When questioned as to my purpose in his car, “You are giving me a ride home” I told the little boy in the back seat. His mother looked at me disconcertedly and said “We call it a lift here.” Turns out, a ride is something completely different in Ireland. Sometimes, I’m not sure they speak English here.
Making mistakes has been one of the most rewarding parts of my time abroad. I like to have control over myself and my surroundings, but control is a luxury in a foreign country that relies on public transportation. I have ended up on the end of a bus line on the last bus, insulted store clerks by not saying “How are you?”, and made Deirdre laugh at me because I was working on a paper instead of an assignment.
At the Oireachtas na Samhna
I adore making lists, so here are five things I’ve discovered about Irish culture through making a fool of myself.
Talking about money is taboo. Rich or poor, filthy lucre is not a topic of conversation. It makes people uncomfortable.
No bragging on your family or accepting compliments graciously. I told some friends that my sister was a good artist, and they told me they would never so something like that about their siblings. While I’m all for humility, sometimes even Irish people admit it gets a little ridiculous.
There are céad míle ways to say “How are you?” in casual conversation (I still don’t know how to respond to any of them). An craic, what’s the crack, what’s the news, how’s it going – the list is endless. It’s a necessary opener to any conversation. Even if you just want to ask where the bathroom is. Furthermore, if someone in Ireland asks if you are all right, that’s your cue to order food or pay for groceries. It’s not that you look wrecked and caused concern. I used to answer the question and wonder why I never got service. Now, I know the correct answer to “Are you all right?” is “Yeah, I’d like a chicken roll, please.”
Don’t mention the Irish language unless you know you are on safe ground. It’s a very politically and emotionally charged subject. Stay away. Same goes for the English, Northern Ireland, and Protestantism.
Irish people will not tell you you are doing something wrong unless they actually care about you. They may look at you in their particularly judgmental way, but they will not say anything. It takes a friend incessantly mocking you to figure out how not offend everyone. I’m thankful for those people.
Thankfully, studying abroad hasn’t been easy. If it were easy, I wouldn’t be challenged and forced to grow in new ways. That being said, these past three weeks have had moments of intense growth spurts. One of the biggest challenges has been the culture.
While Ireland is an English speaking country (though, that’s debatable in my opinion), it is incredibly different from the U.S which has led to some communication mishaps. It’s been helpful for me to analyze the sources of these differences and, thus, draw some conclusions about Irish culture. I haven’t been in Ireland long, so I am perfectly willing to believe that my deductions are not general of the whole country or maybe not even accurate. These are only my personal observations.
Irish people seem to fall on two extremes. They are either uncompromisingly forthright or passive aggressive. I walked into a professors office one day and he said, “I am not interested in you at all, and I don’t care about you.” He meant that, as I was not a full member of his program, he didn’t care whether I progressed to his satisfaction or not. I’ve encountered this refreshing frankness a couple of times, but the other mode of conversation is extremely polite. Instead of saying, “You need to move your car”, Irish people will say, “Would you maybe think about parking your car over there a bit?” I would have interpreted that as a suggestion to be duly ignored, but in Ireland, that serves as a command.
“We open early at half eight” (8:30). By far one of the greatest aspects of Irish culture is the rhythm of daily life. Coffee morning (usually tea, coffee, and biscuits) around 11am, dinner anywhere from 2-6pm, and then sessions, parties, etc. at 9:30pm. I have thoroughly enjoyed not having anything before 10am.
An aspect of Irish time that I have not yet embraced is being consistently 15 minutes late for things. The first meeting I had with someone at UL started 40 minutes after the agreed time. I told an Irish person about the American saying “Early is on-time, on-time is late, and late is dead”, and they thought it one of the most ridiculous things they’d ever heard.
I thought the U.S. had a very informal culture until I came to Ireland. I got in trouble for calling a professor “sir”. All adults, even university professors, go by their first names. About half my professors don’t say anything if students are on their phones during lectures.
Swearing is the vernacular in Ireland. Professors, shop keepers, old men on the bus, everyone swears here. And not lightweight stuff either.
Drinking is not just a stereotype. Most of Irish cultural and social life is oriented around the pubs. The student body president showed up to orientation and told us “This will be short because I’m really hungover from last night.” While that probably happens in the U.S., people are unlikely to admit it in front of all the incoming students and members of the faculty and staff.
I’ve learned to be careful about assumptions. I thought Ireland hadn’t figured out comfortable showers because the first three weeks, my house didn’t have hot water. It turned out our plumbing was just broken.
Five months of my life in suitcase. It excites my gypsy soul and terrifies my inner Girl Scout because it took my car, my mom’s car to haul my harp, and my friends adopting my fridge and microwave to move back from the dorms. As much as I love minimalism, I am terrible at it. There is too much to prepare for.
However, a suitcase and a carry on seem like quite enough now that I’m all packed.
There are a myriad of lists available (I liked The Budget Traveler), but they are often from richer or more tropical people than me. So for anyone studying abroad to Ireland, The British Isles, or North West Europe. Here’s what I’m taking. I’ll let you know when I get back how well it worked out for me
1. A Purse
My purse is actually a leather camera bag and has a very handy latch. It holds the while-on-airplane-essentials:
phone and charger
School ID and drivers license
Starbucks gift card
2. Carry On – School Backpack
Though no one believes you, you are actually going to study on your study abroad trip. I didn’t buy a new backpack for this and am bringing my sturdy one from Cabela’s that my parents got me in high school. I’m hoping this will work for Ryanair and other budget airlines as a carry on in addition to fulfilling my academic needs.
In my carry on, I’m including:
laptop, case, and charger
change of clothes
medicines for one month
folder of papers
copy of flight info
acceptance letter from university
packet from study abroad provider
proof of finances
proof of insurance
confirmation of enrollment
I have copies of all these documents stored on my computer and in Dropbox as well.
3. The main event
I’m borrowing a large suitcase from my parents, and I’m shocked at how much it holds. Lucky for me. So far, I have: