Ireland isn’t as different from the US as maybe Lithuania or South Korea, but there have still been some surprising moments of cultural difference. Like the orange toilet paper, for example. Or lack of shower curtains in our apartments, which make for a cold shower huddled under the steaming hot stream of water.
The accents can be, at times, overwhelming. I can understand one of every four words with a particularly strong accent, which means I nod and smile a lot, hoping whatever was said didn’t require a response.
The pubs here are less about drinking, as you might expect, and more about socializing. I’ve only been into two pubs so far, but I’ve already seen a handful of children in them, and it’s a common part of growing up for Irish children to spend parts of their weekends in the pub. The director of the program, Stephen Robinson, goes to a pub in his home town about 35 minutes outside of Dublin that has bouncy castles for the kids in the backyard.
Though a 1 cent Euro exists, you rarely see it here. Even if you are supposed to get 3 cents back in change, the clerks will give you a 5 cent piece. I also learned that you don’t use bills higher than 50 because Irish people are wary of being counterfeited, a legacy left over from the Troubles.
There are palm trees here, even though it’s usually between 40 and 55 degrees. And they are everywhere. It’s usually colder here in the afternoons and nights and somehow warmer in the mornings. Still figuring that one out.
Just like the UK, people drive on the left-hand side here, which can be confusing even though I don’t drive here. You have to look left when crossing the street rather than right, and right-of-way laws are different here. Cars don’t stop for humans. Nearly all cars, even mini-vans, are stick shift and the clutch and gear shift are on the left side. I can drive stick but I don’t know if I could get used to shifting with my left hand while sitting on the right side of the car. It’s just weird.
There are these kids here between the ages of 10-17 that people tend to call “trackies.” These are tracksuit-wearing kids who ride bicycles and cause a lot of problems. I ran into them at one point and they were smoking weed, which is considered much more criminal in Ireland than in the United States. They also called us “feckin’ tourists” at another meeting on a staircase, which could have ended badly. They generally look for trouble and when you give it to them, you regret it.
They don’t eat freshwater fish very often here. I rely on tilapia as a staple of my diet and it’s been a process to find it. I searched no less than ten different grocery stores, butchers, and fisheries with no luck. At one such fish shop, I asked if they had any freshwater fish and they said, “Why would yeh want freshwater fish? We live on the sea.” They did steer me in the direction of a shop across the river, where I did end up finding Korean-sourced tilapia for 9.99 Euros per kilogram.
Irish grocery stores don’t provide sacks unless you pay 22+ cents for them, so most people carry around canvas bags or backpacks to the store. There’s a lot of pressure to quickly bag up all your items while the clerk is scanning them so that you can pay and get out of the way, even though time here is pretty relaxed in comparison to the US. I spoke to one clerk who had never heard of hiring separate people to bag groceries, and if was cool to watch her ponder it. She said, “It’s good for job creation,” which is true. People also don’t use carts, called trolleys here, and if you do want to while shopping, you have to pay for it. Most just use a shopping basket.
The city of Dublin itself is spread out rather than up like many US cities. There are no skyscrapers here, and the tallest buildings are churches. We live on one side of Dublin in the medieval/viking section and we go to school across town in the financial district, which is a good 30 minute walk on a good day. The city is unlike US cities though because you can see the sky everywhere you go.
American music is everywhere. In some pubs and restaurants, it’s not unusual to hear “Surfin’ USA” or “American Woman.” Justin Bieber, though not American, has also made it across the Atlantic, to the Irish misfortune.
I’ll be updating this page as I make new discoveries about cultural differences.