Hailing from a small island nation has its ups and downs. You lack the bad press that comes with being an American (unfortunate, yet true), but despite the best efforts of U2 and a legion of Irish pubs stretching from Boston to the Baltic, anonymity is often the best you can hope for.
Having said that, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the level of name recognition generated by my fair and native land when mentioned here in the ‘Stans. Many of the people I talk to are, at the very least, familiar with its existence; definitely more so than the locals were in China. Well, they occasionally think I’m saying Iran, but I’ve learned to say Ir-lan-di-ya slowly enough for the message to get through. And the reaction is generally a positive one, which warms the heart a little.
However, some of the general knowledge could use a little polishing. Waiting at the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border, I was asked my nationality by some passing customs officers.
“Ireland. Ah, yes. Glasgow.”
Not quite, but right group of islands.
The next one was similarly enthusiastic but just as inaccurate.
“Da. Da.. Ireland – Rangers, Celtic. Very good”
Hmm, I was detecting a theme: football – popular; geography – not so much.
Being Irish can be an advantage, though sometimes in unexpected ways. On the way back to the guesthouse in Bishkek one lunchtime, Katie and I were followed from the corner shop by a fairly dodgy-looking gent. Katie said, a little too loudly, that she didn’t like the look of him.
“I AM FROM BISHKEK” he announced a few seconds later, rather more forcefully than the statement merited.
I was a little unsure where his line of debate was going, and expected at the very least a few comments on how tourists should keep their opinions to themselves.
“Where you from? Amerikanski?”
“Eh, no,” I ventured, hoping for the love of God that he had neither heard nor understood her comment.“Irlandia.”
“Irlandia? Ah, IrLANdia!” he beamed. “Da, da. Terror-isme,” he continued, pointing imaginary guns at my face and making bang-bang gestures with them.
The knowledge that I was from a country with a sufficiently dodgy pedigree seemed to satisfy him, and he sauntered off happily. I guess maybe there is no such thing as bad publicity after all.