Six Unanticipated Irish/American Differences (and Some Embarrassing Moments)

Loren Thomas STEM Summer Research - Dublin, Ireland


June 10, 2019
Currently Studying at: STEM SUMMER RESEARCH - DUBLIN
Homeschool: University of Michigan

Hello all! Today is day FIVE in Ireland! Surprisingly, it feels like I’ve been here for a few weeks. I settled into my student accommodation, explored downtown Dublin (“City Centre”), bought my Leap (bus) card, stocked up on groceries, and started working in my chemistry lab. Even though I still have so much to learn about Ireland and its culture, I feel like I am blending in quite nicely and soaking in everything around me. There are a few things, however, that I have found surprisingly much different than America so far.

1) Restaurant Etiquette

In the states, we walk into a restaurant and wait to be seated by a host/hostess. But in most casual restaurants and pubs in Dublin, there is no host station – you can simply grab any open table and sit down. I learned this on the first day while wandering around a fairly classy restaurant with a large group of people. We gave up and asked the bartender where to find a host stand, and he was very confused. We looked even more touristy when attempting to explain what we meant. When he finally understood and told us to sit anywhere, we were too embarrassed and ended up going somewhere else. Whoops!

2) Drinks & Jetlag

Hoorah for being over the legal drinking age here in Ireland! The first night, a few of us ordered beers at dinner. What we didn’t know, however, is that the default size for alcoholic beverages is a pint. The beer tasted amazing, but it definitely made me even more exhausted. Having just arrived that morning and not sleeping in over 24 hours was not the best combination with a pint of beer. Thankfully, we all made it home safely and passed out by 8 pm. I think that was the best sleep of my entire life! (Note to future self: If you’re exhausted – don’t drink!! There will be plenty of opportunities to do so, and you will feel so much better if you save that money for a pint on a Friday after a long week of work.)

3) Busing

Right after we moved our belongings into our apartment, a few of us decided to buy a Leap card and take the public bus to the grocery store. Google Maps labeled this as a 15-minute commute, but it ended up being over an hour. First, we walked to the bus stop and attempted to get onto a bus, which happened to be out of service. We now know that even if a bus has the correct route on the front, it is only in service when it pulls up to the bus stop. (The bus driver wasn’t too happy about us peering into the closed door). We finally got on the bus, said the name of our stop to the driver, and sat down. The bus pulled away before we all had the chance to scan our card. The buses are always in a hurry! That’s why they’re more efficient and accurate in Ireland than in the states.

4) Grocery Stores

The grocery stores aren’t quite the same as what we’re used to. My go-to store at home is Meijer or Kroger, but stores like this don’t exist here. The locals say that Tesco is one of the largest, so we went there to buy groceries for the week. The store turned out to be inside of a shopping mall and about a quarter the size of a Meijer. They only sold food and cooking items. A store with food, home supplies, gardening, toiletries, etc. does not exist in Ireland. You have to go to a different, specialized store to buy every item on your list. I was thankful for this the first time because the store was smaller than I expected, and I had an easy time finding my friends when we got lost in the midst of frozen food aisles. Another funny thing about Tesco is that it had an aisle devoted to “American Foods.” This contained items such as PopTarts, Pringles, Reese’s, microwave popcorn, and my personal favorite: “American Style” peanut butter. I had no idea that there was any other way to make peanut butter. Isn’t it just crushed up peanuts? I plan on buying the Irish style next time, so I’ll let you know!

5) Cooking

On the way home from the store, my flatmate and I decided to split a frozen pizza for dinner. We got home and realized, “Crap, we have no oven!” Our shared kitchen comes with two refrigerators, one freezer, a sink, a microwave, tons of cabinets, a toaster, a kettle, and some utensils, but no oven! So, we ended up breaking the pizza into many pieces and microwaving one at a time. It wasn’t the best, but we were all starving from such a long day that the pizza hit the spot perfectly. The next night, we tried to boil pasta and burnt the noodles (picture attached). None of us had used an electric stove before, but we now know that it can get really hot really fast.

6) Language Barriers

This is something that I was not at all worried about before leaving America. The Irish speak English, so how can it be difficult to communicate? Well, I was in for a long week. The Irish accent is quite different and even more apparent when a native speaks quickly. I’ve been shadowing a Ph.D. student this week in the lab and he’s been teaching me all I need to know about techniques and lab protocols. Sometimes he gets carried away, and I have no idea what he’s saying. Thankfully, each day gets easier and easier as I learn to decipher their dialect. I’ve even accidentally started saying certain chemistry terms with their accent! Another difference is how they refer to random things. Chips are fries, crisps are chips, lad is friend, guard is police, etc. I was talking to a coworker about a CrockPot, but he didn’t understand what I meant, so I spent many minutes trying to describe what a CrockPot does. At the end, he exclaimed, “OH! A slow cooker!” Each day we accidentally teach each other a little more about our common (yet uncommon) language.

Although I mentioned six main topics, there are way more little things that the Irish do differently here. I feel like I’ve learned so much, yet there is constantly more to learn about this marvelous country. Cheers for now!