What I learned about authenticity in Dublin
“These “tourist” attractions offer an elaborately contrived indirect experience, an artificial production to be consumed in the very places where the real thing is as free as air. They are ways for the traveler to remain out of contact with foreign peoples in the very act of 'sight-seeing' them” (MacCannell 599)
While in Dublin for St. Patrick’s day, I got into a conversation with a Dublin native about how they usually celebrate the holiday in its mother country. When I asked him this, he said something that perplexed me.
“Well it’s not really an Irish Holiday.”
“What do you mean? Of course it is.”
“No, it’s definitely an American holiday, a tourist holiday.”
When he said this I was a little skeptical. I mean, I know that American’s use St. Patty’s day as an excuse to drink green beer and dress up as Leprechauns, but surely Dublin must celebrate even harder. Besides, this guy thought that the “fist pump” was our national dance, so I wasn’t too convinced of his accuracy or his blood alcohol content. However, as the night progress, I was surprised by how few Irish people I actually met. I met tons of Americans and Spaniards and British partiers, but only a few who were actually from Ireland, and I started to think that maybe that guy was right. Turn’s out he was, as I later found out “The first St. Patrick’s Day parades took place not in Ireland but in Boston, which claims the world’s first celebration in 1737, and New York City, when Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through the city in 1762. The first parade in Ireland wasn’t held until 1931” (http://historicalmovies.wordpress.com/2010/03/17/st-patricks-day-in-dublin/
). Every tourist shop in Dublin was crammed with St Patrick’s Day attire, and every bar, saturated with patrons buying overpriced pints of Guinness and Cider. When reading MacCannell’s article, I was reminded of this very non-Irish experience, and one quote in particular (which I included at the top of the page) really struck me. It is strange how, in our quests to explore a place, we often avoid true authenticity in search of these “artificial productions,” which we think will somehow imbue us with knowledge. However, by doing this we are effectively avoiding anything new in favor of something within our comfort zone.
This was especially apparent when I decided to spend 2 hours and 12 euros on the Guinness tour, which was absolutely flooded with tourists. The tour sported everything from Guinness hot-dogs, to master-Guinness pouring certificates, to a brewing factory tour led by a hologram (totally serious). All and all, it was exactly what MacCannell described as a front room decorated to look like a back room. There was no real authenticity to it, just empty, model machines, pools of barley, and a few bars. It was hard to feel like you were really “behind-the scenes,” especially when you can see the real factory pumping away just outside the window. I looked around at all the tourists, munching on their Guinness hot dogs, taking automated quizzes about beer, and cashing in their free Guinness coupons at the bar, and wondered whether this is what they expected out of Ireland—if they came to see this or to see something authentic. Then I looked down at my own free Guinness and realized I could ask myself the same thing.
I think MacCannel was right when he said that most of our authentic experiences in a place happen by accident. Later in my trip, I was in a supermarket in a small town in Northern Ireland. I had been so used to feeling like a tourist among tourists, so it was strange being in a place that wasn’t so trodden down by other people’s feet. I was in line to pay when an old man came up behind me. He had a big smile on his face and little tufts of hair growing out of his ears like many old guys do. He wore a bowtie. He greeted the woman in front of me with a warm hello, asking how her kid’s soccer game went, and then he greeted the person behind him, and then the cashier—all by their first name. Suddenly I felt as though I was an intruder, that for a moment I had stumbled into someone else’s life. Being in an authentic situation is somehow uncomfortable. The man put his groceries on the conveyor belt next to mine but there were no more wooden dividers. He looked at me with a smile and said, in a joking manner, “You can buy mine too!” I laughed and returned his smile. It is funny how you sometimes, somehow become a part of things.