|A sign you don't see in the US|
I'll miss the little community school.
We walk to and from school every day. It takes about 10 minutes and I think there is nothing quite so likely to set children up for a good day as a freewheeling scooter ride, saying hello to their friends and getting some wiggles out before the day begins. By the time the children are 9 or so, they are easily able to do the walk on their own and it's a nice beginning independence sort of step. The children start at the school at age 4 and leave around age 12 with each grade having one class. By the end of their time at St Matt's, the children know one another as well as their own siblings and the staff can't help but know every child's unique ins and outs. The classes stay together all day, generally in their classroom with just the one teacher. You don't see all the marching about the building that you get in the US nor the constant parade of adults. The day is a more sensible 8:30-1 for the 4 and 5 year olds and 8:30-2 for the older ones so there is plenty of time for play in the afternoons even after homework and after school activities. Breaks also tend to be significantly less disruptive to the school routine with periodic breaks of 1-2 weeks and then 2 months in the summer without a bunch of half days or sporadic mid-week days off.
In my experience, the Irish are some of the most welcoming, community oriented people I have ever come across. They would like to know about you, your story, how they can help you and if you'd like another pint. They would like to commiserate with you and tell you all about themselves. They would like to give you directions and figure out exactly how Mrs. McGillis and McKenna are related. They would like to loan you a mixer and invite you to tea. If you ever need a fail safe guest for your next dinner party, befriend an Irishman. It's not all wine and roses but there is always good chat.
|Another sign you don't see in the US.|
I'll miss the acceptance of the progression of life.
Ireland is sort of an odd mishmash of ancient and modern sensibilities. It is a Catholic country by it's constitution and the influence of the ancient church is still quite strong. Families still tend to live quite close to one another and it's is typical for grandparents to watch the children while the middle generation works. At the same time, you're starting to see rather a lot of fathers being responsible for the children during the day. I'm not an economist nor sociologist but from some questioning of friends my understanding is that a lot of men were in trades that traditionally have allowed them to support a family but with the economic downturn, their wives, working office jobs to help the ends meet have been able to hang on to their positions more successfully than the tradesmen can find work. My understanding is that a lot of fathers would rather be the primary wage earner but that pragmatics rule.
I have found Ireland to be the most family friendly culture we visited with babies and young children considered to simply be a part of life- not overly fawned over but also not frowned over. Strollers are lifted onto buses and subways cars. Pedestrians keep a weather eye out for scooters and bikes and wobbly toddlers. At the same time, it's common to see elderly women out for a stroll with their chums. Television has the teenybopper melodramas but you also see a reasonable smattering of the 30-50 crowd. Adults of all ages are expected to go to the pub and attend sporting events and concerts. Life, in all it's iterations, is welcome in Ireland.
|Yeats hangs out at our Square|
It will be a struggle to get anywhere near 10,000 steps a day when we return to Blacksburg. While the post office and grocery store are technically within walking distance, sidewalks are lacking. I will have to drive the children to school. In Ireland, I hit over 8,000 steps just by dropping the children off at their 2 schools. On days I also run, I'm easily at 12,000 steps by the end of the day. Daily activity hasn't been this effortless since college when I walked all over creation for class.
I'll miss the customer service.
Irish shopkeepers are of the firm opinion that the only way to survive a struggling economy is to offer excellent customer service. Not only that, they are always trying to be sure you get the best deal to ensure your loyalty. At the grocery store, I was in the check out line and actually had an employee spot a box of tea on the belt, tell me that there was a much better price on a different brand, take the other tea box back and reappear with the cheaper version all before the cashier finished ringing me up. The pharmacy employees are always having to wander about the shop with me to try and figure out what the Irish version of the US medication is. The hardware store guys give me directions to all over town and know me by name. The grocery check out lady told me that I should by x, y, and z at this store or that to get a much better deal. If the Irish economy collapses, it won't be for lack of effort on the mom and pop front.
|Baby carrots that look like... carrots|
Being an agrarian island, finding locally produced food is no problem. High fructose corn syrup is unknown here. Most food colorings are plant based rather than chemical. Baby carrots look like baby carrots. I haven't actually toured a farm but we regularly drive past them. The chicken parts are normal sizes and the beef doesn't taste like it hung out on a feed lot. I see more people wandering the streets eating apples or chugging milk than I see eating chips/crisps or chugging soda.
|Child on a public zip line!|
There doesn't seem to be quite the wild careening regarding weight that we see in the US. The women on the billboards and on TV (at least those originating in Ireland) seem to be the lower end of pretty normal rather than the low end of cosmetically enhanced twig. The women I encounter in daily life are generally on the spectrum of "healthy." The same goes for most of the men. People here stay moderately active up into their quite senior years and their bodies show it. People walk to get from place to place and they don't mess around. I'm pretty sure that the average walking speed in Dublin is around an 11 minute mile which makes a lot of sense when you consider the weather. I see clutches of elderly women making their stately way down the block to do their shop or visit the post office. Men will get together to play football or rugby. At the same time, I see women with a little tummy on them and a bit of wiggle in their booty. A body that has clearly produced a child or two seems to still be in the realm of attractive. I have even been given the once over a couple of times! It all combines to make it a lot easier to focus on a goal of staying healthy and active rather than a number on the scale or, since I have yet to figure out what size I am in UK measures, a dress size. :-)
|Another Child On A Zip Line|
Does no one think of the children?
Europe knows how to build a playground. There are ziplines and all manner of climbing apparatus that tower far too high to ever be allowed in a US playground. But, most of all, they tend to have these enchanting paths. There are holes in the fence lining up with holes in hedges where the bushes were pruned by adult hands at some point and then the path further trampled and maintained by a 100 little hands and feet. The branches ask to be climbed. Fairy parties beg to be had. Cool and dark adventure beckons. They are irresistible! And, a wonderful way to be sure that even the most citified of city kids enjoys the allure of the forest.
I'll miss the sense of history.
I'm not of Irish heritage but I am clearly Western European and I'm confident in saying I'm also of strong Celtic descent. I've always enjoyed European history- especially the stuff before about 1600. Pre-1600 Europe is distinctly my history. It's also history I feel like I can really firmly grasp. It's old enough to feel very different but familiar enough to not feel completely unrelatable. This is where my ancestors learned to structure larger social groups and government. They established the basic rights of man via the Magna Carta. They developed a concept of the afterlife, spirituality and then organized religion... a couple of times, actually. This is where my people learned about cultivation and where the beginnings of my dietary staples became cultivated staples. I walk on soil that people I share a sizable hunk of dna with, have walked for centuries or even millenia. When I walk past the church, the butcher, the grocer, the pharmacist, the next church and then over the bridge I know that this is the same path, past the same basic things that people walked on and past before English as we know it was spoken. That's history.
I have come to the opinion that Ireland is perhaps the ideal place to get an initial taste of living abroad. Things are different enough that you always know you are somewhere new while not being so very different as to be paralysing. There is a bit of a language barrier but it's surmountable. The people in Ireland are fond of Americans and are interested enough in our goings on that you still feel you aren't completely adrift of how it goes back home. The social conventions and structure are reasonably familiar and the people are, generally, quite forgiving of lapses. While I'm ready to go home, I've had a lovely time.