Right before Christmas I went with my mom to Northern Ireland, where we used to live, to pick up my grandmother to bring her to stay with us for the holidays. A trip to Europe is exciting, no matter the reasons, and this one came with some interesting revelations.
I had not been back to Ireland for almost 9 years – I was only 14 the last time I was there – so there were a lot of things that I had forgotten that I needed to get used to. For example, in N.I. they drive on the other side of the road. Every time we ventured out in the car (even though I wasn’t driving) felt like a near-death-experience. On the first day there I think I gripped the seat cushion tightly for the entire car journey.
In N.I. anytime you go to someone’s house (no matter the time of day or length-of-stay) you get a cup of tea. A cup of tea with milk and sugar. Alongside this cup of tea are biscuits (meaning: cookies), cakes, buns (meaning: cupcakes), pastries, and other deliciousnesses. Seriously, no joke, when you wake up in the morning you have a cup of tea, then, before you go out, you have another cup of tea, then, when you arrive at your destination, you have another cup of tea, then, when you’ve been visiting/shopping/travelling for a while, you have another cup of tea, then, when you arrive, you have another cup of tea, then . . . well, you get the picture. I drank a lot of tea.
Another interesting thing that I discovered about N.I. is that everyone talks in hushed tones when out and about. Continually in coffee-shops, stores, or on buses, I would say something or (horror of horrors) laugh out-loud and then be subjected to the icy glares of the locals who had overheard me, classified me as an American, and judged me for my raucous laughter.
Something that I realized while in N.I. is that my accent really doesn’t fit in anywhere. I don’t have a ‘Norn Iron” accent (although when I stepped off a bus one day and said to my aunt, “och and thar’s yer wee huse nae” I would’ve begged to differ) and I don’t have an American accent (although all of my relatives thought I did, many of my American friends would say that I don’t). I guess I don’t really fit in anywhere anymore. I’m not “from” N.I. any more than I’m “from” America. For awhile during my trip I was very conscious about how I sounded – careful about how I phrased things, deliberately altering my intonation to make myself sound less American. Sometimes my mind got confused – words that I’ve been altering for years to make them sound more American got mangled in my mind on the way out because I didn’t know how to pronounce them anymore. In the end I just gave up and said words any-which-way and hoped that the person on the receiving end of my conversation understood me.
That all being said, don’t go away with the impression that I didn’t enjoy my time in N.I. – I had a wonderful time visiting with family, shopping, eating real fish and chips and chocolate, seeing proper sheep with black faces, and using two-pound coins. It was amazing. I refuse to wait another 9 years before I got back. In fact, I refuse to wait 2 years before I go back.
I suppose the part about my trip to N.I. that confused me was that I didn’t really fit in there. In much the same way that I am a foreigner in America I am a foreigner in Northern Ireland. I have a foot in both camps, I suppose, and a foot in neither. Does that make me a more astute observer of culture? Probably not – I don’t know. But it wasn’t until I went there and came back that I really felt that this world is not my home – that, as a Christian, I couldn’t, shouldn’t, really fit in anywhere exactly. I think it was once I made this connection that I stopped worrying about it – stopped trying to change my accent, stopped trying to muffle my laughter on buses, stopped pretending that I knew how to use the weird computer-chip credit card machines. And once I stopped, it was much better. It’s nice to know where my home is, and it’s nice to know that I’ll feel at home there, once I arrive. In the meantime, I think I am going to cultivate an increased use of the word “wee” into my vocabulary. It really is an excellent wee word.