Thursday, September 23, 2010
An American in Ireland
I'm in culture shock because the people here are so gosh darn NICE. I thought the contrast between Prague and Moscow was dramatic, but surely Russians and Irish are not the same species of animal? People stop me on the street if I look the least bit lost, and they walk me in the right direction. Others ask visitors if they have a good place to stay. They do this just to be friendly, not because they are trying to sell something or promote a particular place. People strike up conversations while waiting for the bus. In stores, the staff are happy to see the customers, and again with the helpfulness. It is as much of a breath of fresh air as the healing salt smell of the sea coming off the water. I have a lot more energy here, and am aware of feeling happy and content more than any other time on this journey. I think at least partly this is because getting around and taking care of basic needs is effortless compared to the other places I have been due to language and cultural barriers.
I am in Galway, on the west coast of Ireland after a couple of days in Dublin. Suddenly I am meeting tons of Americans for the first time on my trip. Lots of folks here on genealogy expeditions, exploring their Irish roots. I feel a bundle of mixed emotions about being around Americans. I have not been around native English speakers much in the past 6 months. For some reason, the American accent seems very twangy and harsh to me. I can hear it in my own voice. Not the gorgeous Irish accent or the fluid French. Not the rolled Rs of Mongolian and Nepal or the rich Indian accent. There is swagger in our accent. There is drawl. There is down home cooking and country living. There is a touch of apple pie. It's not bad, but I've never heard it so plainly before, and not so strongly in my own voice.
I love my country. I am lucky to be a woman from the States rather than so many other places where women don't have access to education, employment, or have childbearing and marriage as options...I love that we don't have to bribe our judges and most of us don't live in fear of the police. We usually have someone to appeal to if we have a grievance in almost every situation. We can express our opinions, even if they are unpopular or are against the government. I love the land in the huge variety of places and national parks, from sea to shining sea. And, whenever I am away, I see more clearly our weaknesses, the dirt under our nails, the bloody laundry hidden under the bed. This is partly why I wanted to come through Europe, so I can do some reconciling with my American-ness. I can remember more of where I come from, because I was away long enough to start to forget.
Today was "Arthur's day" which celebrates Guinness beer. At 17:59, there was a world-wide toast (1759 was the year Guinness was founded). The streets were lined with revelers, most taking full advantage of the opportunity to be loud and boisterous. I had an obligatory Guinness, with black current syrup to take the edge off the bitter. This was suggested to me by another woman who wasn't a huge Guinness fan. It didn't do much for me except make the Guinness taste like cough syrup. I'll stick with hard cider and whisky. Speaking of whiskey, I did a tour of the Jameson distillery in Dublin and learned why Irish whiskey is the best in the world (it is triple-distilled). I won a spot at the table to be talked through a whiskey tasting, where the guide talked us through the flavors and reasons for the different results. Now I can claim to be a bit of a connoisseur. I even have a certificate to prove it.
Tomorrow I take a ferry across to the Aran Islands for some cycling and time on the water. The next day I make my way to Killarney, then down to the Buddhist retreat center which was my main reason for coming back to Ireland. I will have 5 days there to think, write, walk, meditate, and talk to the other amazing people that have also come there. As the place is quite hard to get to, it attracts quiet intentional people. Not all Buddhist, either. Last time found it felt like home after feeling like an alien among my pub-hopping peers. It is good to be here as I work to make sense of what I did, while learning to talk about it in a more concise way. I have gone from feeling freaked out at the idea of coming home, to a mild ambivalence. I plan to move through to acceptance and then into excitement in the coming weeks. More soon!