A tale of two awkwardnesses
Being Irish and American, a visit to an Embassy and why I shouldn’t be let in the same room as cool TikTok celebrities.
This has been a week of me wrestling with the awkwardness — and insubstantiality — of my national identity.
See what I mean?
I am American. I am also Irish. But, being both, I’m neither of those things. It’s very awkward.
If I say to an Irish person that I’m Irish, they will without exception give me an indulgent eyeroll (yeh, course ye are, luv) and assume I’m one of the visiting Americans shopping for last name plaques in House of Names on Nassau Street.
Protesting that I grew up in Dublin only makes it worse. There are basically only about four schools in Dublin and I went to one of them. So, yes, I probably do know your cousin Jacko in Newpark and I probably kissed him one messy night at Wesley circa 2001. I know what a Brown Thomas is, I can walk to Teddy’s from my house and I remember when Spin 103.8 first came on the scene (pretentious upstart to FM 104.4, hallowed be thy name.)
But the thing is, nothing — no amount of rugby club discos, Supermacs, West Coast coolers, hours waiting on rainy DART platforms, or drinking in Blackrock in the days when the shopping centre was inexplicably open to the Irish sky and just had a posh Superquinn and not much else — that will ever make me sound like a Dub, to a Dub.
But, on the other hand, I am so un-American that I didn’t really drive a car until I was 37 (this year, in fact). I have never watched an episode of the Kardashians. I don’t understand how the House of Representatives works (or, ya know, doesn’t). I wouldn’t be able to pick Nick Jonas out of a line up (or tell you why he’s famous. Is it singing?) and I’ve never heard a Machine Gun Kelly song. These are all true facts and, combined, make me feel like a real outsider in my native land. I blend right in stateside and no one ever asks where I’m from, but I maintain a hunted air, as if at any moment someone might turn to me and press me to explain who Demi Lovato is.
These feelings were all stirred up by two things that happened this week, one of which involved my American identity and the other my Irish. Both underscored my unfailing ability to be awkward as either.
First, I had to take my son to the US embassy down in London to renew some passports. Since I live in the countryside now, this gave me an exciting opportunity to go be awkward in an urban environment, at an uncomfortably early hour of the morning.
Going to the embassy is already a terrifying business and I defy even the coolest least awkward human to manage it without turning a hair. It makes me very nervous to be in a place where my awkwardness could inadvertently get me shot or cause a diplomatic incident. Passing four semi-automatic sub-machine guns at 8am has a certain capacity to focus the mind — but still I dropped forms and misplaced appointment slips with practised ease.
My laptop, it turned out, had to be taken to another building for storage. I received in exchange yet another piece of paper not to lose if I ever wanted to see my laptop again. The stakes are so high at the American embassy.
Then I over-explained in great detail to the woman at reception why I was there and she looked at me with dead eyes and said “I don’t really know anything about that” and pointed me to the lift.
My son stroked the smooth stones in the lobby and wondered what kind of rock it was.
A British guy near us said something jolly like “I would expect nothing less in the American embassy!”
I’m delighted when other people are unexpectedly awkward near me. I have an internal “me too” moment and imagine that we are pals, of the highest order.
I responded enthusiastically.
“Oh cool! I didn’t know that was a thing in American embassies!”
He looked a bit overwhelmed and responded as if I’m simple.
“No, I just meant, you know, no expense spared.”
“Ah, I thought you were alluding to the Lincoln memorial or something and maybe there’s some unwritten rule about American monuments and embassies and other important buildings that I’ve missed!”
I was being genuine but had clearly overthought things for a brief lift interaction. He communicated this wordlessly and very effectively by smiling politely and deciding not to engage with me further. I compounded this decision by getting off at the wrong floor and jumping back on while the marble lift doors were closing. He studiously avoided looking at me, the way British people do in a closed mode of conveyance (a lift, the Tube, etc) when you’re doing something excruciatingly cringey, like shitting your pants.
Finally, on the right floor, I got to the right window and had all the right forms. The lady there had a kind smile and made a lovely comment about my son and I thought, winning, finally.
Then she said “and the father?”
Thus it transpired that my son, despite already holding a US passport, despite the fact that his father and I are long (amicably) separated and that I have full custody and sole financial responsibility for him, is not permitted to renew his existing US passport without the say-so of both parents. I missed this in the fine print, despite the fact that it is literally my job to read the fine print.
So we sat, for several long awkward hours, in the US embassy, while my ex-husband made the awkward trek across London. I became great friends with the girl making coffee and my son had ample time to examine the rock types in the waiting room. So there was that.
And, after my multifarious failings at the US embassy, it was St Patrick’s Daylast Friday.
Layering identity upon identity.
I booked tickets to go see Killian Sundermann, one of our favourite up-and-coming comedians from Dublin, who was in a line-up of a load of other Irish comedians at a gig in London.
They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes.
Or maybe that’s just me. I shouldn’t meet my heroes, on account of my abiding awkwardness.
Heroes, it turns out, extends to include TikTok content creators with even the mildest amount of fairly niche celebrity.
I say fairly niche — because the reason I love this particular comedian is because he absolutely nails the awkwardness of growing up in Ireland as a not fully Irish person, which speaks to me for obvious reasons (see above).
Anyway, he was standing right there when we walked in and I immediately recognised him from his videos (which are, to be fair, absolutely hilarious).
As they were checking our tickets, I couldn’t help myself. I know, reader, I know. I should know by now. I should help myself. But I can’t. It’s a compulsion.
I turned to him and said something that was supposed to be appreciative and complimentary but in hindsight was just plain old psychotic.
“We love you, we came just to see you.”
He smiled in a terrified sort of way. Then he gestured at the lad standing next to him.
“Um tanks he’s performing too?”
I had no idea who the guy standing next to him was and my abiding awkwardness prevented me from being able to stop the words flying (truthfully) out of my mouth.
“Nope! Just you.” With emphasis. “Just. You.”
Accompanied by a terrifying point of the finger, as if I might have duct tape and handcuffs in my pocket.
Why am I like this.
Later, after his set, he was standing by the bar. I tried to remedy the situation by being normal and friendly. This was not easy for me, as you may have gathered.
I alluded to one of his videos — the one where he asks if people think he looks like Pedro Pascal — and joked “oh, my boyfriend really wants to ask you if you’re Pedro Pascal.”
He laughed in a nervous way and moved (quickly) away.
Where he was immediately intercepted by Joel, who goes “hey, are you Pedro Pascal?”
All this tells me, reader, is that Joel and I are both super fucking awkward and neither of us know how to be cool and that’s why we are perfect for each other.
The night was coming to a close later and I was in the queue for the bar again. Just being friendly (trying), I asked this very cool chick behind me who her fave in the show was. She named the headline act (who was brilliant) but also my favourite, the one we came to see, and I said with genuine enthusiasm “yeah he’s the reason we came, we absolutely love him”.
And she’s like “omg no way! He’s my best friend’s cousin, I’m here with them and his auntie and uncle are here too, we all came to see him”.
And then he came up to talk to her (or maybe to warn her about me) and I smiled in what I thought was a winning maybe-we-can-all-be-pals now kind of way and said “oh hi, me again, your resident friendly stalker” and he was genuinely scared and went to stand on the other side of the room.
Because, reader, I am terrifyingly awkward.
But he’s quite funny, so maybe go see him.
Tell him I sent you. He’ll love it.
Especially with all the recent revelations about how so many of the machine-gun-wielding diplomatic corps of the Metropolitan Police are, effectively, criminals. You know if even the Mail have turned on them, they must be really fucking atrocious.
I told you already, I’m just not a lawyer at heart.
Paddy’s Day, if you’re Irish. Alternatively, Patty’s Day, if you wish to subject yourself to merciless ridicule.
Most. Irish. Thing. Ever. Of course she knows him and of course they’re basically related.
I just think you’re super observant about the human condition. I love that.
House of Names 🤣🤣👍