I am a reverse immigrant. Fighting the tide of centuries, I’ve left the land of the free for the mother country, or is it the fatherland? I am an ex-pat, emigrant as well as immigrant, depending on whose perspective we’re looking at. No matter how prepared I thought I was, I was really clueless. Take the language for example - it’s technically the same, but just barely. Nearly two years in and I am still learning new slang, new words and new phrases.
Some words I arrived armed with, like my bangs became my fringe as soon as I stepped off the plane. Feck, I knew, was a more acceptable replacement for the f-bomb, babies were getting pushed around in their prams, until they need their nappies changed that is. If I wanted chips I knew I’d have to order crisps, cause chips would get me fries. A cookie would be a biscuit, and possibly a cracker would be too (I’m still not entirely clear on that distinction.) Either way the craic was going to be brilliant provided some eejit didn‘t make an arse out of himself and ruin it.
Of course there is no shortage of new words and phrases I’ve learned. Half five Tuesday week means a week from this coming Tuesday at five-thirty. Ok, easy enough. But speaking of dates, I have to pause each time I am presented with one because they are numbered out as 25, February, 2009. Or 25/2/09. I find it much easier once the first 12 days of the month are past. Give me 5/12/08 and it’ll take me at least two minutes to figure out if I need to mark my calendar for the middle of May or the beginning of December.
More than a year under my belt and I can still be stymied by the language quite easily. I try not to take it too hard. When making the comparison between American-English with Irish-English you might be tempted to brush it off with a “it’s like apples and oranges” comment but you'll be better understood if you try “chalk and cheese.”
I’m still waiting for conversational clues to figure out what it means to call someone a tosser, a chancer or a chav, though I’m fairly certain none of them are compliments. And since we’re talking insults - call a girl a wagon if bitch is too strong. Irish white trash are knackers and someone ugly, smelly or sleazy is either manky, mingin’ or a minger…still not sure if there’s a difference in meaning between the three choices. Can someone be a manky knacker wagon? I don’t see why not - but I wouldn’t be bold enough to use that phrase conversationally for fear of being laughed out of the pub. Actually I wouldn’t even use the word bold because in Ireland it's much more likely to mean saucy, brazen woman then any form of bravery.
Take a walk on the path, not the sidewalk, while you talk on your mobile, not your cell phone. And if you fall and scrape your knee, buy plasters at the till from the shop instead of band-aids from the register at the store. Might as well pick yourself up some sweets, not candy, for consolation.
Buggery bollocks and f**k-a-duck are new favourite ways of expressing frustration. You gob is your mouth, but a gobshite is an idiot. The place you live is your gaff, but a gaffer is the boss. People love to tease here, but don’t get offended when they slag you, they are just taking the piss. But do try to keep up, cause the Irish don’t look kindly on those that don’t get a joke, whatever it is, and they’ll think you are a bit thick.
Living in Ireland, you’d better learn to talk about the weather at length. When it’s raining it’s lashing out there and can be described as dire, desperate or diabolical. Brutal will suit just as well. When it’s a bit warm and muggy “it’s very close today isn‘t it?” If the sun puts in a brief appearance, likely it’ll be roastin’ out. A sunny day is always cause for conversation, when one person remarks on it the standard reply is “It’ll never last.”
A menu can be loaded with pitfalls too; a chicken goujon is a chicken nugget and a courgette will get you zucchini. A mange tout is a sugar snap pea as far as I can tell - though mange tout means “eat all” in French - doesn’t it?
You’d think the grocery store would be easier, being able to at least see the products before purchase, but the array of new brands and labels can make one’s head spin. If I am not starving, the store is not crowded and I have no preconceived notions of what to buy that can be a fun experience; but spend 20 minutes searching for sour cream during the after work rush and it’s another story altogether. And can someone please tell me the difference between crème fraiche and sour cream?
Language aside, the nice part of being new to a place is that everyday tasks became opportunities for a series of little victories. Going into a store, finding what I came for, successfully managing the purchase and bagging my goodies was cause for celebration the first few months. A thousand tiny tasks that I would do without thinking in the States became a thousand tiny chances for screwup or success. Opening a bank account presented many pitfalls, as did getting internet service. We still can’t figure out how to buzz our own apartment much less let somebody in without going down the three floors. But within a month we had electricity, pots and pans, and I had made my first transaction at our new bank. I took a streetcar with confidence, and rode several trains without incident. And while I haven’t navigated many bus-rides alone, I am fairly certain I could if only I could figure out where the darn things are going and when I need to get off.
So here I am, still a stranger in a strange land, trying to get along and not make too much of an ass of myself. Though when someone asks me what I’ve got in my Davy Crockett it takes me 60 seconds to realize they mean my pocket. I’m not the Mae West (or the best) at understanding these punny little rhymes. When they tell me they gotta go cause they’re Lee Marvin and they’ll see me Christian Slater, I am already around the block by the time I realize they meant they’re starving and they’ll see me later.
Maybe I am a bit thick after all?