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 café 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.