Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Cultural Divide. Or is it?

Thanksgiving is a time to be with family. Although my daughter can't be here in the flesh, she is my guest today. Please give a warm welcome to Jessica Odell; ju-jistu black belt, first reader, brainstorming partner, fight scene choreographer, and supplier of excellent Irish libations.

I found myself moving to Northern Ireland in the summer of 2006, thanks to hubby’s job in the UK military. How we met is another long story, so I’ll just skip over that part. Aside from Mom: The short version? In a bar in Albuquerque, of course.

I live about 10 miles south of Belfast, and before anyone starts to panic, it’s not as bad as it used to be. I was all prepared for severe security warnings, but most of it is common sense nowadays. I live in a regular semi-detached house, in essentially a regular UK-style neighborhood. There’s shopping accessible in the town, a movie theater, a small mall, restaurants, and decent-sized supermarkets within 3 miles. So, what’s the big difference?

Everything and nothing, that’s what. The biggest hurdle (after learning how to drive on the wrong side of the road) was getting used to the language! Now, people here speak English but it’s not like any English I’ve ever heard. The slang terms have completely inundated the language. You might get greeted by, “how’s the craic (crack)?” or “what about yas”? And everything good is “dead on”. Not only do I have to wrap my head around the standard British vocabulary (where the sidewalk is the pavement, and you ask for the toilet instead of the bathroom), I had to interpret all of the local dialects as well! I still can’t understand some of my friends.



So the language has its quirks, but what about daily life? I am my mother’s daughter and sometimes it’s all about food. The selection here in town isn’t great, and if you want to find specialty diet things like South Beach, don’t even bother. Tea is everywhere, but order a cup of coffee in a cafĂ© and you’re likely to get instant, or something from one of those bizarre machines. Plain old filter coffee is hard to find. Don’t even THINK about getting a decent sandwich anywhere. If you order ham and cheese, that’s what you get: on white bread, with butter. No lettuce, no tomatoes, no mustard or mayo. Oh, I could kill for a pastrami on rye some days!



I have to import grape jelly and real marshmallows. Root beer fans are out of luck. But we have soda bread, wheaten bread, and potato farls (think mashed potatoes as a pancake and fried). For breakfast, an Ulster Fry will keep you going all day, and for those adventurous eaters…find out what a pastie bap is! French wine is cheap, and need I mention the Irish whiskey? A 90-minute drive can get me to the Bushmills Distillery, and Guinness is pretty much obligatory.


We have hedgehogs and starlings, and European goldfinches!



And castles to explore! Northern Ireland isn’t large and you can explore a lot of different things in a weekend. There’s a Farmers Market in Belfast every weekend, and one in my own town once a month.


Dublin is about 2 hours away, accessible by train, bus, or your own car. Granted, there is also a lot of rain, so sometimes excursions may be limited. Or just grab your wellies and a mac. The Giant’s Causeway on a good day is great for a photography hike, and the distillery is nearby.



Following the road down the coast will take you to Carrickfergus Castle. If cities are more your thing, Belfast is up-and-coming.



I haven’t talked too much about a cultural divide because after 3 and-a-half years, I don’t see one anymore. Sure, there are a few differences, but nothing more shocking than finding adobe buildings, sopapillas, and green chile on everything in New Mexico, or red hotdogs and moose on the interstates in Maine. It’s still a “western” culture, made cosmopolitan by international trade. Look hard enough, and you can find anything. And what you can’t, you can order online. Northern Ireland is really just a bit “small town”, and a lot like New England without the heavy snowfall. There are differences anywhere you go, and I get to pick and choose the ones I like. You can play tourist here, or just stay in with a wee dram and read a good book on a rainy day. I have a few I could recommend, from an author I know well!

For more about Jessica, you can find her at Rare Ould Times every now and again.

23 comments:

Roxanne St. Claire said...

Imagine my surprise and delight when I tweeted about setting my next book in Belfast and got a message from Terry reminding me that Jessica LIVES just outside of the city. Since then, I've inundated the poor girl with questions, and she's been prompt, informative, and completely sweet about answering them.

Thank you, Jess, for even more great information and for being my Northern Ireland Go-To girl. There's a top of the page, front of the book acknowledgment in your near future.

And I owe you a real pastrami sammy if you're ever in my neighborhood.

xoxo
Rocki

Terry Odell said...

Despite her sobriquet as the "evil twin", deep down, Jess is a sweet kid. Thanks for stopping by, Rocki.

Jess said...

Hi Rocki! Glad to help out, and thanks for stopping by!

Carol Kilgore said...

What a great post. I've lived in New Mexico but not Northern Ireland. One day I hope to visit, though.

Tamika: said...

How incredible to live in such a place. I imagine there is a lot of richness to the environment that I would never see in Texas.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving to both of you!

Terry Odell said...

Carol: Mee tooooo!

Jess said...

Carol, Mom: come in spring/summer. :)

Tamika: Oh yes, it is MUCH different from Texas! Lots of farms, rolling hills, etc. And yes..it's really all green here!

cincin21 said...

Thanks for sharing this from Jess' s point of view .... I enjoyed the read and the pictures!

Nicole said...

So when are you running the Dublin marathon?

Jess said...

Ha! Small problem of running hurting like heck.. ;)

Terry Odell said...

Jess, Nicole. Now, now. Play nice.

Watery Tart said...

What a fun post! It sounds so beautiful and wonderful. And I agree that in different parts of the US you can find cultures MORE different than much of European culture OTHER than that language thing...

Terry Odell said...

Hi, WT -- heck, my 1st college roommate was from Texas. We had our own language barrier.

Jess said...

Hi WT! Thanks for the comments! :)

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

What a fascinating and beautiful place! Thanks for sharing some information about Northern Ireland with us!

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

Nicole said...

I should probably rephrase - when am I going to run the Dublin marathon. ;-)

Jess said...

Dunno about Dublin, but the Belfast Marathon is early May! ;)

Sheila Deeth said...

Nice to meet you Jessica, and your comments about the language ring lots of bells for me, being an English transplant to America.

Jess said...

Hi Sheila! The slang here is very intense! A lot of learning by contextual clues. :)

Lorel Clayton said...

Ireland sounds fascinating. I saw Terry's comment at Elizabeth Spann Craig's blog and wanted to send my Thanksgiving wishes as a fellow ex-pat (living in Australia). I've made due with chicken for the big meal, but knowing that your friends and family back home in America are sitting down to eat at the same time (roughly--time differences and all) and thinking of you makes it great no matter what.

Terry Odell said...

Lorel, I'm glad you found my blog and hope you'll visit often.

GunDiva said...

I would love to really visit Ireland. Went to Dublin once and hated it. Probably didn't help that my best friend was mugged outside Christ Church as mass was letting out!. I really want to get out of the big city and see the country side!

Terry Odell said...

GunDiva - Hubby had a meeting in Cork, which was great. All we saw of Dublin was the airport while we waited for our connecting flight (and observed that being 10 AM didn't seem to keep people from having a beer)