Are We Laughing?

It was Northern Ireland which revealed to me the inanity, the raw tedium of the American argument. There are outliers of course, but syntactically speaking, a dispute between two Americans will in the main have only three components: some accusation or criticism (“You always *insert criticism here*”), a vapid restatement of the original charge (“Are you saying I *insert criticism here*?!”), and a blunt, topical refutation (“That’s not true, I…”). The three steps cycle with stultifying regularity until the dispute is resolved through violence, distance, or compromise.

This sort of intellectual sloth, this cognitive slovenliness simply would not survive contact with the glimmering, abstract arguments of the six counties. Northern Ireland is a safe and happy place, but not for those without banter. One example should suffice, though I must confess my ear for the dialect is imperfect and some dialogue may therefore be rendered imperfectly:

I went recently with a few friends to Enniskillen, a big town with smiling people and at least 3.5 quality castles. On our way out, two of our eight started on each other ever so subtly. In fact, the initial accusation (“Think you know what I’d say to her”) and the response (“Aye, and I’d say to you”) landed so softly that I mistook the brewing contretemps for a heart-to-heart. One made fun of the other for having a huge wallet (it truly is jumbo) but no money; all tittered. The economical, remorseless retort was “aye, and you dress like marmalade” (he tends to wear a lot of orange). What seemed to be comedy continued at pace, but I began to realize that all my other friends were gradually taking steps back from the two locked in discussion, that every laugh seemed to end with a question mark. The, outrageously non-threatening, final sentence was “Have you over for dinner; bring a wee bottle, then?” At this point, I realized entirely too late that I was sandwiched between two lads set to tussle. I am told I looked like a “cat caught between sofa cushions,” but I did achieve the necessary separation and things wound down.

Back in Belfast, I had a chance to try out my own material only twenty-nine or so hours later. Trotting home in a cozy Ohio State sweatshirt near Unity Walk, I turned a corner and collided with a man accompanied by two women. He said something profane (though unthreatening) and I, fresh from the previous day’s events, replied with the cheeky “Easy big man; those are the steroids talking then?” I thought this a clever reference to his almost comically developed, potentially pharmaceutical musculature, and was ready to saunter away when one of the women devastated me with “Should be upset with Michigan, not us.” She was quite elegantly referencing OSU’s humiliating loss one week prior; my jaw dropped visibly. As they walked away, I heard the other woman laugh: “The coupon [that is, “face”] on him!”

Kiran’s six counties banter record: 0-1

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