Feeling Foreign

“What do you miss the most?” is probably the question I’m asked most frequently, and it’s a question I think about often myself. Moving from America to Ireland is an adjustment for sure. Moving from a two year old home to a 150 year old home is a big adjustment. Moving from being surrounded by family and friends is a huge adjustment. But what do I miss most?

The answer is: Familiarity. Knowing what works and what doesn’t. Knowing where to buy light bulbs. Knowing how to turn on the heat in the house. Knowing that the train door doesn’t just open (You can’t just stand there -- you have to push the button to make the doors open, apparently).

Stepping outside of my comfort zone was a primary reason why I wanted to move, and I certainly have done that. I feel uncomfortable a lot of the time. Of course after being here for nearly three months, I am starting to adjust, but in many situations I feel uncertain. I don’t always know the right thing to do or the right way to behave. I have to observe and see what others or doing, or worse, I have to ask someone what I am supposed to do.

Things That Have Confused Me:

  1. Chip and PIN vs Chip and Signature - Not long before we left the US, credit card companies were finally rolling out cards with chips, so I thought we would be all set to use our credit cards over here. NOPE, our cards are chip and signature NOT chip and PIN. Also, American Express is practically useless here (but we did know that going into this).
  2. Radiators - I still haven’t quite figured out everything I need to know about this. I’m leaving this in Geoff’s department. It’s summer, so we have time.
  3. Immersion Water Heater - Apparently you just don’t use this if you don’t have to. We have a gas water heater as well, so we’ve been using that. We’ve got it set on a timer, so it turns on for about three hours per day and we have hot water all day.
  4. How to get food in a pub. This drives me nuts! I just want to have something to snack on while I drink. I don’t understand why this is not a thing here.
  5. Where do I get plants, and how to I get them home without a car? - Not having to drive is great. I love it. But sometimes it’s really annoying to have to walk halfway across the city with something you bought. Just ask Geoff whether the new duvet we bought is heavy or not.

Now, these things are all relatively easy to figure out and adjust for, and we have. But there’s still things we come across almost every day that we have to think about for a little bit longer than we’re used to.

When you are growing up, you learn how to do day-to-day life from your parents, friends, people around you, and school. You aren’t expected to know everything straight away when you are young, but by the time you are an adult, you have most everyday tasks figured out. But if you move to another area of the world, you start to question whether the way you know things to be is still correct in the new place. Can you buy stamps at the grocery store? Will they think it’s really weird if I ask for stamps at the register? My tendency towards anxiety surely amplifies the way I feel in these situations, but I think it’s fair to say these are similar to doubts that many people who emigrate have.

I have been considering these feelings a lot and wondering what it means to have these experiences. While I do think the familiarity of being a local is the thing I miss most, I also feel that being “foreign” is really an interesting experience, and I have somewhat welcomed it. I am lucky to have moved to Dublin though. In Dublin, there are so many expats, and that really allows people from all backgrounds to feel comfortable here. At my office, there are people from all over the world who love sharing stories about life where they are from, and it is fascinating to learn about and compare so many other cultures and places. In this way, no one really feels as if they are out of place. Everyone welcomes the new perspectives and learning about the politics, society, and culture of countries around the world.   

So, while my answer to “what do you miss the most?” is familiarity; at the same time, the thing I love the most about living here is my growing perspective on the unfamiliar. Being placed in a place where almost nothing is familiar has allowed me to make new things familiar, and I like it.