How Ireland Has Changed Me

Ten years ago today, I got on an airplane in Washington DC with my pregnant wife and one year old son, and we all left the only country we’d ever lived in. The airport was busy with people heading the other direction: it was Barack Obama’s Inauguration Day, 2009. A couple of meals and movies later, we landed in Ireland. We were met at the airport by coworkers, and on the way home we stopped at Pizza Hut. During the meal, my wife noticed that we had left the diaper bag in the trunk. No problem, our coworker was happy to get the nappy bag out of the boot. We looked at each other and knew: it might be Pizza Hut, but it was definitely not America!

Ten years later we’re still struggling to find the right words. The difference is that now the struggle is worst when we’re visiting the States. We say the food is lovely, and people make odd faces. We ask where the lift is, or if this is the proper queue, and people don’t know. We try to prepare our children (three of them, now), but we still miss things. One of our sons got in the car in Atlanta and anxiously informed me that his head was getting wet: Sweating might have been a constant in my own childhood, but it was a foreign experience for my son. On the other hand, climbing castle ruins is normal for him.

So yes, we’re different. Of course we are. We’ve gotten used to this place, and now we’re more comfortable in SuperValu or Tesco than the overwhelming magnitude of Wal-Mart. We now know tea, chocolate, cheese, and butter at their best. But there are deeper changes, too. Ireland is getting under our skin, re-arranging assumptions, and re-colouring our view of the world. In fact, I’m sure I can’t tell you all the ways Ireland has shaped me, because I’m sure I’m not even aware of half of them. But here’s a taste of a few ways Ireland has changed me:

My View Of Time

I grew up in a country where time is often treated as a commodity to be bought, sold, and traded. For the last decade, I’ve lived on an island where time is a sea to sail on, with room to stretch out. The schedule is not nearly as important as the person next to you. I’ve grown to like this system, even though sometimes (okay, often) it means that getting things done can be frustratingly slow. Still, I’ve come to believe that cups of tea should never be rushed and that visits with friends should be able to last for 3, 4, or 8 hours without the compelling need to move on to something else. And the prayer meetings! There’s nothing in the world like unhurried prayer with a group.

The Art Of Conversation

The Irish have done something no one would have guessed was possible: turned English into a beautifully musical spoken language. I’m not only referring to the accent, although that’s a significant part of it – it’s also the way Ireland turns phrases. Why say “Thanks” when you could say “Thanks a million”? Why say “it’s okay” when you could say “Ah, sure you’re grand”? Why speak simply of “rain” when you could use a dozen words to describe its many varieties? And with so many great phrases to choose from, you can talk for as long as you like and still say only as much as you like. In Ireland, conversation is a well-developed and subtle form of art. Jokes can be told without cracking a smile to let on, intense confrontations can burn hot in polite dialogue, and negotiation can look more like friendly banter than the argument that it is. Over the last decade, I’ve grown in my ability to read the clues that others are sending (I don’t miss as many jokes now), and I hope I’ve also grown in my ability to use words with care.

Building Consensus

When I first attended a committee meeting in Ireland, I came away wondering if any decisions had been made. No votes were taken (like I was used to); we simply talked over each point for a while, and moved on. Yet (I found out later) everyone else in the room had left with perfect clarity! I’m reading the clues better now, and on a deeper level, Ireland has taught me what it means to value consensus more than efficiency, agreement over speed. I’m still no great fan of meetings (who is?), but I appreciate the emphasis on people and relationships – even more so because it also translates into cups of tea and biscuits every time people get together. When my son mistakenly said “Daddy is going to an eating”, he wasn’t wrong.

Sunshine Is Gold

When we moved to Ireland, I was surprised by the lack of sunshine. Living this far north, the days get quite short in the winter, but often even when the sun is supposed to be here, it just isn’t. Sure, you get a bit of its leftovers through the clouds, but the actual golden orb we all love and depend on can sometimes go missing for days on end. When we first came, I struggled with this, and with the feeling of the sky being right on top of me. But the last ten years have taught me to appreciate grey skies. There’s actually something comfortable and cozy about these close cloudy skies, especially if you have a cup of tea and a fire. And I love the way everyone goes outside with a big smile when the sun finally decides to show up. We may not have it as often, but when it comes, we don’t take it for granted.

My View Of The World

Ireland has given me another set of eyes, but that doesn’t mean that my way of seeing is exactly the same as those who grew up on this lovely green gem. Instead, I’ve become something of a hybrid – a four-eyed creature who sees in new ways, but looks a bit odd anywhere I go. I don’t mind. I’m thankful that I can call two very different places “home” and mean it for both with all my heart. I’m thankful for the heritage I have from growing up in America, and I’m thankful for the decade I’ve had on this beautiful little island, breathing the fresh cloudy air. I’m thankful for the things this place has taught me about people, myself, and the world. I’m glad Ireland is under my skin.

2 thoughts on “How Ireland Has Changed Me”

  1. What a lovely summary. We arrived 18 months back, and it’s a very similar experience. The warmth and caring of the people, the way everyone looks out for everyone else. I’m still shocked at the politeness of the driving culture, too.


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