Taxi drivers the world over are usually gregarious and interested in people (it’s more or less a job requirement). I even met one, years ago in the US, who told me he was driving a taxi to gather stories for a novel he wanted to write.
I’ve just made a flying (in all senses of the word) visit to Dublin, which required four or five taxi rides between airport, hotel, and office, so I had ample opportunity to learn that Irish taxi drivers are more garrulous than most, and wise and funny with it.
The first one, who took me from the airport to the Sun offices the day I arrived, upon learning that this was my first visit to Ireland (yes, tick another “country beginning with I” off the list), told me:
“There are two things you should never do in Ireland: never touch another person’s beer at the pub – that’s sacrilege – and never call an Irishman an Englishman.”
He then reeled off a list of “stupid questions you should never ask,” attributing most of them to Texan tourists:
- “That’s a beautiful castle, but why did they build it so close to the motorway?” (A real Texan probably said “highway”, not “motorway”.)
- “Why is the grass so green here?” – Answer: “We paint it for the tourists.”
- “When will I see a leprechaun?” – Answer: “After your 14th pint of Guinness.”
After giving someone else on the road a piece of his mind, this driver also explained to me that the Irish swear a lot.
“But it’s not necessarily bad. If someone tells you to fuck off, that’s bad. But if a man at the pub asks a woman ‘Do you want to fuck off with me?’, that’s a compliment.”
Of course everyone’s talking about the global economic crisis. Another driver told me: “The economists say it’ll be the worst off we’ve ever been. But that’s only relative. This was a very poor country 10-15 years ago.”
He grew up in a family of nine children, whose sheer number entitled the family to a “medical” card. This meant that, when their father’s weekly paycheck ran out on Thursday, the driver (the oldest boy in the family) would take his mother’s shopping trolley to the “stew house” where he was given a big pot of stew and one of rice to tide the family over until payday (Saturday). “I had two older sisters, but they were ashamed to be seen going to the stew house.”
“Now I own a four-bedroom villa in Torquay, as well as the house I live in here [in Dublin]. If I have to sell the villa because of the crisis, how badly off am I, really? I hate to say it, but maybe this crisis will teach people to tighten their belts. We’ve all become too greedy.”