Hold onto your hats, folks… thar she blows!
There are three things – three BIG things – that do my head in about living in Ireland.
2. Bad Drivers
Now, if you’re an Irish citizen and have already written me off, just give me a chance before you get your panties in a twist! I am in no way claiming that America is perfect (I don’t need to be reminded of our many, many shortcomings!). I am also not accusing the majority of the Irish population of perpetuating these problems. I am simply putting these out as my least favourite observations of this mostly brilliant nation and hoping you’ll commiserate or maybe – maybe??? – someone will read and mend their sorry ways. Or at least think about it.
I was shocked when I first saw the state of the streets and green spaces around Drogheda (“Tidy Towns,” haha!). There’s litter everywhere, from your usual beer cans and candy wrappers to disgusting personal items I won’t even mention. Public garbage bins overflow with household waste because someone doesn’t want to pay to have their rubbish taken away. Smashed glass carpets the few town parks where kids and dogs play. The Boyne River is a collection of old shopping carts, fishing gear, pieces of bikes and cars. Most sidewalks are smeared with dog poop, and occasionally vomit or even blood.
The town does employ several noisy, large, awkward Green Machines to clean the streets, but to be quite blunt, I don’t see them cleaning up much of anything. The men who operate them still have to pick up cigarette butts by hand, for pity’s sake!!!
I’ve been around pretty dirty places before (I’ll never forget taking a canoe into the sludgy White River in Indiana… or sidestepping all manner of who-knows-what in Ostia, Italy… or covering my mouth when I saw the grime and not the glitz of Hollywood Boulevard), but I have never in my life seen people actually throw their trash into the river in broad daylight as they casually walk along, chatting to friends. In Drogheda, I’ve seen it A LOT.
It surprises me because Ireland and the UK (which supplies most of our media coverage) seem to have such a high green conscience. There’s certainly way more incentives for recycling here than anywhere I’ve lived before, and countless resources to inspire living with a “social conscience.” Every day I’m watching shows about nifty energy-efficient houses or how waste can be reduced or how we should go back to organic living. But when I look around me, no one seems to care. A lot of times the green crusaders in America are regarded as uber-liberal nut-jobs, whereas here they’re much more hip, relaxed and respected. So why is it not working? Ireland is such a gorgeous country, and the landscapes are, thankfully, mostly unscathed by the garbage problem. But how long will that last? And what about the towns?
2. Bad Drivers
Picture this – it’s 6 pm in the middle of winter, rain is pouring down and you see a very pregnant woman carrying two heavy grocery bags. She’s standing on the curb, watching one, two, five, ten cars drive by without stopping to let her cross. This is a story that I could have recited back daily when I was expecting Evelyn.
Most Irish drivers – and in my observation, mostly female drivers, sorry girls – absolutely do not stop for pedestrians. Whether there’s a cross walk or not, whether it’s the middle of the night or 12 noon, they don’t even see you waiting, and waiting, and waiting. If they do see you, they don’t slow down. I have also been caught out in the middle of the road on many occasions, trying to cross when the wheel of a buggy gets stuck or I drop something out of my pocket and have nearly been mowed down. I’ve even seen – and I do not exaggerate here – a blind person with a guide, a cane AND a dog crossing in a legal cross walk in the middle of town getting HIT by a car manned by a driver who couldn’t care less. Luckily the blind woman was physically unhurt, but obviously terrified.
It’s actually a bit difficult to get a driver’s license in Ireland – it can take months, maybe even a year or so, to get your paperwork sorted, written exam taken, and driving test passed. I just wonder what people learn in all that time? I know I’m a geek, but I still remember a lot of the principles I was taught in my required Driver’s Ed course back when I was 15! And OK, I can overlook the lack of indicating (signaling, as we say in the US), but I am so not cool with how fast people drive through the quaint little streets of town! I’m amazed more pedestrians don’t get run over on a daily basis. And WHY don’t the Garda write more traffic citations??? I don’t get it.
Deep breath – here comes the biggest of the three.
In general, I think racism, and bigotry as a whole, is a worldwide problem. It is something I’ve gotten used to, even if I don’t accept it, and part of me thinks it’s a problem that won’t ever be fixed.
However… nowhere have I heard people from ALL walks of life be so OPENLY prejudiced.
It actually makes me sick, just thinking about it. I’ve been to children’s parties where I hear educated adults giving out about The Blacks or The Africans and how they’re ruining Ireland. I’ve had an old lady tell me she doesn’t like the Pope because he’s friends with The Homosexuals. Women are constantly belittled, and everyone thinks it’s funny. There’s a sort of constant complaining about “The Foreign Nationals,” the Polish, Russians, Latvians, Estonians, Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese, and on and on (who all complain about each other, too, it must be noted)… but most of all, you hear people berate the Roma and the Travellers.
I actually don’t care if stereotypes “seem” to be true, or if any of these people “deserve” to bear the brunt of Irish anger. At the end of the day – they’re people. We’re all just people. Skin and bones, blood and muscle. Hearts and dreams and secrets. People.
Channel 4 Documentaries (UK) did a wonderful series a while back called My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. It mainly followed several young Traveller brides in England and Northern Ireland as they approached their big days, but it also spent some time with little Traveller girls making their first Holy Communions and even interviewed a few Traveller men about their attitudes and traditions. Wow, is it a different world, or what!!?!! I wish you in the States could see it, but at this time Channel 4 on Demand only plays for us over here. Maybe it’ll show on PBS one day. Anyway! The show also touched on how ostracized Travellers can be by society, and how lonely it can be for some of the women. (You may remember I did a blog about two years ago that went more in depth on Travellers…)
The Roma are a similar story, but one I am not as familiar with. You’re more likely to see Roma women sitting out on the streets, selling The Big Issue or simply begging for money. Often they have babies with them, or are still teenagers themselves. As I understand it, this begging is actually a source of pride for them, and they bring all their earnings home to the men every night. If they haven’t made enough, they might be treated badly at home.
So why should we hate these people? I guess for the same reason any one group or race is hated – because they’re different. Because they think and act in ways we don’t like or agree with. They don’t fit our narrow little mold, so that gives us permission to treat them worse than animals.
I have a feeling I’m going to be raked over the coals for preaching here… but I’m not sorry. True, I’m just a transplant myself on these shores. But I’ve not always been treated well myself, here AND in America, and it’s just not in me to pass it on further. I’ve met Travellers and Roma and many, many foreigners in this country, and I’ve had good and bad experiences. But I’ve also seen them on the streets, and how they’re degraded by their fellow men and women. It’s sick.
Sadly, while these three things vary in terms of seriousness, I’m afraid they all share a common solution – a complete change in perception. I believe people’s hearts CAN be changed, but will they?
If you’re mad, fire back at me. I respect your freedom to do that.