We left for Dublin with eight suitcases, a video camera, a diaper bag, and our immigration paperwork. We were the last to receive the brief residency permit lecture, the last to collect the luggage we could relocate, the last to fill out lost luggage reports, and the last to breeze through airport customs.
Welcome to Ireland. And so, my introduction into the fundamental differences between Irish and American society began.
I’d had advance warning that Ireland had changed tremendously in the past five years, as a result of its tremendous boom and growth.
Still, I was stunned at the congestion, foot and motor, in the cities. Our own village was a smaller version of Dublin, and the line between the two, geographically and culturally, was finally beginning to blur.
It took no time to realize that looking for parking was more inconvenient than simply walking down the street and picking up the milk and bread, as is the custom. I got used to seeing primary school kids with cell phones, and teenagers sending text messages on trains.
I thanked my lucky stars I lived in the relative placidity of the Dublin outskirts, out of reach of the crushing traffic, overcrowding, and thoroughly urban atmosphere. My seaside village, despite its increasing amenities, still felt like the Ireland I had hoped to find. Our postman rode a bicycle. I could get my groceries delivered. My son was taught at a school with less than 50 students. It still lives.
I’d heard there was no such thing as time in Ireland. As someone who could calculate the exact passing of a minute without the crutch of a wristwatch, that aspect of Ireland society presented a challenge.
In my village, most stores don’t post hours of operation. Some are closed on Mondays. Enough are kept open to keep you guessing before risking setting out on foot, in the rain. It took me months to catch-on that certain first Mondays of the month are “bank holidays,” and seem to exist for no other reason than to provide workers with a three-day weekend. Some shops, like the chipper so many of us in town are addicted to, will toy with customers and close early, or open late, for no apparent reason.
In our own little village, the lunch hour is taken particularly seriously. When it is taken isn’t uniform, and many of the shops are too small to rotate staff and keep businesses open through midday. Coupled with the lack of posted operating hours, if you find a shop closed, you’ve no way of knowing if or when it may reopen.
When it came time to consider braving the Irish roads, I was delighted to learn no official written or practical driving test was required to earn the big “Red L” sticker. However, my husband’s habit of driving forward while taking in the passing scenery by means of the side window suddenly made sense. So did my brother-in-law’s fantasy driving career. He seemed to secretly star as an Indy Driver while hurtling his little Citroen down the M-50.
School proved another slap in the face of bureaucracy, and another example of the more easy going attitude I would have to make peace with. I was disappointed, as still American as I was, with the single form I needed to complete my son’s enrollment. Where was the pomp, the gratuitous ceremony, the stacks of forms in bureaucratic triplicate? I clutched his immunization records, uncopied, I furrowed my brow when they didn’t seem concerned that he hadn’t attended pre-school, or know the entire alphabet forward and backwards, and in Greek. I signed up for the school’s towel washing rota and skulked off home. Isn’t there more?
Excerpted and adapted from “And Now: 15 Months in Ireland” the third in the series by Lori Alexander in Escape From America Magazine, Issue 32.