I believe it was Mark Twain that was probably misattributed with a trite quote on someone’s Instagram, about the nature of travel making you intolerant of intolerance. About moving yourself to another part of the world will make you see things from other perspectives, and you’ll heal the world by getting on a plane. That misattribution probably isn’t wrong, but what changes isn’t the world, it’s you.
I’m just back from spending the first two weeks in Ireland I’ve seen since moving to America. I’ve been in the desert, with just occasional trips to California to stand in the pacific to reconnect myself to the earth, to that great vast expanse that is forever. Your world gets very small when you don’t spend 30 hours getting to another part of it. There’s a great deal of comfort in the familiar and I was struck by how much of a home Tempe, and the United States, had become. Get yourself a job, find a local liquor store, get you a routine. Live in it, savor it. Decorate the rut, you’ll find it lovely there.
The bigger thing that creeps in is accepting the things that are different from the place you’re from, and making them part of your normal. Twinned with the jet lag and travel disorientation, I was getting the spins from the level of caffeine in Irish Tea. Sweet Jesus, the fine tea. You begin to accept the things that are around you, with the little stuff coming first. Religious breakfast cereal, cream gravy for breakfast, the broad concepts of capitalism. Then comes the bigger stuff; the personal ownership and carrying of firearms, the disavowal of the clearly evident class system, the ice cream oreo flavoured ice cream.
The accepting isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just that a place is just stuff with people in it, and it’s the people that make it somewhere. Arizona is largely a bunch of transplants bitching about the heat. California is shiny happy people about 45 seconds from the brink of disaster, Ireland is a rocky outcrop on the west of Europe full of revolutionaries and some racists. Kimberlee and I toured Dublin, we visited museums, saw evidence of revolution everywhere, the history of the city painted broadly on park benches and busts in common green areas. And then a guy called an attendant in Busaras (The largest bus station in Ireland) a Paki because he wouldn’t let him use the bathroom without presenting a valid bus ticket. It’s the little things.
Travel does gain you a lot of perspective. First off – planet’s round, let’s put that one to bed. Years ago I told Americans that moving here was a lot like moving to a different planet. Flying for that fast, and that high, and that long, it certainly feels like you’re on an off-world colony. And those people you meet there aren’t like those back on Terra. They have weird customs, like tipping, and a million other things that make you feel like an alien. I’m not unlike an alien to them either, when I ask questions about shit they take for granted, like the propaganda.
One of the things that stuck me the most upon being outside the country, is how insane the American attitude is to what seem to other people to be reasonable issues. A recent plea from naturalist and documentarian David Attenborough was taken up with gusto as best I can tell by Irish people – let’s cut out single use plastics. So drinking straws, plastic coffee lids, coffee stirrers, that sort of thing. You could easily replace these things with paper, wood, and other sustainable materials, and our quality of life wouldn’t be impacted at all.
Irish people already did well with this by charging a fee of 22 cents per shitty grocery bag. It’s easy to do this, Irish people are on board with it, and it’s an all round good idea. This debate is happening globally so I was not surprised to see memes about it on Reddit from the American perspective while on holiday. I was surprised when I saw that people were declaring that you have their straws when you were prepared to take them from their frigid, lifeless mitts. This is the hill you’re prepared to die on. This is the cause that rallied you. This is where you drew the line.
Now given the baffling, yet entirely predictable rise of casual propaganda (your so titled “Fake news”) machine that comes from the sprawling behemoth that is the meme stock market, I’m more than prepared to accept that this stock image with text is not representative of public opinion. I’m prepared to accept that what I saw was in fact an attempt to make people look stupid, so people could have a baseless sense of smug satisfaction. Or people really do see plastic straws as the Thermopylae of Thermoplastics – this is where we Spartans shall hold back the tide that is the Persians. In this case, the Persians being people that don’t like litter.
One thing that occurred in Ireland was the sense of disorientation I mentioned above. It was very disorienting to come back to a place that I had called home for so long, as a visitor. I was not a stranger – people recognized me all over town, I saw acquaintances and friends alike light up when they saw me wander back into town, bleary and stricken with vertigo and sleeplessness. It took several days for it to feel like home, not least because my mother had moved house in the intervening five years.
Businesses had closed, new ones had opened, the previous order of things was different, but it was all relatively marginal compared to the switch from the US to Ireland. Yeah the tea’s better, and all the milk and butter comes from grass fed cows, and it’s all cheap, because it’s all Irish. A gallon of gas is not Irish, and thus costs $6.15. Pints of beer have a marker that certifies that by law the glass has been filled to exactly a pint, and that pint has its strength posted on the menu or on the can. Pints costed from €4.25 to €6.50. All the menus list all common allergens and their presence is foods. The oysters for example, contained shellfish. Who knew.
The little things that Ireland does, and the Irish people do are what made Ireland home, as they make any place home. Nobody will make a trip to make tea without offering you a cup of tea. Likewise, if you get up to make tea, expect that you will be asked to make tea for others. Irish people are happy to have frank conversations about politics, race, war, political race wars, and any number of other subjects that seem to be absolutely taboo for Americans.
I called Ireland a place of revolution, because it kind of is; the current Republic of Ireland as it stands has been in existence for less than 100 years. I’m sure there’s someone who remembers the stories told by a parent about their participation in the rising, or the subsequent civil war, or everything else that happened shortly thereafter. The revolution is not only televised, it is discussed, debated, and further revolutions are weighed and considered. While in Ireland, I read a newspaper wherein there was reporting on a strike by Irish airline pilots, and reporting on a recent court case where a woman sued an employer for forcing her to work unpaid outside of regular office hours. These stories were on the front page. So was a visit from the pope, but the crime section was buried in the middle of the paper. Revolution was more important. As was Mass, but there was also reports about papal abuses and the role they would play in the upcoming pope visit, so we’re still on the thread about revolution.
History is alive in Ireland, because we’re surrounded by so much of it. There hasn’t been time for it to develop a real patina, because we keep maintaining it. You can walk past the post office that was seized during the revolution, and see bullet holes in the pillars (Though possible casual propaganda warning). Irish history hasn’t been shellacked, and put in a case. No wall has been erected around history, and we’re not told that it is immutable and unchanging. History is there to interpret and criticize, and there’s nothing Irish people love more than criticizing something. Practically a national sport, right up there with hating the English, ripping the piss (Roasting your friends, constantly) and acrobatic swearing. “Fuck-handler” is always a crowd pleaser.
Irish people are very much in favor of progress, but they’re not always so fond of making it. The world must be a better place, but surely there’s someone working on that at the moment. A few factoids – we used to have a committee of evil literature devoted to the banning of books, we currently have a national ban on blasphemy in print which came into being in 2009 (Incidentally, fuck the church; just saying) and divorce was illegal per the constitution until 1996. That ban was struck down by 9114 votes by the way. Go register.
The recent referendum on the repeal of the eighth amendment caused a lot of furor, and was a topic of discussion. The nuts and bolts of it was there was a constitutional amendment that stated that life began at conception, and thus abortion was banned. Irish people were subjected to a brutal political campaign where there was a lot of hate thrown around, entirely from the kind of people that would scream “Babykiller” at someone that was walking to a doctor’s appointment. But Irish people have a really solid bullshit detector. I saw hundreds of women bravely telling their story about having to fly to another country to receive medical care, including cancer treatments because there was a whiff of pregnancy on them. This was about safe and effective medical care, and it passed, fucking resoundingly.
Note the phrasing – repealing a constitutional amendment. This is blanket anathema in America. The constitution is not nearly considered so living a document in the US. It’s shellacked. It’s under glass. There’s a guy with a gun a few feet away I’ll bet you. You can’t escape the cultural language of a place you live in, and when people are willing to go to “cold dead hands” for semi-autos or fucking drinking straws, it’s hard to have a debate. When you live in a place where you are currently voting on what the fucking constitution will say, you’re engaged in a way that America won’t let you be. When you can’t even have a civil discussion about a non-political issue, because of your political affiliation, you’re not allowed to think certain things. In Ireland you can think whatever the fuck you want. Just be careful about saying it, because it might get back to the neighbours.
I felt no disconnection with the people of Ireland. They are my people, my tribe, and it only took me three or four days to begin incorporating the idioms and grammar patterns again. Kimberlee was terribly confused. We walked the soil, drank in the history, stood in the ocean, reconnected to the world. A world that wasn’t so alien, so strange, that didn’t immediately start shitting in its hands and throwing it around when someone mentioned the word “Healthcare” or “Socialism.” Ireland is small, but it is agile when it wants to be. When it comes to deciphering its history, when it comes to trying to protect its people, when it comes to something as simple as maybe not littering so much.
So believe in those trite Instagram quotes, post that same selfie everyone takes on the beach, visit the tourist spots, be tricked into the myth of the bullet holes, or buy something with the Guinness logo on it. But try to remember that where you live can change you forever. It might not make you a stranger, but it might make you a visitor and a tourist. Or it might make you the best person you’ve ever been. Or maybe you’re just an asshole with a fridge magnet.