On this, my 11th trip to the Emerald isle, I continue to notice new and changing things in the Irish national character. Thought I’d share a few notes on the subject:
> IRISH HEALTH TRENDS: I keep reading that the Irish lifestyle habits are improving, that they are getting more exercise, drinking less, and giving up smoking. There is a much wider array of healthy and organic foods available now. I see more bicyclists on the streets all the time… Yet on the RTE News last night, this story: “Epidemic Diabetes Among Irish Youth!” What gives? Though more and better choices are available, the Irish aren’t choosing them in great numbers. Instead, they are following in the footsteps of corpulent Americans, and feeding their taste for fried foods at “chippers” that are popping up everywhere, snacking rather than eating and drinking lots of “minerals” (soda). The most common question heard at an Irish restaurant: “Do you want chips (french fries) with that?” And the Irish indulge themselves in an orgy of ice cream consumption, devouring low-quality psued0-ice cream that I wouldn’t feed an ant. I tried it and IT SUCKS. Thankfully, Häagen–Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s have come to Ireland… but at 7 euro a pint? Only for the rich!
> DIVERSITY: Ireland has quickly become much more international- a good thing from my perspective, though there is a price to pay. With more different cultures on display in the marketplaces, on TV, and in the streets- tolerance appears to be on the rise and provincial attitudes prevalent in any island nation are kept in check. But the irish are notacibly less curious about strangers now, less likely to engage you in conversation and pepper you with questions. I miss that aspect of the Irish character. A kind of “been there, done that” feeling pervades now, and it is a socially isolating trend that concerns me.
OUTMODED PERCEPTIONS: The Irish still labor under the illusion that America is “the golden land of oppurtunity”, that being an American means you have money to burn. They see the lies our media propagate in reflecting a fantasy world of affluence and consumption in TV and media, and accept it without critical thought. When I tell them I live well below the (unrealistically low) poverty line, and that just about everyone I know is struggling mightily, they appear shocked. “But… aren’t you AMERICAN?” They just don’t get it that the middle class in America now consists of 3 or 4 families in the midwest somewhere, that we are either obscenely rich or struggling to make ends meet.
APPEARANCES: All babies are adorable to me, but I find Irish babies to be the cutest in the world. And Irish women! (A matter of personal taste and the mystery of human attraction, I know.) But so many young Irish women and girls I see have their faces slathered in a John Boehner-like orange pancake base that make them look like sickly circus clowns, it just cracks me up! Attractive? No! Frightening!
PREOCCUPATIONS: When talking with the Irish, I am often surprised that they are so fascinated with American politics- more it seems, than the average American is. While she was cleaning my teeth, the Irish hygenist kept asking me questions about Obama and the upcoming election: “Do you like your president? Will he get reelected? What do you think of the opposition? Will America go to war with Iran?” Questions many Americans don’t seem to have bothered to ask themselves, as they are more concerned with cars and sports and TV game shows.
ENVIRONMENT: Some good news to report here. In the past, I have always been unpleasantly struck by how much the Irish were wont to foul their own nest- discarding their candy wrappers and energy drink bottles by the side of the road when they were done with them, instead of holding on to them until they found a trash can (refuse bin) or recycling station. On many of my previous trips, as soon as my jetlag subsided I would head down to Monk’s Harbour with several big plastic trash bags to clean up the marine debris that they would allow to accumulate without a second thought. The pond under the giant waterwheel in front of the Bantry Library was always choked with trash. In all three areas, things have markedly improved. Thankfully, with the growing “Tidy Town” movement, it is just becoming less and less socially acceptable to mindlessly litter. Good thing!
> CLIMATE: The Irish have always been absolutely obsessed with the weather. Now that I have come in the wettest summer season in modern history, with rainfall at an averages of 250% above normal… and rising- I GET IT. I am disappointed that I have been unable to get much exercise at all, rarely walking in the glen I love, because it is just too soupy and choked with muck, and the skies could open up on you again at any moment. There’s a good bicycle here at Toad Hall now for guest use, but I have been almost unable to take advantage of it. Rare breaks of sun are cause for dancing in the streets!
> BEER!: The cost of a pub pint has gone down! My first pint set me back all of 3 euro, sixty- virtually unchanged from three years ago, except that with the exchange rate being so favorable now, it’s actually cheaper than it was in 2009. Last time I was here, I could buy a whole six pack back home for the cost of one stinkin’ pint in Ireland. Painful! (Having a pint in Santa Cruz has just gotten too expensive for me now at most pubs and restaurants. I just don’t work enough to afford the luxury, and have to buy whatever brew is on sale at the market for home consumption.) The cost of a six pack in the Irish market or off-license (liquor store) though? ELEVEN EURO! ($14.75 at today’s exchange rate!!) Absolutely insane! No idea why the discrepancy, but it makes pubs much more cost-effective. A good thing, since it is generally so much more fun to share a brew with the company of others than alone in front of a TV set at home!
> and finally- PUB LIFE: Ever since modern cars began appearing on improved roads that have had their wiggles and curves straightened out to facilitate traffic, what the Irish call “road carnage” has been on an alarming incline. The Irish continue to drive WAY,WAY TOO FAST, routinely taking their lives and the lives of their passangers foolishly in their hands- even though they are well-aware that a slow moving piece of farm machinery may be lurking just around the next curve. In this, THEY ARE STUPID, PURE AND SIMPLE. Almost every time I visit, my mother has lost another bridge partner or Scrabble opponent to another idiotic road accident. It’s pathetic. Authorities blame what they call “drink driving”, so the maximum amount of allowable blood alcohol levels keeps getting lower and lower- enough so many claim one drink puts you over the line. Coupled with the (welcome!) indoor smoking ban in bars and restaurants, and the wonderful tradition of the Irish pub is fading fast. They are going belly-up right and left, and this, to me, is very, very sad, because the pubs were far more than the churches of alcohol they are in America. They were the center of village life, the place to see and be seen, to exchange news and gossip, conduct courtships and finalize business arrangements. They were primarily a place for the expression of culture, not a venue for liquid drug consumption. As a result, coupled with the now ubiquitous use of smart phones, fancy home entertainment systems, personal computers and tablets, the Irish are becoming increasingly socially isolated and personally insular, and this to me, is a flat-out tragedy.
© Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.