Monday, March 1, 2010

Cultural Differences

Hey all...isn't it amazing how fast time flies? My ex-complicated relationship Jeff Zito started his last blog with a rhetorical question, so I figured I would do the same. I mean really, I knew time here in Ireland would fly and go by faster than every other semester in my life but it just never fails to jump out and grab you. I know February is short, but March 1st already makes me wonder where it really goes. If my calculations are correct, tomorrow marks the 50th day I have been in Ireland. Tomorrow will also mark the day I have 50 days left here in Kenmare. It is exciting, scary, and surprising all at once when you think about it this way. In 7 weeks I will be flying back to the wonderful state of Connecticut for a weekend and then back down to Alabama where I am almost positive I will be located for a while. Of course I miss these places more and more everyday however, I have always been pretty patient when it came to getting back to the places I love. Obviously being in a miraculous place such as Ireland makes it easier, but although I miss my homes in the States, when the time comes to be back, the time will come. Until then, more fun Irish times are to be had.

I did some reflecting on my blog and although I think blogs are more fun when they are about what you think as opposed to what you have done, I realized I haven't really talked a lot about Ireland itself and what I have observed. That is why I have chosen to write some short statements about my observations about some cultural similarities but mainly differences that I have seen between here and the United States. Here goes...

EDUCATION: I have already told you a lot about the education system here, and the major differences of class structure and subjects within the school. However, there are a few additions. First, teacher camaraderie at the school is just, different. Obviously my experiences of what I have to compare it to are slim, but every chance teachers get, they are either working or hanging out in the break room. At Opelika High, teachers were very nice and pleasant, but lunch was a quick 26 minutes and teachers ate in the cafeteria with the students, split among four different lunch waves. In Ireland, most schools have twenty minute breaks around 11 and then 45 minutes for lunch at 1:15. Students are allowed to walk into town which could only be possible in a small town. However this allows for teacher breaks and lunches to be filled with teachers chatting away about things usually other than school. It is really nice to have this time and get to know the teachers. Another thing, since the population is smaller and the towns spread out, some students have to travel up to 30 kilometers to get to school. School districts often encompass many towns bringing a variety of Irish personalities, but no minorities.

TRANSPORTATION: Students take public bus transportation that live in the towns in the outskirts of Kenmare. Bus Eireann runs all over the country and it may take time, with a combination of busses, trains, and planes, you can get anywhere in the country for a decent price. Public transportation is not a new idea however, the country has only a few highways leading into major cities. Unlike the interstate system if America, most of the roads are small, windy roads that lead to long travel times even for short distances. However this also results in Irish drivers of small cars driving extremely fast when they shouldn't be. Getting around is not terrible or even hard, it is just different.

WEATHER: True to reputation, weather is usually pretty consistent with temperatures around freezing overnight and usually low to mid forties during the day. Southern Ireland is usually pretty wet although weather in the last couple weeks has been bright and sunny most days. Unlike the inconsistent temperatures of the Deep South and the blizzards and ice of the Northeast, Irish weather though wet at times, very rarely deviates from the norm. It is nice although I do miss weekends with rain, snow, and a tornado all in one.

RESTAURANTS & PUBS: I know I have mentioned the pubs and restaurants here. Although I have not been to many, I probably have actually eaten at the two local Chinese restaurants the most. What I want to mention here is the service industry employees at these places. Soon upon arriving, I realized and was informed that you do not tip bartenders and not really servers as well. Every time I tipped a bartender (most recently this weekend) they are always kind enough to inform me that "you do not do that here." After getting a tip of mine picked up by a friend off the bar because they thought someone had left it, I realized that it was not normal to do so. It is just weird for me being a server in a restaurant, NOT to tip others that work in restaurants and pubs. Oh well....I'll get over it.

POLITICS & SOCIETY: I combine these two very important aspects of any culture just because, I really do not know much about either. Politics are talked about at a national level sometimes, but rarely locally do I hear or see anything about politics in Kenmare. I am learning a lot about society but I am referring to people in this case. I have met many Americans, English, some French and even Slovakians. However, the majority are white Irish people. This is obviously what you would expect in this part of the country during the non-tourist season. There are many different types of people, it is just not the melting pot I am used to from the States. This leads me too:

TOURISM: Irish towns are clearly set-up for tourism, especially in Kerry and the towns of Kenmare, Killarney, and Dingle that are located in this wonderful county. The restaurants, hotels, B&Bs and other sites in these towns are huge tourist destinations during the Spring and Summer. Places like Galway and the other cities and towns, offer travelers hostel accommodations like the rest of Europe. During my road trip I spent four nights around Europe and spent only 67 Euro for the four nights combined. I think my pub tabs were higher. We have thousands of hotels in the States, obviously, especially in our major cities which tend to be Irish destinations of interest. Almost anyone I have talked to that has been to the States has either been to Boston, New York, or Florida (and still some do not know Connecticut). However, hotels are usually pricey and although the B&Bs are present, I do not think America supports cheap sleeping arrangements for the foreign travelers. Part of this may be because the United States is not as close to other nations as Ireland is to the rest of Europe.

TELEVISION: My final two topics are nothing new as far as subjects of my blogging. Television here, if you have Sky cable or whatever it is called, you will have all the channels you need. I am delighted to have the option of watching Scrubs like 5 hours a day as it is on even more than it is in the States which is great. But TV shows and movies usually come much later here. For instance, I am happily watching the first season of Glee all over again as it started in January although it aired in the States during the fall. Movies are the same way in that they arrive a little late but I guess that is what happens when you do not have Hollywood.

FOOD: favorite topic. Although I have talked about restaurants and pubs I have had many fun experiences in the local Supervalu. This is the cheapest and largest grocery store in the area and often are found more than the giant Tescos which are the Irish equivalent of Wal-Mart. Supervalus are not huge but you can get everything you need. Immediately I noticed a huge difference in some foods when I bought a bag of Doritos my first week here. They just were not the same. The Pringles taste good but things like ketchup, bread, and even yogurt all taste just a little different, even if it is a brand that is also made in the U.S. For instance, Yoplait yogurt is not even close to what we have in the States but things like Cadbury Creme Eggs are totally different. Admittedly I was addicted there for a few weeks but Cadbury is an Irish brand. However, things like yogurt and ice cream vary in quality and price. They do have Ben & Jerry's here but usually a pint is 4-7 Euro (around $6-10). Obviously being imported has made Ben & Jerry's almost as valuable as diamonds, but this is one thing that does taste the same. However many groceries are different, especially when it comes to Gatorade and Powerade, cheese and bread. It just tastes so different that although these differences have allowed for changes in my diet, food here is more normal than I thought it was. I mean, I can always get good quality Chinese...

I am sorry this blog was long but I just felt like sharing a few observations I've had about the culture itself. More to come soon. Need to get back to work, we'll talk soon.



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