November 2008 Reflection

There’s a perfect way to pour a Guinness. Although I’ve heard the nuances of the craft vary from bartender to bartender over here in Ireland, the general rule of thumb is to pour two-thirds of a pint, let it settle for 119 seconds (give or take), and then top it off so that the white head of the beer lifts just slightly over the top of the rim of your glass.The art of this “perfect pour,” one professor told me, is an example of what the Irish call “dukkus” — a Gaelic word (I’ve tried to spell phonetically) that means an ingrained, cultural understanding of how something should be done. I was told the word doesn’t have any real equivalent in English.

I was reminded of my professor’s words somewhat randomly Nov. 4, when I stood alongside the other 11 Mitchells at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin for the American Embassy’s U.S. presidential election party. On that night, the Guinness flowed like water as the 12 Mitchells had the opportunity to stand amid a sea of Irish politicos and American expats to watch the results come in from the States in the final few hours before Sen. Barack Obama was announced our next president. The night was without a doubt a culmination of the first part of my Mitchell experience. More than that, though — and perhaps on a sometime trite level — it was a night when the dukkus broke down. Case in point: Guinness was served alongside Budweiser.

For the past seven weeks, I have had the unique opportunity to watch the U.S. presidential race from Ireland as a Master’s student in Dublin City University’s “Political and Public Communication” program. In part, this has meant acting as the token American. But in a larger sense, it has meant evaluating American politics and the media’s coverage of American politics from the outside looking in, during what was one of the most historic elections in American history. Everyone from the students in my program to Joe the cab driver from Dublin has tuned in with rapt attention. From the experience, I have had three first-blush reactions. First, the Irish, like most Europeans, like Obama a lot. Not a huge surprise. Second, the average Irish citizen knows a heck of a lot more about American politics than the average American citizen. Third, the Irish are somewhat shocked by the flashiness of U.S. media — and somewhat resistant to new media in shaping the way people talk about politics.

More than anything else, the first weeks of the Mitchell forced me to make the unfamiliar, familiar, and wrestle with the notion of “dukkus” in the process. On a very basic level, I finally have a visual map drawn out in my mind of Dublin’s City Centre. (That said, I don’t think I will every master the city’s mystifying public transportation system. It’s much more complicated than the rules for pouring a pint.) On a deeper level, though, my time at DCU has pushed me to re-think the way I have long viewed American media and politics. As a result, I am now starting to plan out my M.A. dissertation, in which I hope to look at political blogs in Ireland and Europe and attempt to figure out how they have shaped and have been shaped by the “public sphere,” as Habermas envisioned it in his landmark 1962 work “The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere.”

But I have also had the chance to appreciate the extent to which balance is ingrained in the Irish “dukkus.” Talk of politics and research is fine and good, but these things can also be discussed over that pint of Guinness at the pub. It is a fact I think I overlooked a bit too much when I was in high school and college. I have enjoyed taking a few steps back from the grind, if only for this year.

As I write this first journal entry, I am sitting in an Air France terminal waiting for a flight to Barcelona, where six other Mitchells and I have rented an apartment for the weekend. In early October, a number of us went to Munich for Oktoberfest and a few weeks later we headed down south to Cork for the city’s annual jazz festival and learned that the Dublin-Cork rivalry is all that it’s cracked up to be and more. Last weekend, three days after the Guinness Storehouse party, four of us traveled to Athens to run the original Marathon, from Marathon, to Athens. (Unfortunately, we didn’t win. In fact, we lost by two hours. But I fully intend to tell my grandchildren one day that it was a close race and it came down to the finish.) I’ve reached my word limit, and I need to board. Luckily, they have held off the Air France strike long enough to get me out of Dublin for the weekend. I need to say, in closing though, that the factor that has without a doubt made these first seven weeks what they have been, quite frankly, are the other Mitchells. Dublin is an inspiring city to study and live in, and the Mitchells I’m lucky enough to count myself among are the kind of people who possess that infectious joie di vivre that is both inspiring and motivating. I certainly look forward to what the next ten months will bring, but more than that, I look forward to learning more about the members of our group on a one-to-one basis. Right now, we’re even trying to rally the troops to run another Marathon in Prague May 10, 2009. We’ll see how that goes.

But back to point. Goal for the next 10 months: learn how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness.

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