Here’s an expression that may be uniquely Irish: did you meet in with anyone on your holidays? ‘Meeting in’ refers to befriending other people or couples while on your vacation in Corfu or Lanzarote or the Algarve. It’s quite a common occurrence and I know of some people who have developed lasting friendships on a foreign holiday. Perhaps because of our nationality we always get a bit excited when we meet other Irish people abroad, even if it’s only in France or Spain.
There are dangers, however, with ‘meeting in’. Let me bring you back to the summer of 2004. Eminem was in the charts, the Celtic Tiger was developing into a big cat and Bertie Ahern reckoned canary yellow jackets were in fashion. My wife and I were holidaying on a small Greek island. One evening we found ourselves in a local bar just as a table quiz was about to start. My wife pleaded with me not to bother, saying stuff like ‘quality time’, and ‘romantic break together’, but I was busy thinking of a witty team name. For some reason, and ignoring my wife’s better judgement, I decided to ask an Irish couple to join us. They were sitting nearby and I figured it would do no harm to bolster our numbers.
The man willingly agreed, but his wife seemed utterly apathetic and indifferent. I should have heeded the alarm bells ringing at this stage. It turned out to be the longest table quiz I’ve ever sat through. The man – my new best friend as it turned out – was without doubt the most boring man I’d ever met. He spoke endlessly about his job. What did he work at? He installed and maintained vending machines. He proceeded to enlighten us about the different models, how they work and – this was the most fascinating bit – how people used them incorrectly. Yes, he had much to say about the incorrect use of vending machines. There were people who inserted the money too quickly or too slowly; this was called ‘coin tendering release ratio’. I’m telling you, this man was passionate about vending machines. His wife, by contrast, had literally nothing to say.
After the table quiz we made our excuses and left, my wife rightly warning me about pulling a stunt like that again. We had to avoid the World’s Most Boring Man for the remainder of the holiday. Unfortunately he and his indifferent, mute wife were staying in the same hotel, so it proved tricky at times; we took the stairs instead of the lift, had breakfast before everyone else and sometimes had to leave the pool in an urgent hurry. Nevertheless, our holiday ended without further lectures on vending machines (or so I thought) and off we went to the local airport to get the plane home. However, there was a problem and we were told we’d have a four hour delay in this very small airport. Not only was it tiny, it had no air conditioning, no cafe or restaurant and just one small shop. We had no choice but to sit on some hard plastic seats and wait. But guess who decided to keep us company? Yes, the World’s Most Boring Man. He and his silent wife decided it would be brilliant craic if we all sat out the delay together.
He talked at me for hour after hour. He pointed out several vending machines and explained how they were obsolete or needed a service. At one point I picked up a newspaper and buried my face in it. Do you know what he did? He literally started reading the back of the newspaper out to me. ‘Oh I see Michael Owen is injured again,’ he said, reading the sports pages. He actually read the story out to me. I was by now close to tears.
After an eternity we boarded the plane. Well, I thought to myself, there’s no way I can end up sitting beside... Oh my god. ‘Over here Joe, I think we’re beside each other,’ he called to me. It was a long flight home. Even when I pretended to be asleep he was mumbling to himself about ‘spring coil delivery systems’ and ‘internal coolant’.
By the time we arrived in Dublin I was a gibbering wreck, while the man continued to talk and talk. I was never as pleased to get home after a holiday. The moral of the story is not to engage with anyone while on holidays. In fact, I now blank people if they attempt to strike up a conversation. Sometimes I’ll say ‘Me speak no English’, but my wife’s appearance undermines this ploy, as she asks aloud why I’m talking like an eejit. The message is simple: avoid first contact. Unless you want to know all about vending machines.