Did anyone else read the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books as a kid?! Well, if you didn't, it's a children's series about a woman who lives in an upside-down house. And that's pretty much what my life has been like for the last little while: upside-down.
Coming from the west coast of America to Ireland, things appear, for the most part, to be fairly similar. There aren't a ton of things that stand out, save for the older architecture and loads of fields. Day to day life seems fairly similar. Until you start to try to go about your normal schedule and realize that, in fact, nothing at all is the same. Let me explain:
One of the weirdest things that I didn't notice my first time here is that cars frequently pull off onto the shoulder of the freeway here. Oh, and it's not freeway or highway, it's motorway. Need to send a text? Pull on over. Need to get something out of the trunk (boot)? Just hang out on the side of the busy road! Cars are also much smaller here. No pickup trucks or minivans. Mostly just compact cars that all fit comfortably into parking spaces. Also, the term parking lot or parking garage isn't used. It's a car park! Probably the most obvious differences are that people here drive on the left side of the road and kilometers are used rather than miles. When learning to drive, cars must have a large sticker on the back that has either an L for Learner or N for Novice. No stickers is not an option! Which brings me to the fact that they operate by points. You earn a certain number of points for speeding, etc and once you reach a certain number of points you aren't allowed to drive. Exits are called junctions, speed bumps are called ramps, and there are roundabouts everywhere. Also, I've become used to seeing horse-drawn buggies on busy roads. One of the most terrifying things about being on roads in Ireland is how narrow they are. Combined with tons of people riding bikes in the streets, it's a nerve-wracking experience! A lot of country roads are more like a car-and-a-half wide, so when you go around blind corners or across a bridge you have to be slow and aware of the possibility of someone blindly coming at you. There's no turning left on a red light here the way you can turn right on a red light in America.
There are lots of tiny little details in homes here that are different from west-coast America. First of all: light switches are backwards. Up is off and down is on. Electrical outlets are called sockets (when I say outlet I get laughed at because it's only used in the sense of a shopping outlet here) and they often have switches to turn off the flow of electricity. I cannot count the number of times that I've plugged my phone in to charge and forgotten to flip the switch and returned to find a dead phone. Locks are generally reversed; Left is locked and right is to unlock, as well as inserting the key with the ridges facing down. Washing machines are often in the kitchen, and many places don't have dryers. Hang-drying clothes is much more common. I've seen the underwear of most of the people I've met! Open floor plans aren't super common. Every room has a door and they're kept closed to keep the heat in whatever room is being used. In business offices it's not uncommon to have to flip a switch to be able to open a door. I've run into many locked doors and struggled to find the switch to open them. Garbage disposals in the sink don't exist and fridges with ice/water dispensers are uncommon but when I see them in stores they're called "American fridges". Kitchen cabinets are called presses, and the room with the hot water tank (called the immersion) is the hot press. Also, it's more common to have doors on everything in the kitchen, including the dishwasher, fridge, and washing machine, so that it all looks like a bunch of matching cabinets. One of the biggest surprises is that water is free here! No, not in restaurants. Although tap water is free in restaurants. There's just no charge for water in houses. It's a big debate right now whether or not water charges should be allowed in. Hot topic! Most toilets have two buttons to flush with. One just adds more water to the bowl. And some type of footwear is worn inside at all times. I look really weird when I am barefoot or only wear socks! Slippers are worn when shoes are off.
I could go on forever with this one. But I'll give you just a few examples of ways that communication really matters. And can get super confusing. They also have a lengthy vocabulary when it comes to insults.
- (many, many more)
- Garbage can: bin
- Trash: rubbish
- Mall: shopping centre
- Movie: film
- Theater: cinema
- Call: ring
- Stove: cooker
- Drop by (visiting): call in
- Gross: manky/maggoty
- Average/standard: bog standard
- What's new: what's the strange
- House: gaff
- Money: quid/bob
- Thing: yoke
- That guy: yer man
- Pharmacy: chemist
- Doctor: surgeon
- Drunk: drunk, pissed, etc (loads of words)
Shopping can get a little bit tricky when things are unavailable or labelled with different names. I've learned quickly, but there's still things that pop up now and then that throw me off. Some things come down to little differences. Like pasta here is an over-all term for pasta dishes. Noodles here are only considered an asian dish with noodles. Nothing else! Soda is called minerals, cookies are called biscuits, chips are called crisps, fries are called chips, and you don't dig into a meal, you tuck in. If something is delicious, it's gorgeous. Many times when I'm grocery shopping I'll have to remember what the name of something is here. Zucchinis are called courgettes, cilantro is called coriander (the leaves/plants as a whole, not just the seeds), and bacon is rashers. There's also a matter of typical meals. Meals are commonly a main dish with a side of potatoes and a veggie. A typical fry, which is had for breakfast, includes rashers, sausages (much different from American sausages in taste and texture), tomatoes, mushrooms, eggs, toast, potatoes (like tater tots), pudding (black and/or white, and not creamy dessert pudding, the kind made from blood), and baked beans. There's tea and orange juice to drink. A typical Irish roast dinner would include chicken, gravy, potatoes, and broccoli or carrots. Take out is called take away here, and is much more common than drive-throughs or delivery. In fact, there aren't many drive-throughs! Indian is a lot more common here. Pizza is almost always thin-crust, and pepperonis are usually mini-sized. Macaroni and cheese, ranch, and what Americans would consider biscuits (like salty rolls) are not found here. Apparently neither are black beans because I had to go to an asian market to find some dried ones! It's so weird to know that there are KFCs everywhere but you can't go in and order a side of mac or a biscuit. Or to know that you can't get a McDonald's breakfast sandwich on a biscuit, it has to be a muffin! Also, in the fall, pumpkin spice is not a thing. Pumpkin pie doesn't exist here, and neither do pumpkin spice treats. Another difference that I didn't really expect was juice drinks being sold as concentrates. Rather than pouring a glass of juice you pour in a tiny bit of concentrate and then fill the glass with water. It's called squash. In actual orange juice, it's sold as smooth or with "bits", rather than with or without pulp. Water is also sold fizzy here, which I learned the hard way two summers ago. Last, but not least, coffee is had after meals or after dessert if dessert is had.
I'm going to use this last category as a catch-all. Of course not everything here is strictly cultural, but you get the idea. I think probably the most noticeable aspect of the Irish culture is just how social they all are. Everyone knows everyone and everyone gets together often to see each other. Dropping by someone's place unannounced isn't uncommon (or rude) and visits are often long and involve tea, coffee, and treats. Marriage is a much different situation over here. First of all, couples are together for much, much longer. It's much more common in Ireland for kids/young adults to live with their parents until they get married. Once you've decided to get engaged, you have to be registered to get married for at least 6 months before-hand. No impromptu eloping here! Then, if you decided to get divorced, you have to register as separated for 5 years before you can legally divorce. Something I learned recently was the term to "wet the head". When a baby is born, you have a drink to celebrate. Mail is a lot different in Ireland. Addresses don't always involve a house number, or a street name. Sometimes there's zero numbers in an address. It's a lot harder to get a package delivered (as I'm sure you could've guessed), and there's usually no return addresses on national mail. One really nice difference is that all items for sale are marked at their end price, tax included. So no having to guess what your total is going to be! Speaking of money, banking works a little bit differently. There aren't so many ATMs around, and getting a bank account was pretty tricky. Credit/debit cards have chips in them, so cards are inserted rather than swiped. Purchases under €30 can be done contactless, which means you hold your card over the screen for a split second and the whole thing is done and paid for. There are fees for each transaction, even with debit cards.
That's about it! Well, a summary at least. Of course there a ton of other things I've noticed since living here, but there's just a few of my (rambly) thoughts. It's been a learning experience, but a funny one for sure! I find myself laughing through most of it and adapting as I go.