BANTER is a charming yet misunderstood term.
The reason for the confusion is because it appears to be a peculiarly Irish trait.
It is the Blarney of those lucky enough to have kissed the Blarney stone. Like most others, the English included, the Irish have their quirks and to banter is one of them.
It is often confused with flirting but in fact there is more than a subtle difference between the two terms.
Flirting is a harmless preoccupation that knows no national barriers. The French and Italians are notorious skirt-chasers.
Why not? Flirting lightens the loads we carry each day. Bantering is chit-chat not cheat-chat.
I often explain to the non-Irish the difference between bantering and flirting. Flirting is the kissing cousin of flattery.
It is to harmlessly weave one’s words when there is an ulterior motive or suggestion of romance.
There is also a difference between flattery and a compliment; the former comes with a price tag attached. Bantering bridges the age gap.
The jovial bus driver when pulling the leg of a schoolgirl might say: ‘My, you’re a pretty girl. I bet you have lots of boyfriends.’
This will of course cause her to blush but this is half the fun of bantering. It is to gently tease without malice.
His next target might be an elderly lady struggling to climb on board: ‘Where’s your mum, young lady, doesn’t she usually help you?’ Banter aims to lift the spirits; it is a friendly verbal handshake.
‘What’s a bad girl like you doing in a nice place like this?’
It is never intended to cause offence though a little blushing is occasionally experienced by the uninitiated.
It can be taken as flirting, but so can a wink or doffed cap. When introducing himself to a couple of elegant ladies the banterer might say: ‘my, two loose women on the town.’
This is followed by, ‘I mean two women on the loose.’
Novices need to learn that bantering is just another way of recognising that a stranger is just a friend you have yet to meet. It bridges the stuffiness of a formal introduction.
I can’t wait to meet the Queen. The Irish are splendid at banter.
For this reason the most popular radio and television presenters were drawn from the Emerald Isle; Gay Byrne, Eamonn Andrews, Dave Allan, Patrick Kelly, Terry Wogan and others of silken tongue.