The Art of Irish Diplomacy


Irish diplomacy: the ability to tell a man to go to hell so that he looks forward to making the trip.

~Irish folk saying

I’m not Irish (well, not by blood) but it seems my dear Mom’s Gaelic side of the family rubbed off on me after all. At one point my late, cantankerous grandfather proudly displayed a plate with the Irish Diplomacy quote on it. I never really knew what it meant until I was older and had held a string of customer-oriented jobs.

Irish diplomacy is just that: giving hard truths with a smile and a wink. It’s hard to do unless you’ve learned it properly.

I never was much one for pleasantries and niceties. It’s difficult with autism, for sure, because my ability to read body language and nonverbal cues is almost nonexistent. I can’t tell whether most people want to kiss me or kill me. Thankfully I’ve become pretty good at guessing. Most of my customers have gotten to know me; they know I like predictability and adherence to the rules. As long as I get that I’m as sweet and kind as Julie Andrews.

It’s the ones who don’t offer predictability (read: most of my patrons) who cause all the trouble. It’s hard to be diplomatic when you’re surrounded by drunks, loud phone talkers, and people who think the library is an appropriate place for fried chicken and Chef Boyardee. I’ve negotiated, I’ve gently chided, I’ve rebuked…and I know I’m fighting a losing battle, like some tiny skiff in the face of an approaching tsunami. Still, I fight, because I must for the sake of my Aspie nature. I may not get law and order, but I can try my best.

And the funniest thing is, I’ve gotten a lot better at Irish Diplomacy as I’ve gotten older. I’m more fearless about proverbially telling people to go to hell. Today, for example, my Creepy Stalker Guy (every library worker I know has one) finally crossed the line and followed me across the street to my lunch spot. This is not just a no-no; this is an absolute taboo for me. So I told him as much. I laid it out in plain English and even made eye contact, which, if an Aspie does it, usually means business. I walked away and left the guy in mid-gibber.

Yes, I have to take the gloves off once in a while. I strive to be courteous and, as much as possible, kind in my role as a public servant. I never forget that my job is a great privilege and that I am providing a needed service. However, my job description does not list “sex object” or “good-time Charlie” as far as I know. I have to draw appropriate boundaries and I think I’ve done that. Part of it is age, and part of it is knowing about my funny little autism triggers.

I’m just glad I learned the art of Irish diplomacy instead of Irish bar brawling. Not only would it be hard on my face, but I doubt my job prospects would be so bright.

How have you ever had to use “Irish diplomacy?” Any funny stories to tell?

P&Q’s World Series prediction: Tigers in 7 (despite their early shortfall, I have faith.)

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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on October 24, 2012.

3 Responses to “The Art of Irish Diplomacy”

  1. Diplomacy for me ends when someone thinks they can use me and get away with it. Especially when an employer or anyone else thinks pushing my buttons is a good pastime.

  2. Someone once asked me to look something up that would have taken them approximately ten seconds of googling.

    “Sure, no problem, I’ll find it. If only there was a global information network we could use…”

  3. I have gotten waaaaaaay more tolerant as I have gotten older. I have a pillow with that saying on it. I am a McCartan after all!

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