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Straight Outta Ireland

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There are a lot of great quotes about travel.

For example, Mark Twain once said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” and I’ve certainly found that to be true in my own life. There is something about being in a country that is utterly unlike your own; it stalls the senses and resets your brain to create a new normal built on the foundations of the old.

Today, I’d like to write about any one of the many places I’ve visited on my travels. That’s what I really feel like doing. I want to spin an amusing tale about the time my milk withdrawals led me to sneak into a shop, in which I then had to mime extensively in order to procure a clear plastic baggie of unpasteurised, unhomogenised milk from an unknown animal. It was a lot like the scene from Bridget Jones, only with milk and confused Egyptians rather than a pregnancy test and confused Austrians.

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Same same but different

Anyway. That’s what I’d like to write about… But that’s not what I’m going to write about, because I don’t feel that would be right. This is my first post about travel, after all.

Let’s start elsewhere.

Let’s go back for another travel quote.

Terry Pratchett once wrote, “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. […] Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

So I’m going to start there. Or rather, I’m going to start here.

I’m going to tell you a bit about Ireland.

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I was born and raised here, on this small but surprisingly popular patch of land; the little spoon to Great Britain’s big spoon. If you’ve never been, it really is as excessively green as people say.

This is mostly due to the truly appalling weather, which by all rights should have us lolling about despondently in deep, unremmitting depression. Instead, it has spawned a peculiarly Irish sense of humour and a steadfast, grim camaraderie. The citizens of Ireland are fighting an interminable war against the weather, and all we have to get us through it is each other.

… And we love to talk about it. Rain, naturally, gets the worst of it. Naturally, considering the amount of rain we have to deal with, we’ve developed different ways of saying the same thing so we don’t get too bored.

  • “It’s only drizzle” = It’s raining out.
  • “It’s only spitting” = It’s raining out.
  • “It’s trying to rain” = It’s raining out.
  • “It’s just a shower” = It’s raining out.
  • “It’s lashing rain” = The rain is coming down in sheets.
  • “It’s pissing rain” = The rain is coming down in sheets.
  • “It’s pouring rain” = The rain is coming down in sheets.
  • “It’s bucketing down” = Ready the Ark.

The default conversation with a stranger here tends to at least start with a comment about the meteorological conditions. I’ve traveled extensively, and nowhere else have I experienced this chronic, obsessive need to discuss what is happening in the sky. At work, answering the phone becomes an exercise in zen-like patience, since almost every call begins with the same – apparently compulsory – conversation about the type of weather we’re having.

“[Workplace name], how can I help you?”

“Hello! How are you?”

“Well, thank you, and you?”

“Ah sure, you know yourself. Ticking along! Isn’t it a dirty day*? A dirty, dirty day…”

“It is! I’m glad to be inside.”

“Sure this is it!”

It’s a thing. You get used to it.

As Mr. Pratchett rightly pointed out in the quote above, sometimes you don’t appreciate certain facets of your home country until you’ve been elsewhere. For example, it wasn’t until I was living in Germany that I realised why the Irish reputation for being friendly was so deserved. The first time I found myself waiting at a bus stop with a German stranger, the silence lengthened and, without shame or compunction, I commented, “Es ist sehr kalt, meinst du nicht?” (“It’s very cold, don’t you think?”). This was greeted with the same reaction I feel I might have received if I had stuck my middle fingers in her face, thrust my pelvis at her and insulted her mother in lewd terms, rather than made a fairly banal remark about the weather.

The second time I attempted casual conversation with a stranger was at a bar while I was waiting for my drink. I turned to the person on the stool next to mine and told them their cocktail looked delicious. They stiffened in alarm, and without a word picked up their glass and turned their back to me.

The third time I tried it (and was again rebuffed with much the same wide-eyed panic), my shoulders slumped in cultural surrender and I finally realised my mistake.

In Ireland, if you don’t spark up small talk when you find yourself thrown together with a stranger for longer than three minutes, the situation feels tense and awkward. In Germany, if you do spark up small talk when you find yourself thrown together with a stranger for longer than three minutes, the situation feels tense and awkward.**

Superficial small talk is not encouraged, or even welcome. Keep your congenial phrases of muddled German to yourself, is my advice.

Another thing I’ve learned about Ireland from traveling elsewhere is that we have tiny toilets. Well, either that, or our toilets are regular-sized and Florida received a supersized upgrade, because the toilets there are so inexplicably and comically enormous that when I first visited Miami I had very real fear that I might fall in. Every visit to the bathroom was fraught with danger.

Not only that, but I had always thought that a high water level in a toilet was the warning sign of a blocked pipe. Not so in America, where the water level in the toilet is so high, I imagine anything that falls into the toilet is a lost cause unless you’re Trainspotting-level committed to getting it back.

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So.

A cultural fascination with the weather, small talk skills and relatively tiny toilets.

That’s what I’ve introduced you to today.

Welcome to Ireland!

*Translation: It’s grey, cloudy, miserable, and probably (yes, you’ve guessed it!) raining.

**This is not to say that Germans are not friendly. They’re very friendly! You just have to get to know them first… Preferably not by accosting them unexpectedly with superficial conversation.

 

0 thoughts on “Straight Outta Ireland

  1. Brilliant post! I loved this on so many levels. First, your description of the differing degrees of rain is so true based on my previous visits to Ireland. As to the toilets, it is true, but I am still baffled by that low water in the tank such as it is there compared to the U.S. But not wanting to discuss lavatorial matters any further, I’ll just say, I have had similar thoughts! It is interesting to note the cultural differences. Though sometimes at a bar or a cafe I wish to be alone, and not converse with you. Or wish to not have a conversation at the bus stop other than answering directions, I think you nailed it.There are probably all sorts of reasoned and deep sociological reasons why it differs, but I think some cultures are just more loose and less uptight. For the Irish (jokes about drinking aside), I think pub culture does lend itself to that sort of attitude. In any case, I loved this post especially

  2. I have yet to go to marvellous Ireland :D.
    I love the part where you said “same same, but different” they say that here so much, it’s hilarious and I love that you know that phrase.
    Oh and also the part where you say “ready the ark” I literally laughed out loud when I read that.
    It’s like they say, if all else fails, talk about the weather 🙂
    This post has me convinced though, that this is the year I will visit.

  3. Ireland and Texas have a lot in common, methinks. Whether you want to talk about the weather or anything else, once you leave the expansive confines of this state, people are always a bit leerier than they might be were you home, home on the range…

  4. Love this! I relate to this a lot, mostly the rain, because I’m in Scotland and well, it’s always bucketing down here too! Surely our toilets should be overflowing, right? Why are the toilets so full in the US? I always thought that was weird!
    That trainspotting scene still makes my stomach churn 😷
    God Bless the Irish, you are a friendly bunch I love visiting Ireland! NYC I found the people really not that much into small talk/being friendly/ verging on rude, well unless they had Scottish ancestry then they wanted to tell you all about it and find out if you knew there Great-great grandparents, aunties, next door neighbour!

      1. There are more ‘Irish’ in Boston than in Ireland!!!! My friend went to uni in the US, for years I thought his best mate there was Irish, he told me he was and he had an ever so slight accent, he was also covered in Irish tattoos. We all went to Dublin for the weekend for a birthday celebration and he told me ‘it was his first time in the motherland’ he got rage when I said ‘wait, so you’re not actually Irish?’ Haha! Everybody wants to be Irish!

  5. Since I haven’t really left the country yet (give it 12 days, and I can change my tune…), I can’t really comment on the differences, but on the subject of toilets, you being a shorty like me, have you ever come across toilets that sit rather high? High enough that your feet dangle while sitting atop? Those are the absolute worst!

  6. This is by far one of the most interesting travel posts I’ve read recently and even the omnipresent rain comes across as a winner ( who doesn’t love a good weather report to begin the day with ). More power to you !

  7. Fabulous, funny post! We in Australia, also love obsessing about the weather, no matter what it is doing. Maybe we should attribute that to out Irish roots?

    Looking forward to your next travel post. 😊😊

    1. Thanks! And yes, that probably has something to do with it! Hoping to visit Australia at some point soon-ish to scope it out as a place to go for a couple of years… Unlikely to be this year though!

          1. Hopefully! I know my Irish nephew is fine to work here as he is a dual national (he was born here) but his sister who was born in Dublin, will have a more onerous job of it to get permission to work. The rules keep changing!

  8. Seen your post on the community pool, this is a really interesting wee blog. Travel stuff tends to do excellently on here so your blog should do well. Also, love the Trainspotting gif (it’s my favourite film).

  9. I fear that London is very much like the Germany you describe in that people recoil if you strike up or try and strike up a conversation, and i’ll admit I am probably the same, it is almost like a conditioning that you are brought up with. This is on top of the people that will walk out directly in front of you or stop dead in the street when everyone else is moving along at the silently accepted, mutually agreed pace.

    There was one time in a bar though (one of my favourite places) that I was waiting for a friend to turn up and a woman struck up conversation with me, I think we were there for about 30 minutes before my friend turned up. Conversation there was why did people in London not speak to eachother. She was from Liverpool and I have always found that people from “up norf” to be a friendlier bunch than the locals.

    1. I remember running through Hyde Park (I was on my way to the airport) and a distressed woman was calling for her dog that had obviously run off. She was crying, calling out for her dog and blowing a whistle every once in a while.

      Everyone just walked right past her! It was almost as if she wasn’t even there. If that happened in Ireland she would be swarmed with people offering to help her find her dog. For God’s sake, I’ve been dealing with my stubborn lab once or twice and had at least five people offer to help me trick her into submission. If I hadn’t been late for my flight I would have joined the search, and I felt so guilty (still do!) that I couldn’t, but it really struck me that nobody stopped and offered to help.

      I love London, but yeah, people don’t seem to interact much with strangers there…

      1. It’s a shame really becuase you can meet some really interesting, new people. As long as your sense for weeding out the potential nutters is fairly strong and all that other safety stuff.

  10. Hahaha! This was wonderful laughing read Quinn. People and their “linguistic cultures” can be quite odd, can’t they? Mess up enough in many places, pretty soon you get clowny with your etiquette, which I found to be not only slightly humiliating — especially if they stared at me like I had one big eye in my forehead and antennae sticking out of the top of my head — but a fairly good way of getting strangers to at least say something… perhaps dial the nearby lunatic asylum whispering in their native language something like “Get down here QUICK! I’ve found one of your escaped patients!

    As I mentioned earlier, I LOVE your Mark Twain quote! So very true, isn’t it?

    We have humongous monumental toilets, do we? Hahaha! There’s a very specific reason for that you know. I’m also obliged to tell you that here in Texas we have a very popular saying (which I actually loathe along with many other things in my native state)… it is “Everything is BIGGER in Texas.” So just imagine our bathroom facilities and why. I often remind overly proud native Texans how inflated our egos, voices, and imaginations are along with being credited for filling out two-thirds of the DSM-5.* 😀

    * The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Ed.

      1. You might want to think and rethink that Quinn! Hahaha.

        Seriously, yes of course there are some very unique nuances and quirks about us. Many places that are gorgeous in their own right, true. There is one aspect of our state that I do find exciting: culturally & temperate diversity. Because we were settled by MANY European cultures, including Mexico/Spain, we have an array of cuisines, music, architecture, spirits, entertainment, and festivals. Endless really. A visitor is sure to find more than they could ever have time to experience. Why?

        Our state is simply way too large — can’t see and experience it all unless you have 1-3 years to spend here. 😉

  11. They way you describe your country Quinn, is beautiful.
    I haven’t visited Ireland but will look forward to all the things you said 🙈
    I laughed at so many instances especially the comparison of toilets in Florida and the many ways to describe the weather 😂😂
    Very well penned.

  12. I loved this and the fact that you started your travel tales right at home because so often what’s home and familiar to you is an exotic location to someone else and they would love to learn more about it! I’d even love a must do list for Ireland!

    1. Oh God I hope you have an umbrella! I can write down a few nice food places for you if you need suggestions? I might be in away in May but it’s up in the air at the moment.

      1. I’m definitely bringing an umbrella and raincoat with me! I’ll be in Dublin for only a couple days and plan to do the Guinness tour, but I would love suggestions for great restaurants or cafes to explore 🙂

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