« (…), travel is in my opinion a very profitable exercise; the soul is there continually employed in observing new and unknown things, and I do not know, as I have often said, a better school wherein to model life than by incessantly exposing to it the diversity of so many other lives, fancies, and usances… ». These are Montaigne’s words in the chapter « Of Vanity » in his Essays (III, 9).
Let’s start a new section! Whatever your origin, your culture, your education or your lifestyle, you may be surprised, or even baffled, during your travels by some aspects of other cultures. We needs to « travel into foreign countries, so that we may whet and sharpen our wits by rubbing them against those of others », said Montaigne (Essais, I, 25)! Of course, the passer-by has less experience than an expat or, simple, than a native, but still he can quickly notice some facets of the local lifestyle. Let’s take things from a distance! Here are 10 ways a French girl in Dublin allowed her wits to be sharpened and whetted and let herself be surprised by some little details…
- Gaelic language: the French are used to one national language and a few regional ones. In Ireland, they will become acquainted with a country where people speak two languages. The Irish Gaelic is the official language of Ireland, with a priority over English. It is everywhere and all official communication is done in both languages. However, it is not spoken that much between Dubliners and English is still more common for everyday use. The percentage of the population who uses Gaelic everyday is estimated at less than 2%, but this number is bound to go up, since the official policy is to encourage it through various means. You’ll find newspapers, TV and radio channels in Gaelic. Have a look at them – Gaelic is the only Celtic language in the European Union.
- More generally, the Irish accent: I know, long before I went there, that there was an Irish English accent. I knew from friends who went there or simply from school. I was expecting some form of obscure cockney accent, intelligible only to the insider – I expected painful attempts at communication. Not at all: when I arrived in the Irish capital, I was very pleasantly surprised, as no such fearsome accent was to be heard. Dubliners talked to me in a language I understood
more or lessand I came to the conclusion that all this Irish accent stuff was outdated, or at least wildly exaggerated – the result of British propaganda. And then there was this time when, on Grafton Street, I asked a little wrinkled old man my way and felt even more lost when he answered. And this other time, when I explored the prison of Kilmainham Gaol with a guide. I took me a while to notice that he was speaking English and, to be frank, I understood almostnothing of what he said, even though I was focused as a Sioux. It is a pity by the way, I would have liked to get what he was saying and to laugh with the others at his anecdotes… To put it briefly: the Irish accent is not a myth, it is a reality, but a much less perceptible one in Dublin, compared to other parts of Ireland.
- The alcohol: sometimes, when you hear about Dublin and Saint-Patrick’s Day, you imagine clusters of Erasmus students surfing on beer waves in Temple Bar, you imagine you’re not going to outdrink the locals who binge themselves so much during the year they’re out of your league on March 17th. I went to Dublin the week before Saint-Patrick’s Day, so I have no experience to share. Yet, I didn’t get the impression that Temple Bar was an open-air distillery, nor that Irish people were pathological drunks. In any case, I went to a few bars where the customers’ age range was quite wide and I saw no « binge drinking », nothing that would fit in a bad western or would be worthy of an « Envoyé Spécial » summer investigation. To be completely honest, the loudest group I saw in a pub was composed of… young French sailors. To put it briefly: certainly, over drinking is a problem for Irish youth, as much as for European youth in general, as confirmed by WHO statistics, but Ireland has a very strict alcohol policy. You can’t buy vodka in local stores when you’re 14, for example. My stay in Dublin was very short, but it allowed me to form a more nuanced opinion on the subject.
- The food: OK, it’s an island. Where is the fish? Same surprise as in Greece (Greece is not an island, I know, but still, there’s a huge chunk of sea around it): these are meat-loving nations. Traditional Irish food is fairly simple and rich and fish and seafood is rarely used. Why? Irish cuisine is the result of a difficult story and the Irish soil is particularly fit for bovine farming. Irish beef has had its little reputation for centuries!
- Religion: Irish people are catholic and vocal about it. It may come as somewhat of a cultural shock for
anti religiousFrench people who are used to public religious neutrality. I was in Dublin during the last Ash Wednesday and was startled to see ashen crosses on everyone’s forehead, from little children to old people, during the whole day. In the morning before class or in the evening after work, many went to mass with their families or friends to celebrate this catholic holiday. Religion is more present in the public space here than in France and the Irish Constitution is even proclaimed in the name of the Saint Trinity.
- Public transportation: I already wrote about public transportation in Dublin, one of the few European capitals without a subway. The Dublin bus system can require some contortions, but it is the most practical way to move around the Irish capital and its surroundings if you don’t have a car. But you should know that there are no night buses, except on Friday and Saturday nights. Past 11:30 p.m., your only hope is the cab, a very common and cheap means of transportation in Dublin: you’ll see them everywhere!
- Evening wear: Dubliners go out a lot, especially on week-ends. Women dress exactly as they want for the occasion and don’t tone down their outfit so as to avoid street harassment, as they often do in France. Dresses are often short, make-up is powerful, necklines are plunging and the heels are high, and nobody minds. People pass each other on the street and don’t pay much attention. When I was there, I felt very free and noticed a lot of open-mindedness as far as clothing is concerned, same as in London or Berlin. Each and every hair or sartorial eccentricity is possible and you don’t get heavy, unpleasant looks. I wish I could feel that way in France.
- Society: there is a very distinctive sense of collective well-being in Ireland. Everyone is extremely helpful and observe a certain collective discipline for everyone’s peace of mind. It is particularly obvious in public transportation and basic civic rules are blatantly promoted. There are fines for passengers who dare to put their feet on the opposite seat on the train. Other Europeans’ good manners are always a relief after a trip on the Paris subway…
- French people: lots of them, everywhere. London has about 225.000 expats from the Hexagon, they are also very present all over Ireland, with about 9.000 residents, half of them in Dublin. The one you see on the streets are mainly tourists, since Dublin is very attractive to French people, who amount to 5% of international tourists coming to Ireland – France being then the 4th more common country of origin, after the UK, the USA and Germany. And it’s understandable: Dublin is so easy to go to, being only 1:20 hour from Paris by plane, and within the Eurozone.
- …Taps: it seems ridiculous, but when you’re in the bathroom, Irish taps can be slightly baffling. The bathroom sink has two taps, one for (often very) cold water and one for (often very) hot water. Getting warm water is a real challenge.
What about you? What struck you during your stay in the Irish capital?