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How the Americans ruined St Paddy's Day

It's no secret that America has embraced St Patrick's Day in a way that must leave other celebrations feeling rather sidelined. America has the biggest St Paddy's festivities, participated by more people than on the emerald isle itself, and “Irish-American” A-listers and presidents come out and celebrate publicly every March 17. However, the American vision of the day has taken on a life of its own, and the people involved often have very different ideas of Irish-ness to those back here in Ireland. We take a look at why Americans may have ruined St Patrick's Day – forever.

They think they're Irish

Undoubtedly the number one thing about an American St Paddy's Day that really grinds the gears of people back at home is the claim of entire swathes of the country they are Irish. It could be the incongruity of the accent and the claim; it could be the sometimes spurious claims themselves. Whatever it is, no-one wants to hear it, least of all people who were born in Ireland (i.e. Irish people).

They fight over who's more Irish

Where there's people wanting to be Irish, there will be people competing to be more Irish than other people. Some Yanks love bragging they're “100 per cent Irish,” particularly on St Patrick's Day. This usually means they think all their ancestors came from Ireland, clearly ignoring many genetic and geographic realities. This is a ludicrous situation for anyone who's actually from Ireland, and not in the least surreal - a bit like a band coming face to face with their tribute act.

It can be more exclusive than inclusive

With most people in America claiming to be one of either “Irish,” “Polish,” “Italian,” or any number of other nationalities, St Paddy's in America can get those who consider themselves Irish a little defensive and insular. This year there has been focus on the fact that gay and lesbian people have been banned from parading in the New York parade for over 20 years. When gay and lesbian Irish did parade in 1991 they were showered with abuse. A true representation of Irish-ness? Few people in Ireland would say so.

They call it "St Patty's"

In their endless crusade to Americanise every word and phrase in the English language, St Paddy's has become “St Patty's.” No-one is sure when this happened, but could a subconscious obsession with the ubiquitous all-American hamburger be behind it? Surely not, but to the Irish, Paddy and Patty are as different as chalk and cheese. One is a patron saint – the other is a middle-aged, chain-smoking waitress.

Green beer

In America, St Paddy's Day = green. That's not to say there isn't an encouragement to wear a little green back in the old country, but it can border on obsessive in the States. Dying beer green is an abomination that has become popular in recent years, but one that is just plain ridiculous. And disgusting. The stories of gutters running green with festive vomit are enough to keep anyone indoors on March 17.

Condescending stereotypes

Drunkenness may be the main Irish stereotype that gets people's backs up on St Patrick's Day in America, but there are plenty of others. The image of an illiterate family of 17 existing in a one-room stone cottage eating potatoes and drinking whiskey – or something similar – genuinely exists as a reality in the minds of some. Others are genuinely surprised to find that Irish people can speak English, but given the vast array of often indecipherable regional accents in Ireland, they can perhaps be forgiven for this one.

Fighting is more typifying than craic

On any occasion underpinned by the consumption of vast quantities of alcohol there will be trouble, but America seems to revel in violence on St Patrick's Day. The problem probably stems from the stereotype that exists in the country of Irish people as prolific and proficient fighters. Thus, the more aggressive and violent a person behaves on St Paddy's Day, the more Irish he (or she) is proving themselves to be (see slide three).

Identity through conflict

The saying that converts are always more radical can be very true. On St Paddy's Day, this can lead some people with spurious, but desired, Irish ancestry to espouse a more extreme take on Irish-ness. This can happen among Irish-Americans, especially on St Patrick's Day, mainly in the form of anti-British/protestant talk. Irish-ness doesn't really need such reactionary sources of identity and most Irish people don't either.

Plastic Paddys

In the same way that all holidays the world over are accompanied by ornaments, costumes and paraphernalia, St Paddy's in America is certainly no different. It could almost be worse. St Patrick's legacy becomes embodied by green Chinese plastic goods in the form of shamrocks or leprechauns, and although it may seem unfair to level particular criticism at our cousins across the pond, no-one does unfettered commercialism like the Yanks.

Flag-waving

Flag-waving nationalism is fairly common in the States, so when it comes to March 17, most people simply switch one flag for another for a day. Rampant nationalism hasn't got a great track record historically, although the Irish could arguably be among the least sinister. Still, such scenes can get a bit too "Nuremberg '36" for some.

Turn it up to 11

Most Irish people are content with a day in the pub with friends on March 17, with traditional songs and varying degrees of drunkenness. Americans love to do things louder and prouder, and this includes St Paddy's Day. Dying the Chicago River green, receptions at the White House and rocket propelled leprechauns undoubtedly do it for some of us, but for others it's just a bit silly.

Related: Why being ginger is the best and worst thing that ever happened to you

Social confusion

It's not uncommon for our friends the Americans to get a bit confused between the various celtic clans on the other side of the Atlantic, come St Patrick's Day. You will occasionally see the odd Scottish song, costume or reference innocently thrown in. Most visiting Irish people will spot it straight away, but few will really care. You may find the odd American who thinks that Scotland is in Ireland anyway.

Related: Green food for your St. Patrick's Day party

We copy them

If you've been reading this thinking "that's not fair, that happens in Ireland too," then you're right. The main reason why Americans may have ruined St Paddy's Day is that they have successfully exported their version of it around the world, and we lap it up, even in Ireland. It wasn't the Irish who started wearing big green felt hats with ginger wigs - it was the Yanks. They have successfully sold ice to us Irish eskimos and we love it - as long as we can add some whiskey to it on March 17. To be sure.

Related: You know you're from Norn Iron if...

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About the Author

Robert Macintosh is a full-time journalist based in Northern Ireland. He has accumulated eight years’ experience since 2005, writing for magazines, newspapers and websites in various countries. Macintosh has specialised in politics and entertainment. He has an honours degree in social anthropology, an NVQ level 4 in newspaper journalism and an AS Level in photography.