Brilliant To Strangers: Random Encounters With Dubliners

Random Encounters Dubliners

The following are all true tales of random encounters with Dubliners.

Jobs can be hard to get for young people without connections in Spain. So when Maria landed at Dublin Airport, she was a self-described nervous wreck. She headed to a taxi rank knowing that the interview she would do today had the potential to set her up for life. Three years working for this Silicon Docks company, and she could return to Spain and have her pick of companies to work for.

I don’t know if he said “Howaya luv” as she sat into the car. Maria didn’t tell me if he did when I met her in Madrid earlier this year. Her opening line to me was certainly dramatic  – “Oh Irish, I love you guys!” – as was the warmth of the hug she gave me, someone she had just met. I wondered to myself: was this a U2, Liam Neeson or Westlife thing?

To get the answer, we have to go back to that taxi driver that day in Dublin Airport, and a shining tale of a good deed in a often naughty world. After enough conversation to get her story, he said: “I’ll tell you what, there’s a church on the way. Why don’t you go in and say a prayer. Take your time. I’ll wait.”

Well he did stop, and Maria did go in and say that prayer. She calmed down, aced the interview, and got the job. She did work for three years in Dublin, and got that job back in Madrid afterwards. She couldn’t be happier. And no, she never met that taxi driver again, but has never forgotten the difference that he made for someone he didn’t know, and for no discernible benefit to himself.

Mohammed is from Tunisia, and until the events in his country of January 2011, things were looking very straightforward for someone with his education and background. Although he believed that Ben Ali’s departure would be a good thing in the medium term, he decided to leave the county with his wife and young family until things settled down.

With many Silicon Docks companies handling their Middle East and Africa business from Dublin, it was no surprise that he got a job here. It was a very well paid job with a US tech giant, so he had ample resources to get settled very quickly. But what about the problems that money alone couldn’t solve?

As former winners of the Africa Cup of Nations, its no surprise that Tunisians are football crazy. Mohammed’s son wanted to play, but they arrived to Ireland just at the point in the school year when most teams in the local schoolboy league were full. He could train, but he could not play. When he mentioned this to the mother of one of the other kids on the sideline, she simply said “leave it with me”, a phrase so Irish that Hairy Baby probably has it on a tee-shirt. It took her about two weeks and fifty phone calls, but she found Mohammed’s son a new team. Maybe someday, like Éamon Zayed, he’ll have to chose between Ireland and Tunisia.

“I don’t know if she knew it would be as much work as it turned out, or even why she did it in the first place,” Mohammed told me via phone. He and his wife still smile at the only explanation she ever gave: “Ah, sure you would have done the same for me.”

If you don’t believe these stories (and I have changed the names), just go to a story on Reddit entitled ‘A huge thank you to the people of Ireland!’ – where Nuri from the Czech Republic tells the story of how random acts of kindness from Irish people got him home after he was robbed in a Galway hostel.

Almost everyone who has grown up in Ireland has similar stories; the Bus Eireann driver who turned his bus around to get the handbag left in the bathroom, the wallet left in the payphone that was returned with all the money still inside. This is not a surprise, as it often seems that every Irish person is separated by far less than the full six degrees. What these stories do indicate, perhaps, is that the old Irish proverb ‘under the shelter of each other, people survive’ applies just as much to the 11.8% (and rising) of the population not born here.

Maria, Mohammed and Nuri are good opening lines, but IDA Ireland know that what gets the attention in boardrooms across the globe is quantitative data. With all the announcements the IDA has made lately, it’s no surprise that the Q2 2015 Ireland Update is among their most impressive ever. The document, subtitled ‘What Makes Ireland great, makes Ireland great for business’, is chock-a-block with powerpoint-able reasons why companies are attracted to Ireland. One recent wow: The IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2014 ranked Ireland fourth globally in terms of business efficiency – right after the reserve currency powers of the USA, Switzerland and Hong Kong.

But when Maria arrived in Dublin Airport, what she needed was a cabbie that saw her as someone more than just a fare. What Mohammed needed was a soccer mom who understood that he had a son who didn’t understand why in this new country he couldn’t play football. And what Nuri needed was someone who didn’t just look at him as if he was a complete fool.

Sometimes Irish people are brilliant to strangers. Long may it continue.

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