|Stephen's Green, Dublin|
So I've lived in Ireland for over 11 years now (1995-1997, 2000-2002 & 2006 - present), started visiting in 1989 and studied at UCC for a summer while I was at Boston College (1992). My family in the US now thinks of me as some form of cultural ambassador. I can explain to them, when they visit, to please not use the word 'fanny' here as it has a slightly different meaning than the innocuous 'behind' it represents in the US. I can explain how to buy your round. I gently inform them it is polite to insist on paying for a meal even if someone initially refuses. I'm proud that my family & close friends are now fairly Hibernoised but I'm still taken aback by the questions I get from the average punter when I visit The States, so I've decided to once-and-for-all answer some of the more...annoying...questions/myths I get about living in Ireland.
1. We are NOT part of England. Follow the words here: England is a country within The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Republic of Ireland (26 of 32 counties) is a totally separate country. Honestly. We have a separate government and all.
2. "I love Braveheart!" *cough* that's Scotland. Completely different country. It might surprise you, gentle reader, to know that Scotland and Ireland aren't even attached. [Although parts of the film were shot in Ireland]
3. "What's it like to live in the Old Country?" Well, the broadband service I get is faster than my mom's, who lives south of Microsoft headquarters so...not bad really.
This is awkward as I have to break it to someone that their idea of Ireland - pastoral, men in tweeds with pipes, women wailing in the background in black shawls, barefoot kids - isn't my day-to-day reality. For some Irish-Americans this is especially hard to grasp as their idea of Ireland is a mythological place, frozen in time since 1870.
4. "Is it just like the movies?" How to express to a Yank the cringing horror with which all my Irish friends view 'Far and Away'? "Yes," I respond, "Its exactly like the movies."
5. "Can I use dollars there?" Um....let me think about that. No. I'm not sure why Americans believe the US dollar is some kind of magical elixir currency accepted everywhere? One of my former housemates used to work in a shop on Nassau St and was asked this on a regular basis. It nearly fried his head off. Please Americans - you know Canada has a different currency. You know Mexico does. If traveling to Europe do yourself a favour and bring Euro. Or your bank card. We have ATMs, too.
6. "Is it green everywhere, all the time?" Yes.
7. "You must be REALLY catholic." Nope. Not even a smidge. And although a majority of the population still identifies as catholic, its hard to say how much of this group is made up of people who don't practice whatsoever but who haven't broken from the identity completely.
We are now, in 2013, a more secular country than we were at any time in the 20th century. Condoms are widely and readily available in every chemists. There is no longer a 'holy hour' in pubs on a Sunday. Yes, the Angelus still rings on RTÉ but never, not once have I ever seen anyone stop what they're doing and pray at 6pm.
This does not, however, stop Ireland from being uber-religious in the minds of many Americans. Back in 2001, when I was visiting Seattle and getting my driver license renewed, the DMV guy started calling me Sister Katherine Mary and assumed I was a nun. I happened to be wearing a long skirt, told him I hadn't renewed on time as I lived in Ireland and as I was opening my passport a BVM card (which had been my gran's) fell out. Of course, with all that I must be a nun! I didn't have the heart to correct him.
8. "Has Gaelic died out?" Not yet, although we've had a good go at killing it altogether. If you travel here, you will see many signs As Gaelige (in Irish) as well as English. They are both official languages.
Irish is taught in schools from a young age but strangely not spoken as widely, nor do we boast a population as fluent as you might expect given that everyone who's gone through the school system has been subjected to learning it for ca. twelve years.
9. "Did you ever worry about the bombs?" No. I have never lived in Northern Ireland (Northern Ireland is not a description like The South in America. Its a completely different country.) And very gratefully - things are much more peaceful now.
10. "Why did you move there?" None of your business! I am always amazed at the personal questions total strangers will ask you...about your kids, if you're married, etc. Plus, the answer, that I prefer Ireland to America, is hard for some to grasp. The last time I traveled to the US (Boston) my daughter and I went through US immigration in Dublin airport (as you do). I was delighted as I had finally sorted out her US passport but instead of sailing through, I got a grilling. Why did I choose to live outside the US? When did I first move abroad? What did I study when I was at Trinity? What was the title of my thesis? Did I fall in love in Ireland?
It was like the immigration officer had a chip on his shoulder (how dare I choose not to live in Amurrrica!) and was determined to make me feel unpatriotic and small. Best of luck with that.
Do you want to see what its really like to live in Ireland? Come here. Talk to us. Don't settle for the schlocky paddywackery sold as 'Irish'. We have a lot more on offer than that.