Cheques in the City

  • 15 November 2006
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Whowouldathunkit? There they go, along Lexington Avenue, laden down with their shopping bags. In through the revolving doors at Tiffany's. Laughing and leaning on each other on the escalators in Bloomingdales. Tramping through Lord and Taylors. Slinking through the perfume aisles at Macy's. Emerging, slightly pampered, from the trendy Soho nail salon. Standing in the queue for the bus up to the Woodbury Commons. Coming out, slightly punchdrunk, from the lingerie aisles at Victoria's Secret. Standing stockstill, mystified by the array of counterfeit handbags in the shadowy shop on Canal Street.

It's not as if it's a vast political movement, and I'm not going to make a case for its cultural significance, but the appearance of Irish women on the streets of New York is certainly a sight to behold.

Going shopping, to me, is about the equivalent of having four root canals all at once, but recently I've discovered a new sport – standing in the aisles of a famous shopping venue, or on the path outside, or in the lift of a department store, listening to the women of Ireland having a great time, some of them in the deepest Dublin accents I've heard in a long time.

"Jesus, Jorie, I just can't be-lieve the price of those Tiffany lamps, can you?"

"Mahr-gret, do we have time for Bar-neys?

"Hey, who's the mass murderer who bought you that blouse?"

"I thought he was a fine thing. The turban needed a wash, though."

Yes, all over the city, in a panoply of accents, Irish women are spending their Celtic dollars. An estimated 50,000 Irish shoppers will come to New York for the Christmas season. It is like an episode of Cheques in the City, or a pisstake on a Beckett play, Waiting for God-dough.

As somebody who came to New York 15 years ago, it astounds me. I love watching it. It's pure entertainment. Its as if a party is taking place in order to celebrate the end of emigration. These women are saying that not only do we not emigrate anymore, but we leave Dunnes Stores behind for an afternoon in Bloomingdales. Instead of crying at the departure gates, they are having a laugh at the bar in Fitzpatricks.

Women of Ireland, rise up out of the beds of your oppressors and sling your credit cards down Fifth Avenue!

All you have to do, late in the day, is follow the totem poles of bags up Lexington Avneue where the triumphant ladies lay their bounty on the poor unsuspecting bellboy at Fitzpatrick's Hotel. What he knows, deep down in his heart: Irish women will charm him, coddle him, smooch him, nurse him, nuzzle him and maybe even, God forbid, tip him. Being husband-less in New York City does the strangest of things to people. It's as if they have discovered ice. They will flirt with the Afghani taxi man as they drive down 42nd. They will tuck a few dollars into the underpants of the Naked Cowboy in Times Square. They will have that fifth martini in the Rainbow Room. They'll even sing a corny version of 'Molly Malone' in Thady Con's pub.

You can tell them all by the blush of their guilty cheeks. They seem to be having an enormous amount of fun, and they are conscious of how new and how fleeting the experience is.

This relatively new phenomenon of the Celtic Tiger could be disconcerting in a way, but I actually find it quite magnificent. If I mock it, it's only because I admire it. This is my old country, coming to my new country, making an entirely new country out of both of them. Some people might shrink away from it, call it vulgar and classically nouveau-riche, but it makes me smile to see how our attitudes have changed. I love the Fifth Avenue jaunt on a late afternoon when the ladies of Ireland seem to have accomplished their shopping goals. Quite simply, they look thrilled.

Surely there have been some acronyms christened for the phenonmenon. The Nimbles perhaps – the New Irish Mammies Buying Loadsa Expensive Stuff. Or the Nipples – New International Paddies Parading Loadsa Euros for Shopping.

Well, maybe not. I will leave that to minds far more nimble than mine. Meanwhile, I'm off down to 59th Street to watch my strange soulmates as they saunter off into the well-spent sunset.