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“‘Not too bad’! What a negative response when you stand back and think about it

Speaker's Corner
“‘Not too bad’! What a negative response when you stand back and think about it. ‘Could be worse’ is another one. Talk about negative energy!”


Edwin McGrealEdwin McGreal

A CHAT with a few people just home from travelling the world last week reminded me of some of my own perspectives after returning home nine months ago.
They all missed the heat and novelty of Australia or South East Asia or South America or wherever their odyssey had taken them. And the freedom of being away from home, with work only an occasional distraction, and very few cares in the world, is one of the most liberating parts of the experience.
But none of these thoughts is at all new or surprising. It’s why people do these ‘gap’ years and we can’t expect to live such nomadic, carefree lives forever. Reality has to bite you eventually.
You know you are going to have to return to a 9-5 routine – and that’s only if you’re lucky as the country currently stands – and you’re well aware that Ireland won’t get the same level of sunshine as Australia. So you prepare yourself for those and the effect isn’t as severe.
But what struck me most in those conversations I had were things I myself was annoyed by after my return from a year ‘galavanting’, as the older generation would put it.
And as time passed these things became second nature once more – like they had been before I left –  and I didn’t pass any notice.
It was only when the returning travellers highlighted what I’m about to say that I became acutely aware once more of the fact.
And that is that we, the Irish, are an incredibly negative and depressing people in a lot of what we say and do.
Sure we can have the ‘craic’ and make our reputations on such an image and in a social context that’s a valid point but what about day to day life?
Try this mini survey some day. Take ten people you’re going to meet in the course of your day and ask them ‘how are things?’
I would nearly guarantee at least half will say ‘not too bad’.
‘Not too bad’! What a negative response when you stand back and think about it. ‘Could be worse’ is another one. Talk about negative energy! We say ‘not too bad’ when we might actually mean something positive.
I answered the phone at work last week and someone asked me how were things. My answer? I said ‘mighty’. ‘Really? Why?’ was the dumbfounded reply. As if to say ‘how could things be mighty?’. I would have said ‘not too bad’ if I had known saying ‘mighty’ was going to lead to such an inquisition.
Why do we appear to be happier when we are giving out? The weather is a wonderful example of this. When it rains we look out the window as if it is a meteorite shower, something we’ve never seen before.
If any nation should be used to rain it’s Ireland. But it shocks us and nearly brings on our own waterworks every time.
And then when the sun comes out it’s often too hot and people, not just farmers whose rationale you can understand, will ask ‘for a dropeen of rain’. We’re never happy.
And another point emphasised by my returning friends was how the recession has taken over from the weather as the premier topic of conversation. After all it is even more gloomier than what is in the sky so it’s manna from heaven for the Irish psyche.
I’m not suggesting we adopt a put our heads in the sand approach to it. The recession is real and we have to deal with it.
But do we have to hear about it so often? Can we not look for something to smile about? Is it too hard to have a positive outlook on life?
It is the most galling part of returning home. Well, that and good oul-fashioned Irish begrudgery (another story altogether).
If an Aussie asked you how you were and you replied ‘not too bad’ they’d ask you what happened.
They’d assume something was wrong. And they’d be right.