manners There’ve been a lot of stories coming out recently about the behavior of the Japanese in light of the terrible tragedies they’ve endured over the last several days. Though they’ve been tested well beyond the limits of any reasonable human being, their impeccable manners and stoic strength still remains. Even the freezing cold weather and threat of radiation exposure and dwindling food and water supplies – any one of which would warrant a psychotic break – they are polite, courteous and selfless. This is simply their nature.

It’s made me think a lot about the nature of the Irish…who are they, really? For the first several months I lived here I took note of the superficial things like the funny accents and quirky slang and the national obsession with chocolate. But as I spend more time here I’m starting to get a feel for the sociological and psychological traits of Irish people. Of course I’m no expert; I simply know what I’ve observed.

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OK so maybe the Irish aren’t always so polite!

One thing I’ve noticed about the Irish is that they are generally quite private and polite when it comes to personal matters. I recently met a very close friend of Mountaineering Man, and after our meet I asked MM what the story was with his friend’s glass eye. MM replied that he’d never inquired about it, which I thought was very odd as they’ve known each other for over 11 years. While I can understand the sensitive nature of the subject I was shocked that in 11 years it had never come up. I can’t speak for everyone but most Americans would get to something like that within a few weeks of knowing someone, it is in our nature to be inquisitive (or nosy, depending on how you look at it!). I ended up speaking with MM’s friend about his eye, and he kindly told me the story and wasn’t offended at all. But he did note that he has many long-term friends who have never asked and that it is quite a normal, Irish thing not to inquire about something as potentially-sensitive as this.

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With most Americans, one of the first question they’d ask on your birthday is, “So, how old are you?” I can say this with absolute confidence as I’ve experienced it many times myself. I was pleasantly surprised when none of MM’s friends asked my age when the mention of my birthday came up last month. Or when a friend ends a romantic relationship, it’s natural for an American to ask, “So, what happened?” But recently when I asked the sister of a friend who’d ended a 10+year relationship how she was doing, the sister replied, “Oh I haven’t asked her. She’ll probably get depressed talking about it so I don’t bring it up.” Polite and thoughtful, yes, but to us nosy Americans quite mindboggling…wouldn’t something like that be the elephant in the room until it was addressed?

From what I’ve seen, it seems the Irish have mastered the art of restraint when it comes inquisitions of a personal nature. Protecting someone’s feelings takes priority over satisfying one’s own curiosity, which really is the way it should be. But coming from a place where people are generally quite blunt, it’s something I’m still getting used to. Of the Japanese, a tall Caucasian friend of mine once said, “Nothing makes me feel more like a big, awkward oaf than being in Japan.” She was referring to the elegant and graceful features of Japanese women. Being an American in Ireland, I sometimes feel like a big, loud-mouthed, nosy Yank in a country of polite whisperers!

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Blueberry and Raspberry Hand Pies

I love these little hand pies. Unlike big, gangly regular-sized pies, these are cute and small and polite, if you will. And unlike a regular pie, which requires one to cut a slice, you can easily sneak one of these and eat it quietly in a corner and on one would know the better.

For the pastry:

110g plain flour

40g self-raising flour

15g sugar

1/2 tsp salt

120g chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1-cm pieces

120g chilled vegetable shortening, cut into 1-cm pieces

50ml iced water

For the filling:

90g sugar

130 grams fresh blueberries

130 grams fresh raspberries

1 tablespoon corn starch

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For pies:

Egg yolk, lightly beaten

Turbinado or sparkling sugar for dusting

In a food processor, blend together flours, sugar, and salt. Add chilled butter and shortening and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle water over flour mixture and pulse until dough forms moist clumps. Gather dough together and divide into 2 equal rounds. Flatten dough into disks and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about 45 minutes.

For the filling: Put sugar, berries, cornstarch and vanilla in a saucepan and heat over medium high until the mixture is bubbling. Turn heat down to low and let simmer for 20 minutes, remove from heat and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

When you are ready to make the pies, remove the pastry dough from the refrigerator and let sit for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 190 C. Roll out the dough to about 0.5 cm thickness, and then using a cookie cutter or knife cut out 10 cm circles. Place a tablespoon of the fruit mixture in the center of the circle, brush the edge with the egg mixture and close, sealing by using a fork to make indent marks around the edges. Brush with the beaten egg mixture and sprinkle with the sugar, and then cut little slits on the top.

Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for approx 18 minutes, or until pastry is golden around the edges. Let cool on a wire rack and serve.