“When asked if my cup is half-full or half-empty, my only response is that I am thankful I have a cup.” — Sam Lefkowitz
Today is Thanksgiving! Now, for somewhat obvious reasons, Thanksgiving is not a holiday that is celebrated here in Ireland. Even so, its unceremonious arrival still has me thinking about gratitude, and what an unforgettable experience living in Dublin has been thus far.
Since I’ve moved to Ireland, the ubiquitous question leading conversation always seems to be, “How are you getting on – liking things all right?” Admittedly, I find it to be a difficult (and somewhat silly) question to answer. I haven’t found myself processing this experience into categories of “like” or “dislike,” as these reductive value assessments are not helpful in communicating what it’s like to live in a different country, navigate a foreign social environment, and interrogate a field of study on a deeper level – all while maintaining your life in the States. The cup can never be “half-full” or “half-empty,” because, as Lefkowitz says, it’s remarkable to even have a cup.
Learning to live in a different culture has proved to be an incredible gift. It’s true that the Irish are generally friendly — but also difficult to get to know well. You can have dozens of pleasant conversations with someone before they actually begin to look at you as a “friend.” In a way, social life here seems more guarded — particularly in the university setting. Many come to university with a huge number of friends from primary and secondary school, so the friendship circle, while inevitably varying some, stays more-or-less intact. That’s not to say that one isn’t invited in, however! Like most aspects of life in Ireland, things just move along a slower pace. Here, after three months, I am finally beginning to feel “settled” in some genuine sense of the adjective: drinks with coworkers, movie nights at a friend’s flat, trips with classmates to the theatre (or to see Michael Buble turn on Grafton Street’s Christmas lights).
I used to never think about being an American. Not to say that I thought nothing of being an American, but that I, perhaps carelessly, was unaware of the constant shaping presence it has had on the formation of both thought and character. Here, however, it is something that I find people commenting on all the time: pointing out ways that I am breaking (or falling into) the American “stereotype” (people are shocked to hear me say that I can’t name the last time I was in a McDonald’s; I think it was for a cup of oatmeal about six months ago, maybe?) or somehow assimilating a more European vocabulary.
Nowhere does this seem more apparent than in discussing the weather. A favorite pastime here, I have found myself in more conversations about weather patterns — even starting some myself — than I would have ever suspected. It used to be that I was called out on referencing temperature in Fahrenheit, as people didn’t know what that translated to in Celsius. Fair enough. Now I receive comments on how cute/surprising/affected it is to use the metric system. And it’s not just from the Irish! I’ve found myself dropping vocabulary that is expected/required/just how things are said here, to friends back home, only to receive raised eyebrows. It sort of feels like a “damned if I do/damned if I don’t” situation. I suppose I simply need to get better at mentally transitioning who I’m speaking to, and what sort of English the conversation entails.
Though I obviously knew it was coming, the lack of a Thanksgiving (because why would the Irish celebrate an exclusively American holiday?) has thrown Ireland into a pre-Christmas season setup. Already stores have transitioned, lights are strung, and Christmas markets begin this upcoming weekend. I admit it, I’ve already gotten into the holiday spirit, and even done a bit of crafting myself. (Really — I made Christmas crackers to send in the post to my family. Successful results still pending!) Still, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I would be loathe to not acknowledge some of the things I am feeling especially grateful for this November:
- The Mitchell Scholarship. Obviously, without the help of this scholarship, and the US-IA, I wouldn’t be here at all. It’s been such a privilege to study at Trinity College, work at the Abbey Theatre, meet an array of kind and intelligent people, and live here in Dublin. Words aren’t adequate for the gratitude I feel.
- Jess, my housemate/fellow Mitchell/partner-in-crime. Whether it’s sitting debating who’s going to make a decision on dinner, motivating each other to do work, or just enjoying each other’s company, it’s been awesome having such a good friend right next door.
- My family. I’m not someone who really gets “homesick,” and indeed, I don’t feel that way, even now. But living in a different country has certainly underscored the importance of keeping in touch with my family. Now that I have to work a bit harder to schedule time to talk, figure out technology to do so, etc., I definitely appreciate the random, wonderful conversations that I have with them all the more.
- Friends, both new and old. When you move away, your social sphere necessarily changes. It’s a part of living, of “growing up,” and moving on. Since moving to Dublin I have found friends in the unlikeliest of people and places. The best support structure, always good for a laugh, and ready to tackle the world … or just Saturday night.
- My health. I recently found out that a friend of mine, around my age, is quite ill. It is so incredibly easy to take your good health as a given — but it’s not. Certain things are unavoidable, I know, but we’re also charged with taking care of ourselves: eating right, exercising, and making smart choices.
Well, I should probably be wrapping things up – I’ve got class in a short while, and afterwards I am doing a late lunch/early dinner with some of my classmates, so there’s still baking to do!
Thanks for reading some of my thoughts. If you’d like to follow my experience in Ireland, my search for a dissertation topic, and the continued quest to convince people that my surname is YATES, not YEATS, hop on over to my blog at http://tomecide.tumblr.com.