How would you describe an American who discreetly departs from an event or gathering without formally saying goodbye to the host? Essentially, they make a quiet exit without drawing attention.
In America, they call it an “Irish exit.” And while it may sound like etiquette that originated in Ireland, it’s actually not.
In fact, it’s essentially a term they do NOT use in Ireland. “It’s purely an American term,” says Irish author Judith McLoughlin. But she does seem to believe it could have something to do with the Irish Potato Famine.
First, let’s understand what an Irish exit really is—and isn’t.
What Is An Irish Exit?
Also known as the ‘Irish farewell’ and the ‘Dutch leave’, an ‘Irish Exit’ is all about sneaking out or departing quietly from a social setting, like a party, without saying thank you or goodbye to the host.
Suppose you are a guest at a large social gathering, like a big party. You’ve met the hosts, mingled with old and new faces, and had a drink or two, but now you want to leave. It could be late; perhaps you have another commitment, or maybe you are just bored now.
How Does It Work?
You look around, hoping to spot the host, but don’t. Now, you could go around looking for them and say goodbye, thank them for inviting you, and even make a feeble apology for leaving early.
Or you could just leave?
If you decide to go with the second choice, congratulations! You have just successfully pulled off what is known as the Irish exit.
So, if it’s an American thing, why is it called Irish? Well, there are two theories that attempt to explain the term. The first, which Judith seems to lean towards, suggests that the expression started because of the Irish Potato Famine.
In the 19th century, Ireland experienced the Great Famine and went through a dark time of famine and death. There was a great food shortage due to a mold that spread rapidly through Ireland, forcing families to leave their beloved land.
But that’s just one theory. The second one focuses on the Irish and their heavy drinking.
This theory says that the term ‘Irish exit’ was coined because guests would get drunk, be too embarrassed and intoxicated to inform the host and slip out to avoid anyone noticing.
Irish People Aren’t Impolite
Contrary to what the Irish Exit will have you believe, the Irish people are not impolite. They are known for being quite hospitable and actually have prolonged farewells.
It’s actually impolite to go without saying goodbye in Ireland.
It Avoids Awkward Talk
However, in the United States, party etiquette varies for different gatherings, and things are a little different. It is actually not considered rude or disrespectful to silently leave a huge party.
Instead, some even prefer saying it saves the host and the guest from some awkward talk.
Times When An Irish Exit Is Unacceptable
So when is it proper or even acceptable social etiquette to slip out of an event or a party?
First, to make an Irish exit, the party must be huge and informal. Pulling an Irish exit is not acceptable in social settings like an intimate family dinner or an even smaller gathering of close family and friends.
Formal events, such as weddings or small dinner parties, also require you to thank the host at the end of the night.
Events Where An Irish Exit Is Acceptable
But what about bigger, more informal events like a party at a bar, a gala, or even a sizable backyard pool party?
In that case, an Irish exit is perfectly acceptable and appreciated at times. Just make sure you let a friend know so they can inform the host or drop them a message the next day thanking them for their efforts.
It is Not Ghosting!
Some people assume the Irish Exit is a lot like ghosting in real life, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Unless you plan to never talk to the host again and want to cut them off from your life, it is not seen as ghosting.
There’s a ‘French Exit’ Too?
If you’re in the US, you’ll hear the phrase “Irish Exit”. But fly across the North Atlantic Ocean, and you’ll find partygoers in Great Britain, referring to the same strategy as the “French leave” or the “French exit.”
Like the Americans, these British chaps slip out of a party without informing the host or saying their goodbyes and the rules are similar.
However, what is even funnier is that France, Russia, and Poland have another term for ‘Irish Exit.’ They call it ‘leaving the English way.’
It’s Not Rude If Done Right
But call it what you may, one thing is for sure: if done right, the Irish Exit isn’t rude or even Irish. Instead, it seems to be a universally acceptable way to politely exit an event where you will not be missed.
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This article was produced by TPR Teaching.
Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.