All I wanted to do was take a shower.
The year was 2008. It was the morning of my second day in Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare, where I was staying in a self-catering cottage with a group of friends, playing tunes and doing some sightseeing before heading north to Donegal.
After nearly 24 hours of traveling, I REALLY wanted a shower…but, to my puzzlement, while hot water would come out of the bath taps and the sink taps, only cold came from the shower head.
Different places, different means
Oddly, though, none of my friends had complained about the lack of hot water, so I finally broke down and asked them what was wrong with the shower.
“There’s nothing wrong with it,” they replied. “You just have to turn it on.”
Me: “Turn what on?”
Them: “The electric shower.”
Me: “The WHAT?!”
I must admit, once I got over my reservations about turning on a wired electrical implement in the shower, I found the on-demand hot water and great water pressure to be very pleasant…but initially it was a bit of a shock! (yes, pun intended!).
The joys of culture shock
One of the great pleasures of traveling, for me, at least, is experiencing the different ways that people do things. And they don’t have to be big differences. I can quite happily spend 40 minutes in a grocery store, checking out new foods, new flavors, new packaging styles and names for familiar products, etc.
While “culture shock” is often presented as a negative thing, I think that, if you’re traveling with an open mind, and with the desire of truly experiencing a new culture, these occasional surprises can be a lot of fun!
Sometimes they present you with a challenge…a puzzle to be solved. Sometimes they give you ideas you’d like to import into your own life back home. Sometimes they’re just a fun glimpse into other ways of doing things.
A few of my cultural surprises
ON THE ROAD
Most people are aware of basic differences before they travel. For example, if you’re planning a trip to Ireland, you certainly already know that they drive on the left.
You may be surprised, however, at how even these basic, planned-for, differences strike you when you’re actually there. “Knowing” and “doing” are two very different things!
I was lucky in that I was traveling with people who were experienced at driving on the left, so I didn’t actually have to drive myself. I can’t begin to number the times I tried to get into the car on the driver’s side, however, or flinched at entering the freeway going the “wrong” direction! (Fortunately, I have very patient friends!)
I’m told by people who have moved to Ireland (and by Irish people who have moved to The States) that the driving part really isn’t all that bad at first, because you’re hyper-aware of it.
It’s after you’ve been there a few months that you can get into trouble. One morning you may wake up, get in your car, and suddenly you realize…you’ve set off on the wrong side of the road!
SUBTLER DRIVING SURPRISES
Some of the driving surprises were more subtle, however. One thing I discovered was that, at least in rural Ireland, drivers seem a good bit more patient than American drivers (or, if they’re not, they’re a good bit less noisy about it!).
We’d be driving along and get caught behind a bicycle race or some other event that was blocking the road, and where your average American would be cursing and honking and trying to find a way around the obstruction, the Irish drivers were surprisingly mellow about the whole thing.
They do drive fast, though (and the speed limit on many country roads is much higher than you’d see on an equivalent road here), so if you’re a pedestrian, be prepared to dodge!
They’ll usually give you a friendly wave as or nod they fly by, though…unlike my fellow California drivers, who are more likely to pretend you don’t exist (or to flip you an entirely different kind of hand signal)!
IN THE PHARMACY
We all know that you’re supposed to take a plentiful supply of your prescription medications when you travel but — silly me — I didn’t even think to inquire about medications that I’m used to buying “over the counter.”
All countries have different policies for over-the-counter (OTC) meds. Often, things that may not be available OTC in your home country are as easily obtainable as aspirin in the country you’re visiting.
On the other hand, something you’re used to buying in any corner market at home may require a prescription, or at least a chat with a pharmacist, in the country you’re visiting.
My lack of attention to this detail bit me big time when something growing in Clare cause me to blow through the little bottle of Benedryl I’d brought with me in less than a week.
They do have the Benedryl brand widely available in Ireland, but it’s the “non-drowsy” formula, whereas the only thing that works on my allergies is good, old-fashioned, “knock-em-out” diphenhydramine.
Fortunately, whatever I was allergic to in Clare didn’t appear to be growing in Donegal or Dublin, but next time I travel to Ireland, a Costco-sized bottle of Benedryl is traveling with me!
IN THE GROCERY STORE
The grocery store is where I had some of nicest surprises in Ireland:
- Delicious brown soda bread, as good as anything I can make at home, all sliced and ready for the toaster!
- Some of the best butter and cheese available anywhere.
- Really lovely produce, including varieties of potatoes that aren’t readily available in the U.S.
- Mikado biscuits and Barry’s Tea. I came home with a slightly fuller waistline and a lifelong addiction! Fortunately for my figure (what there is of it!), while I can get Barry’s here, more Mikados will have to wait for my next visit to Ireland!
Pay phones are getting harder and harder to find in the U.S., but at least five years ago, they were still very easy to find in Ireland, even in fairly small villages. That’s very nice if your U.S.-based cell phone provider won’t unlock your phone for use overseas (yes, I’m talking about you, Verizon!)!
You can buy an international calling card at any news agent’s, and they’re very, very handy for keeping in touch with folks back home.
One interesting discovery I made was that the cost of making an overseas call differs, depending on whether you’re using one of the coin-operated phones you’ll find in hostels and such or one of the outside phone booths run by Eircom.
My international calling cards went a lot further on the coin-op phones than they did in the phone booths!
So worth doing!
Bottom line, international travel is one of the most fulfilling, fascinating things you will ever do. Discovering the differences — and the similarities — in how people live; learning new tastes, new terms, new ways of doing things…it’s truly delightful!
Ireland is one of the most delightful countries of all. The scenery, the history, the music, the language…it’s all wonderful.
(The weather maybe not so much…but then without the weather, you wouldn’t have all that stunning green, now would you?)
The best part, though, is the people. Thanks so much for your friendliness to this bumbling (and occasionally bewildered) Yank with her fixation on the Irish language!
I can’t wait to go back!