Originally uploaded by Pat and Amy’s pics

Before coming to Ireland, we were warned that while there were things we could do to look less American, it probably wouldn’t fool anyone. Even if we avoided the most American of clothing, we were told, our American haircuts, and even the way we walk and stand, would give us away. Still, while we couldn’t change all of that, we could try to avoid looking too American. The stereotypical American tourist wears a jacket made of synthetic material, a t-shirt with logo, a pair of jeans, and athletic shoes, probably white.

The idea that a European could spot an American at a hundred metres was illustrated in a story we read in a collection of travel writing. An American was hitchhiking around Poland, when a woman approached him and introduced herself in English. He asked her how she knew to speak to him in English, and she replied, “You’re American; you’re wearing white socks.”

Whether we looked American or not, at least we must have shed our lost look pretty quickly. Within the first couple of weeks in Ireland, we had been asked for directions on several occasions, and what’s most surprising is that we were able to correctly direct the wayward Irish more often than not. Maybe it was our pasty Oregon skin that made them think we were native.

So what does an Irishman look like? They aren’t all redheads (called gingers here) with faces full of freckles, but there are some things that are typically Irish.

Let’s start at the top. That flat caps that we Americans might think of as quintessentially Irish are still worn by some men, but I think I’ve seen fewer than 10 men under the age of 50 wearing them. The hair of most men is usually cut very short, shorter even than mine is here (this haircut is weeks old), although the front is sometimes left a little longer to be combed down, à la Julius Caesar. When we first arrived, I had a short haircut for me, but it was longer than what about 80% of the men wore.

The most popular clothing color here is certainly black. (Yes, I know from junior high that black is not a color, but the absence of color, but you know what I mean.) At the St. Patrick’s Day parade, I shot some video of people lined up waiting for the parade to start, and 8 of 10 in a row wore black coats. At lunch one day at the East Village Restaurant and Pub in Douglas, about the same proportion of customers wore black, and all the men’s suits were black. The black wool coat is the single most popular coat worn here, although synthetic coats don’t really stand out since there are so many of them.

Men’s shirts are usually striped. Boys wear sweatshirts with broad horizontal stripes, while men wear button-up shirts with thin vertical stripes. Though not of the lumberjack or Scottish tartan variety, plaids are fairly common (maybe they’re a sort of evolutionary step between the horizontal stripes of boyhood to the vertical stripes of manhood). Men also often wear sweaters (called jumpers here), usually of a solid color.

Men’s pants are usually a dark color, often green or brown. Cords are common, but so are jeans. From what I hear, wearing jeans would have helped distinguished someone as American just a few years ago, but now there are stores in City Centre that display only Levis, Wranglers, and Lee jeans in their windows. And while it’s more common to see the young rather than the old in jeans here, on weekends in particular, many older men switch to jeans, too. Jeans may get worn at work in places like Oregon (our last governor mostly wore jeans with his sport jackets), but you don’t see that here as much.

Men tend to wear brown or black leather shoes, but sometimes wear athletic shoes like most of the boys do. Oh, and the socks aren’t white, except maybe at the gym.