The Irish Times has published an interesting perspective last month with an article written by two European students who discuss the confusion of moving to Ireland. Its narrative explores the past three months in the lives of Julia Gollub and Susanne Graatrud Schiager, from Norway and Germany respectively, and how they have coped with life in the Emerald Isle.
They begin with the initial practicalities of their arrival. Where the travellers are “used to” regular announcements detailing “which stop is next [and] which side of the train to get off” they are unsettled by the lack of direct information on Irish buses. Yet this chaos teaches them their first lesson about the ‘Irish’, although the system seems laid back and confusing people are friendly and eager to help.
Moving through their initial hours they see more of the politeness of their new culture both through engaging with strangers Fiachra and Siobham and within the ready “How are you doing?” of supermarket tellers. This shows how after adapting to your practical surroundings you come to realize that people are after all people, even if you initially fail to realize that “How are you doing?” is rhetorical.
They offer advice on the everyday difficulties faced and how to deal with them. “Pedestrian lights are a recommendation, not a rule” and the media can seem “shocking” compared to at home. Yet each step the article takes with a lesson, an understanding of how much things cost in different areas or how to respond to the ashamed politeness of the people. The sense of accepting that you may not understand at first, second or even third attempt, that you are “aliens” looking in and mostly that you can get past the confusion.
Their journey is riddled throughout with the travellers accustomed barrier, communication. They fear to accept new friends’ numbers at the risk of admitting they neither know how to “pronounce or spell their names”. This incident rolls into the trouble of ordering a taxi to Dun Laoghaire – a place they neither know by sight nor name. The language problems are baffling to them and extend from connotative meaning to colloquialisms and slang. “Irish words and accents can be difficult to get” they state, a welcoming reassurance that even after a few months in a place it is ok to feel lost in translation. They point to the slang term “gas” and filler “grand” as examples of the colloquial nature of Irish speech, whilst handily advising that “craic” is not referring to the drug and that the newsreaders’ references to “tea-shock” are addressing the Irish Prime Minister.
The key theme of their communication difficulties is that even when a common language is shared, here English, linguistic nuances exist. What you say is not the end of a communication, the pragmatism of speech and the politeness principles of everyday life have also got to be grasped. After their own pronunciation difficulties perhaps Julia and Susanne should consider how many Irish people would be able to correctly identify their names, Gollub and Graatrud Schiager, at first attempt.
Overall the tone of this article is of confusion but also of hope, to accept the problems you face and embrace your shortfalls. To laugh about a linguistic error is to learn from it and to “always carry an umbrella” is to accept that you face a fluctuating climate. If you turn the situation around to your new friends and see how differently they cope with snow or health then you can appreciate both the familiarity of your own cultural heritage and the intriguing freshness of theirs.
The message is to hang in there and in no time you will also be tucking in to “traditional Irish evenings with tea, milk, biscuits and Father Ted.”