‘Sorry – we’re just not assertive’

We Irish are too polite for our own good sometimes.

One example – apologising where it is unnecessary .

We say ‘sorry, excuse me, can I just get past there’ when Excuse Me is just fine.

We say ‘I’m sorry, but do you know if that seat is taken’ when others would just plain sit down.

And we are famous for telling the waiter everything is ‘lovely, fine’ before going on to complain bitterly to our dining partner or family at home about the food, service, price etc.

Why can’t we be more assertive?

I was at a meeting a while ago. Cite centre location, evening time, in a hotel. A crowded room full of strangers. When the meeting ended, as everyone was shuffling to get their bags and belongings together, one woman stands up and cries out, to everyone and no-one;


There was a visible scattering back of the crowd, with some people looking shocked and offended. Others were standing agog at the sheer assertiveness of it all. A lift! It’s not like she asked for the price of a taxi or a lend of a car. I wasn’t driving on this occasion, but didn’t see anyone else approach her before I left.

Now apart from her heavily accented English, it goes without saying that this woman was not Irish. Could you ever imagine an Irish person asking for a lift in this way?

For starters, an Irish person wouldn’t ask at all unless they had a broken leg/more than ten miles to walk/there was a blizzard chucking it down/all of the above.

Then even if we did ask, it would be in our sidling, whispering, apologetic manner, ‘ I’m really sorry to ask, but is there any chance, if you don’t mind…’ etc etc.

Most probably in this woman’s native culture/society, this is just how you ask for something. Why does assertiveness offend us in this way? Why do we take umbrage – just because it’s not ‘our’ way of doing things?

We have a long way to go before we can call ourselves a multicultural society. Councillor Darren Scully and the brigade of disturbing online support he received – ably, sadly demonstrate this.


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