Americans abroad

The study of Peregrinator vulgaris, or the common tourist, is a widespread occupation in Ireland (at least in those times when the economic climate does not conspire against the migratory habits of the species). But the favorite subject of study is that variety of the species known as Peregrinator americanis.

Americanis can be further divided into two subspecies, Peregrinator senex and Peregrinator iuvenis, or the aged and youthful traveler, respectively. But these adjectives have really little to do with age: they correspond more to states of thought. However, the difference between the two kinds is so vast that one sometimes wonders how they can come from the same planet, let alone the same country.

Let me illustrate. Peregrinator senex (he will have to be male because I have inflicted too much Latin on you already and have no intention of hunting around for the feminine form, if there is one) arrives in Shannon Airport with the intention (invariably carried out) of ''doing'' Ireland in three days. Although his name is Pryczyzncsky or something similar, he will convince you, as he has convinced himself, that every drop of blood in his veins is Irish. (If particularly dedicated, he may well have changed his name to O'Pryczyzncsky before coming.)

A distinguishing mark of this kind of tourist is that he will take pains to wear something green. (In fact, ''the wearing of the green'' is often a handy way to tell non-Irish from Irish people in a Dublin street in the high season.) His wife, who takes complete charge both of him and of every situation that arises, makes you wonder why it is that Men's Lib has taken so long to germinate across the Pond (which is Irish for Atlantic). Peregrinator senex is distinguished in both genders by a bright plumage and a loud call, which makes the species immediately identifiable on public transport. Oddly, both of these characteristics seem to be particularly marked during the migratory season, from which one may draw the conclusion that they constitute some sort of mutual-identification mechanism in unfamiliar territory.

Peregrinator senex has four main aims: to watch the sun go down on Galway Bay (an ambitious enterprise, since many Galwegians have forgotten that the sun rises in the first place, let alone that it sets periodically); to kiss the Blarney Stone (a possible, though acrobatically involved, exercise); to find his family tree; and to see the Book of Kells (sometimes referred to as Kelly's Book). He sets about these and other tasks with a single-minded determination which the Irish reserve for more important matters.

By contrast, iuvenis is everything senex is not. A typical member of this species is earnest, thoughtful-looking, soft-spoken, casually though quietly dressed, in his mid-twenties and writing a dissertation on ''The Influence of the Liffey on Finnegans Wake, With Particular Reference to Butt Bridge.'' He is polite to a fault, universally agreeable and popular, and is often to be seen where Dubliners gather in a corner listening to the conversation (Dublin is one of the few places in the world where conversation still exists) and making an occasional, discreet entry in a notebook which will serve to feed the world-shattering novel he will write when, and if, he ever gets his thesis finished. He writes heavily autobiographical poetry, and long, unreadable letters to friends back home, which will one day comprise part of his published oeuvre. (To make sure of this, he carefully photocopies and files each one.) He occasionally formulates brief mental paragraphs in which he figures in the past tense, third person.

He also has a female counterpart and she is much like him - the main difference being that you have to watch your pronouns, figures of speech, et cetera, in conversation with her, at the risk of being called unkind names for having medieval attitudes toward women. But she too is thoughtful and popular, and she too is writing a thesis on James Joyce, although you can be sure that Joyce will not emerge unscathed from the encounter.

How could a country, admittedly a vast and diverse one like the United States , produce two such dissimilar kinds of migrant? It is one of the great unfathomable mysteries of our time. And yet, for all the gentle fun we poke at them, Americans are liked here: both the quiet, or impecunious, and the less-quiet, or well-heeled, variety. And it is not just for the dollars they spend, although we have nothing against dollars. Americans, for all their foibles, bring a breadth of vision, a friendliness and openness, an incurable and sometimes infuriating optimism, which are sorely needed on this side of the water. Perhaps, if we could import some more of that freshness and joy from across the Atlantic, the sun might shine a little more often on Galway Bay.

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