Goodbye in Irish, Goodbye in Italian

As I may have mentioned elsewhere, my dear C was raised in an Italian household and I in an Irish one.  One of the more amusing cultural mash-ups we experience is how we say goodbye when leaving family functions.

Whenever we go to a family party and it is time to leave, conflicts arise.  You see, I employ what is called “the Irish goodbye”.  Also called “the ghost goodbye”, I do not say goodbye as much as I simply disappear.  I do not announce to the room that it is time for me to go, or make a big fuss about it all, I just stand up, quietly tell my host that I had a lovely time, and slide out a side door.  To the Irish, anything more would be grandstanding and impolite.  To my darling Italian C, this is rudeness beyond belief.

Whenever we leave one of C’s family functions, it is required to say goodbye to each and every person in the house, face to face and one by one.  You start at the back of the house and work your way to the front door, kissing and hugging someone goodbye, answering two or three departing questions, more kisses and hugs, then on to the next person to repeat the ritual until you have done the entire building and reached the front porch.  If there are as many at 30 people in the house, this can take up to an hour.  The first few years of our marriage, this process nearly made my head explode.

To make matters worse, C’s father, “E”, simply did not want to see people leave.  He would follow you through the house as you made your way towards the front door, loudly announcing to everyone that you were leaving and watching you kiss and hug people over and over, making certain no one was left out.  Between goodbyes, E would pepper you with questions to delay your departure as long as possible.  “By the way…” he’d say, barely inches from your face to make certain he had your attention, and he’d ask you some odd question that he pulled out of thin air.

But he would not leave off at the door.  He followed you out to the curb as you made your way to the car, tossing out one question after another to delay you as long as possible.  It was quite a feat, coming up with all those questions on the spur of the moment.  One time I counted seven separate questions in the space of twenty feet between the bottom stoop of the porch to the curb; he didn’t repeat himself once.   I finally got C into the car and closed the door as he chattered away, but he stood his ground and scratched at the glass, motioning C to roll down the window for yet one more question.

I muttered, “…no…don’t…no…”, as she dutifully rolled down her window.  Later, once we were safely away, C said, “Well, that was rude.”

Me: “Well, he’s your father.  Say something to him.”

C: “I meant you!”

I have always wondered why refusing to enable obsessive-compulsive behavior from Italy was rude, but C thought it was rude.  Obviously, we differ on what constitutes rude.   For example, the first time we left an Irish family function, C was beside herself with embarrassment for actually leaving when it came time to leave: “Kevin, I am so embarrassed!  We just…we just left!”

My Irish goodbyes are nothing compared to my father’s though, whose Irish goodbyes are the stuff of family legend.  When he was ready to leave a family party, particularly one on my mother’s side of the family, he would stand up, announce to my mother, “Time to go, Jane,” and walk out the front door and go sit in the car without saying another word, waiting for my mother to follow.    My mother, determined to say goodbye to her sisters in her own fashion, would let Pop sit in the car by himself for as long as 20 minutes.  He looked like a cab driver waiting at the curb for his fare, engine running, but Mom just let him sit.  He would not come back in, though.

C and I have worked out our cultural difference over the years regarding leave-taking.  With three children reared in our Irish-Italian household (or is it Italian-Irish?), our next generation has helped us strike a balance between the two.  They seem to know instinctively how much is enough when it comes to hugging-kissing-et al.  Yet, our children often laugh while trying to get out of their grandfather E’s house.  At 87 years of age, he still follows you to the curb, peppering you with a dozen questions and scratching at the car window for one last shot at you.


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