An acquaintance of mine, upon learning that I would be living in Ireland for a year, encouraged me to keep a journal of observations about the nation’s culture and institutions—a sort of Toqueville-esqe Democracy in Ireland, as he put it. I’ve decided to use this first blog post as an opportunity to share a few of my observations thus far and the circumstances that inspired them.
“Slagging,” authenticity, and hospitality
The week before classes started, all of the master’s students at the NUIG School of Business had to attend a five-day course in mathematics, the purpose of which was to ensure that everyone was on the same page before the semester started. Unfortunately, this course wasn’t announced until after my flight from the U.S had been set. No problem, I thought. My flight was a full week before classes started, so I would still make it in time. I had planned to use that week to look for housing, which would now be more difficult with math class, but I wasn’t worried. “I’ll figure it out,” I told my girlfriend and my parents before I left.
It became apparent soon after arriving in Galway that my usual “I’ll figure it out” approach was not an adequate strategy. Tens of thousands of Irish students had descended upon the city in the recent weeks, and the housing hunt was an actual, ferocious hunt. To continue this metaphor, the city was filled with Legolases roaming around in search of a prized deer (a double bedroom ensuite). I say that jokingly, but there really were 15,000 students on a Facebook housing page, and Independent.ie described the accommodation crunch as “the worst it has ever been.” I even saw a few first-years camping on the greens between the city canals. After several days of living in a hostel packed with peers facing a similar fate, I started to worry.
I had met a few other guys in the economics master’s program, and each day they would ask me at math class whether I had found housing. The optimism in my answers started to dwindle, but the heartiness with which they laughed at my bad luck only increased, and I found it impossible not to laugh myself. “I can’t belieeeeeeve you were so stupid to put it off this long,” my buddy Sean quipped with a wide grin and an expletive. Conor jumped in at my confusion, “The Irish are polite around people they don’t know or don’t care to know; they slag their friends.”
All the hostels were booked for the weekend, and I still didn’t have an apartment. But Conor’s diagnosis proved true: I was one of the lads. My friend Tomas put me up for the night, and shortly after that my luck turned. I found an apartment right on the Corrib River, ironically with a view of the canals that the first-years had been camping next to. Knock on my door on a week night and you’ll likely find me sitting around the kitchen table with one or two of the master’s crew over, studying away, debating loudly about economic policy, hurling insults at each other—or perhaps some refreshingly authentic combination of all three.
One of my favorite posts on the house hunting Facebook page: