While an Irish lifestyle is typically very social and relaxed, an understanding of Irish social norms and expectations is always important when visiting a foreign country, especially for the first time. Here is a list of the dos and don’ts, and other useful tips when traveling to the Emerald Isle.
Greeting in Ireland: Offer a Hand
Many Europeans, the Irish included, enjoy a kiss on both cheeks as a greeting for intimate acquaintances, relatives, and close friends. However, when meeting an Irish person for the first time, offer your hand for a polite handshake. In more rural areas, you will often be greeted with a wave and a “how ya?” by strangers on the street, while in Dublin and Belfast, such friendliness is usually reserved for acquaintances and friends. If, however, you are the one to lift your hand in greeting, you can more than likely expect a friendly wave in return anywhere in Ireland.
Learn to “Slag”
Don’t be offended if people gently make fun of you. Irish “slagging” is part of the culture, and the more someone likes you, the more insults you should expect. The Irish are very self-deprecating, so it makes sense that they would extend that same good-natured mistreatment to people they like!
Irish Conversation: Be Social
People are considered very chatty in Ireland, so don’t be surprised if you are often engaged in chitchat. If you seem even remotely friendly, a local is likely to chat with you about one of these always appropriate topics:
- The weather: “Fine day for a stroll, but och, the wind is chilly, though.”
- If you’re a local or there on holiday: As a visitor to Ireland, you might think you’re only asked if you’re one holiday because you stick out like a sore Yankee thumb, but the truth is, it’s common on the island to ask this of anyone one hasn’t seen around before.
- Your hometown: Once a local has ascertained that you ARE visiting from a far-off land, she will likely ask you all about where home is. The natural curiosity of the Irish makes them delightful, generous partners in conversation.
In this tactile society, people often touch each other in conversation or hug one another. Personal space is not as big a priority here, and informal personal interactions are simply part of Ireland’s easy going national identity.
Irish Pub Etiquette
The quickest way to make new friends in Ireland is to buy a round. When drinking with a group, each person buys a round for his or her companions. When it is your turn, follow proper protocol and DON’T SKIP YOUR ROUND. Your new friends will probably not prompt you, but when it’s your turn, be swift with the pints to keep your night going well.
Speaking of pints, when ordering Guinness, don’t expect to be handed your glass instantly. Guinness is poured in two stages in order to allow the foam to settle properly, and there is a 60-second pause between the first and second stage. Your pints will likely be half poured, then left for a few moments, then finished and delivered to you. Don’t ever try to rush the process or hound the bartender. Perfection takes time.
Finally, a vital piece of etiquette for guests who don’t want to return home with a souvenir black eye: one of the quickest way to lose friends, and perhaps start a painfully authentic brawl, is to take somebody’s chair. A rare commodity in a crowded pub, if you see an empty seat, politely ask the people around it if the stool is occupied, or if you can use it.
Be Prepared for Rain
Waterproof clothing and umbrellas are not just a good suggestion, they are a must for an Irish holiday. It never gets unbearably cold, but Ireland does get significant rain year-round—especially from September through February. The weather is unpredictable, and can shift very quickly, so stay prepared with rain gear on hand even when the forecast is good.
Irish Dinner: To Chat or Not to Chat
Typically, meals enjoyed at a counter are very social, and you are likely to be engaged in conversation by many other diners. However, if you take your drinks or food at a quiet corner table, you are more than likely be left alone.
Tips about Tipping in Ireland
Wait staff do not rely on tips, but do appreciate a little something extra for exceptional service. Most sit-down restaurants will apply a service charge that accounts for the tip, but an added 10-15% is a good rule of thumb for superior care. No tips are expected when you order at the counter and pick your food up yourself, or when you order take out.
Tipping in Pubs
While table staff are often given a few pounds for outstanding service, barkeeps behind the counter at the pub do not expect to be tipped. Because Irish wait staff are paid a wage they can live on, rather than in the US where service people are paid below minimum wage and rely on tips to survive, nobody in Ireland expects a tip for the simple act of standing behind the bar and pulling pints.
What the Blank?
Visitors are often taken aback by how much the Irish swear. It’s a cultural norm, and it is not meant to shock or be aggressive. If the colorful language makes you uncomfortable, your best bet is to simply ignore it and accept the prevalence of swear words as a regional quirk.
Don’t Mention Leprechauns
You may think it’s wildly amusing to ask about the legendary little people, but the Irish find it quite stereotypical and annoying. You should also avoid other Irish clichés like wearing bright green bowlers and telling anyone “top of the morning,” especially before they've had their coffee.
Don’t Order an “Irish Car Bomb”
Popular in American bars, the Irish Car Bomb is a cocktail made with three classically Irish ingredients—Guinness, Irish whiskey, and Irish cream. Its extremely offensive name originates from the many car bombings that occurred during the Troubles—a violent conflict between Northern Ireland’s Protestants and Catholics during the second half of the 20th century—and is very disrespectful in Ireland.
Book Your Own Ireland Vacation
Explore the Emerald Isle on YMT Vacations’ Best of Ireland Tour. The 12-day itinerary takes you throughout the country from the Ring of Kerry and Giant’s Causeway to James Joyce’s Dublin and the streets of Belfast. To make your plans to join this extraordinary trip, call you travel consultant or YMT Vacations at 1-888-756-9072.