Soaked by an Irish downpour, my bangs stuck to my forehead. It was a rainy day in Dún Laoghaire, Ireland. But the temperature was an above-average 20 degrees Celsius, so it called for an outdoor celebration at the Haddington Hotel that overlooked the sea, the light waves crashing along each wing of the pier.
I was in Ireland for the summer to study abroad and visit my boyfriend, who is an Irish citizen. On this particular summer day, he and I were with his family, celebrating his grandmother’s 80th birthday with a meal out.
While we waited for our table, we sat out along the restaurant’s beer garden. There was a lack of open picnic tables, but my boyfriend’s mother and his three sisters saw a table with only one man sitting down. Naturally, they walked over and asked to join him at the table.
If it were me, it would take minutes of contemplation before I would muster the courage to ask a stranger if this family of eight could join him at his table. What would we talk about? Would we be a disturbance?
This type of interaction between strangers is quite common in Ireland though, as the Irish have an honest, friendly manner about them. I’ve struggled for awhile to put my finger on what exactly creates this, but as a country that has struggled through colonization, famines and most recently economic strife, their perseverance and happiness have pulled them through.
It felt like hours that the Dunne sisters sat, chatting with the man, who was an Australian sailor. He listened to the sisters as they shared stories about the way their parents met, their father’s butcher shop and growing up in Ireland.
I can’t recall an instance of sharing such personal stories with anyone so quickly in the United States. And upon sharing this memory with my American friends, it became clear to me that none of them would be able to fully grasp the extreme friendliness of the Irish and their easygoing nature.
There was actually quite a lot about my time in Ireland that became hard for me to convey to my friends here in Philadelphia.
No one in Philadelphia would ever understand why I had a sudden urge to drink five to 10 cups of hot tea with milk per day, or what a “spice bag” is.
No one in Philadelphia would ever understand how I started to enjoy the rain in the city and didn’t mind wearing a rain jacket nearly every day in July.
And there were even fewer people who could ever understand what it’s like for me to split my life between two oceans, two continents, and to never have anyone be able to fully grasp my life in the other.
Coming back home to Philadelphia at the end of this summer, I experienced a “reverse” culture shock. After spending nearly every waking minute with an Irish man, I forgot what people like me, Americans, liked to talk about, their sense of humor — I couldn’t hold a conversation with any of my friends. I felt like an outsider.
“How was Ireland?” a friend would say.
“It was great, yeah,” I would say as my nerves would take over.
Neither photos, letters nor conversations would ever do my experience in Ireland justice. I felt really quickly that my friends got tired of hearing about a trip to a country they’ve never been to. And that’s OK.
It’s recently become clear to me that it’s OK to have these separate, equally important experiences. And I’ve also realized that there are important parts of my Philadelphia life that my Irish friends will never understand either.
They probably will never understand what it’s like living in the U.S. They probably will never understand our country’s university culture or the spirit that comes along with college sports. They probably will never understand the idea of having a gun problem in their country.
One of my Irish friends, Isaac, wrote an epic poem titled “Wasteland, 42” that he shared with me while I was abroad. It’s about moving out of his first college home, a place that I also lived in this summer that was the epicenter of many drunken, happy memories.
“There is a definite mutual smell in the air of reminiscence.
Some of the Wastelanders have lived here twice the time you have,
You cannot imagine how this feels for them.”
Leaving a home, no matter how temporary, is hard, but I’ll always have “Wasteland, 42” for me to look back on when no one else around me can understand my saudade for Ireland.
Emily Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.