Ramblings in Ireland
- a Book Tour by the inimitable Kerry Dwyer
Kerry Dwyer is an expat Brit who lives in France with her French husband and her daughter. After taking her husband on a walking holiday in Ireland she wrote the book ‘Ramblings In Ireland’ which tells the story of this holiday and the memories and musings that it inspired. One of the themes that runs throughout the book is cultural differences. Below Kerry talks about cultural differences and questions whether we should find out more about each other before venturing abroad.
I confess I put off reading Kerry’s book. Just so overwhelmed with all the things on my plate. But, one night I thought I just needed to sit down and read. It is just the antidote to an overwhelming schedule. Go ramble with her and Bertrand. It’s lovely.
Have a listen to Kerry….
Let’s talk about culture.
How much do we know or how much do we need to know about each other’s cultures? What exactly is culture? You can look for definitions of culture on the internet. Different people have different ideas of what culture is. It covers a lot of things such as language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts. They are the things that make one country’s people different from the next. It’s what makes the English so English and the French so French and the Americans so American, you can see where this is going yes?
So what makes the French French? The French argue about this incessantly. Possibly the only thing they agree on is that arguing about what it is to be French is a part of being French. The French love a good argument. You hear it all the time, religion, politics, the best time to plant seed potatoes, nothing is off limits. Most of the time, arguments are loud and fast but furiously good humoured. Well mainly. Bertrand’s friends don’t seem too offended when he calls those who hunt ‘idiots’ (I’m being polite here) in hunting season.
This is a French man Notice the beret, striped shirt the strong smell of garlic, cigarette, wine and baguette. All French men look like this. I know I live there. When leaving the house a French man checks that he has everything. Car keys, check, Mobile phone, check, briefcase, check, baguette, now where did I put that baguette? Impossible to leave home without one. I have told my lovely husband that he is deficient in several areas. He doesn’t even own a beret or a striped top. I have lost count of the number of times that he has left the house without a baguette. And he calls himself French Pah!!!!
Bertrand knew, before we left home, exactly what to expect when rambling in Ireland. The food would be dreadful, the people unfriendly and it would rain all the time. It is well known (by the French) that you can’t get decent food in Britain, he told me. Geography lesson number one my dear, Ireland is not in Britain, please don’t upset the Irish by telling them they are British. They fought long and hard not to be. As for the food, once in Ireland Bertrand loved it, Steak and Guinness pie, fish fresh from the sea and of course the Irish Breakfasts.
It always rains in Ireland that is why it is so green. Well I couldn’t really argue with him there. It does rain a lot of the time in Ireland and all my Irish friends would agree with him that wet is one of the things you expect to be when in Ireland. The Irish are all very unfriendly he has heard. Well I never met an unfriendly Irish person, I think you are mixing them up with the Scots. They fought long and hard as well but were not even partially independent until a lot more recently. They are probably not happy about having to share a border with the English or the loss of North Sea oil revenue. But that is something different. The Irish are not unfriendly.
I have never really studied another country’s culture very much before visiting it. I read a little to make sure that I won’t be mobbed for showing too much flesh or leaving shoes on in inappropriate places but that is about it. You need to know some things like where showing the sole of your shoe to someone is insulting and when blowing your nose in public is likely to cause offence. I like to go with the flow and experience things as they arrive. I prefer not to listen too much to what other people think and to form my own views. I find nothing more annoying when people tell me for example that they hate all British food. Then when I ask them what they have tried they say nothing. They heard it was bad so they won’t even try it. I will try most things in most countries. I don’t think I would be able to bring myself to eat live monkey’s brains but I hope never to be faced with that situation.
I was brought up on my lack of cultural understand of the USA recently. I know all about Americans. They eat fast food, drive big cars and all female detectives can get a job as a model if police work doesn’t work out for them. The people in California are all thin and wear bikinis and travel on roller blades and those in Texas wear wide hats and have ranch houses. Anyway I digress. I saw on a blog a waitress complaining that some clients were sometimes very rude in restaurants. Now I sympathise with waitresses they do a very hard job and I put a little note on her post saying that I was sometimes very embarrassed about the behaviour of the British in French restaurants.
I said to Antoinette just the other day, they don’t act like that in Britain so why do they do it here. You haven’t ever worked as a waitress have you? she asked. I admitted that I hadn’t apart from the student union bar but that doesn’t count. She told me that there is a certain class of Brits who treat waitresses and anyone they consider to be servants with severe rudeness. Sometimes she thought she might smack the next person who raised their fingers and clicked at her. It would be difficult to order food with no (fill in your own expletive) teeth. So there you go Joel the British aren’t always polite, especially those with servants apparently. We were always super nice to the only sort of servant we had who was a cleaner.
I’ve digressed again so back to the blog. So this blogger who I had sympathised with came and had a look at my blog and she replied. She said – ha so you are from Europe well you should teach them all maths, they are all so tight and can’t even calculate 20 per cent for the tip. Twenty per cent? I wouldn’t dream of leaving such a large tip. Here in Europe it is illegal to pay someone less than the minimum wage and expect them to live off tips. I didn’t know about this custom in the US. So I tried to defend us Europeans by telling Miss Blogger that here it was the culture to leave up to ten and that was only when you had good service. There was no obligation. She wasn’t happy with this and said that if she were visiting Europe that would be just the thing she would look for on the internet, how much to tip. And she said she thought the Europeans would be ‘all over it’ if tipping were less in the US (that is American for ‘take advantage of it’, I know this because I am bilingual). I’m not so sure about that. I remember one of my business trips to Switzerland when I was in a restaurant and at the end of the meal I took out some change to leave as a tip. A man at the next table said to me ‘we don’t do that here’ I asked him to explain. He told me that waiters in Switzerland were highly trained and respected, they probably earned more than I did and tipping was considered an insult.
So how do you prepare to venture abroad? Do you research everything as diligently as you can on the internet before you leave home or buy a travel guide? Or do you do what Bertrand did when we were Rambling In Ireland, assume the worst and be pleasantly surprised that it was all rumour and hearsay?
Links to Kerry and her book.
Other links – you can link to theses if you wish.
Take your shoes off in Temples http://www.thaizer.com/etiquette/take-off-your-shoes/
European tipping tips http://www.ricksteves.com/plan/tips/eurotips.htm
The culture of Ireland http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_Ireland