, “Ah. I’m easy now,” whenever someone offers you a cup of tea. We’re not exactly sure if it means “yes thank you very much,” or “no way in hell,” but say it anyway. You’ll get your tea in any case. For obvious reasons, we suggest that you not use this phrase when you’re in a bar or if you’re on a date. Maybe later — when you’ve more experience.
3) When someone makes a simple mistake, say, “what harm?” Reflecting the laid-back Irish perspective on life, it is also to be used if you hear that an asteroid is going to devastate the earth tomorrow.
4) Use “there’s no panic on it” as an excuse for procrastination — yours or anyone else’s — or if it seems that the asteroid is only going to hit Australia.
5) “You wouldn’t know now, really,” is perhaps the most useful phrase in Ireland, where there is little rhyme nor reason for anything. It can be substituted for most of the responses above, or, indeed, slipped anywhere into a conversation. Its use will demonstrate your existential attitude, and can serve the additional practicality of covering your butt if you don’t know the answer to a question, or don’t want to air your opinions in public.
It was Thomas who taught us how to talk Tremane. He was one strict master, let me tell you, and he didn’t make things easy like I’m doing for you. He offered us no translations, spared us none of his impenetrable accent, and we were encouraged to learn to understand him solely because of his arrestingly magnetic peculiarity.
Dressed in a tattered coat that was much too small, with trousers secured in strategic places by safety pins, rope and rubber bands, Thomas materialized out of the mist one morning, walking his horse, Queen Maeve. We might have mistaken him for a normal farmer had it not been for the spectacular, enormous tea cozy he wore as a hat. Of an electric robin’s egg blue, thickly knitted and liberally festooned with twigs and moss, it struck us speechless as he sidled into range. “Momin’,” he said quietly, brushing a cobweb off his nose, “nothing strange in de world…?”
Needless to say, Thomas has become one of our most prized acquaintances, though regrettably, he lost the hat. The other day, he appeared in a new sailor’s watchcap, which he’d neglected to roll at the brim. It stood tall on his head — like Marge Simpson’s hair — and on top was a bouquet of fluttering tags.
“Thomas,” says Joanne — no longer reticent about pointing out how weird he is — “you left the price tags on.”
“What harm?” says he.
“So what happened to the tea cozy, anyway?”
“Ah, you wouldn’t know now, really”
“Tea?” she asks, gritting her teeth.
“There’s no panic on it.”
“Thomas! For crissake, do you want tea or not?”
“Ah, I’m easy now.” ♦