Many years ago my wife and I visited Rome for the first time. We were sitting in a fabulous little restaurant whose specialty was the 20 or 30 different pasta dishes they would serve one after another until you told them to stop.
We were delighted when we overheard 3 elderly ladies along with a young man sitting at the table next to us talking with their thick Irish accents. They were from the same town, and had known each other their whole lives. The young man was the nephew of one of the ladies, and had agreed (or had been told) he was their escort for the duration of their vacation.
I couldn't help but inject myself into their conversation (Americans sometimes do this out of curiosity and friendliness, and don't realize some cultures find this rude), asking about how they were enjoying their stay. The ladies were charming, and the conversation quickly turned to where my wife and I were from in the U.S. Then they asked where in Europe our families had come from before settling in the States?
Well - when my wife told them her family originally came from Ireland, you'd have thought the three ladies had just found their long lost daughter or something. They had a dozen questions and were clearly thrilled to make this unlikely connection. Eventually, their curiosity turned to me.
"And where might your family hail from, young man?" they asked.
"My family came to the US from England..." I answered.
Dead silence as the three ladies sat boring holes in my face with their eyes. Several seconds ticked by as I desperately tried to figure out what rule of etiquette I had violated...or did I have a piece of spinach stuck to my teeth.....what was it?
Then it occurred to me. The Irish-English conflict (which is very real to the Irish and English, but not so much to Americans).
Desperate to recover from my faux pas, I followed up with the only explanation I could think of.....
"But they threw us all out when they found out we were Roman Catholic" I stammered.
Several more seconds of intense silence ensued, but I knew I had been forgiven when one of the ladies proclaimed, "Well at least the lad believes in God Almighty - I suppose he'll do." And at that we renewed our conversation and our splendid meal. Crisis averted.