My experience with culture shock

A spunout contributor discusses Americans’ perception of Irish people and culture

Written by Anonymous


“Your English is really good” was one of the first ‘compliments’ I received on my first day of high school in America. “Well I’m happy it is,” I sarcastically replied to my new classmate; English is my first language after all.”


It took me some time to get used to my new classmates’ curiousity. I wasn’t used to receiving a plethora of questions, some relevant, some not so much. From the usual questions such as, “where are you from?” or “do you eat potatoes all the time?” to some of the egg headed ones, such as, “do you have internet in Ireland?”. Although I speak English, there is a strong discrepancy between the meaning of certain words in Ireland and America. I can vividly recall ignorantly using the word ‘rubber’ in my math class. “Hey, do you have a rubber?”, I asked the zombie like boy sitting beside me. “What did you say?”, his eyes grow wide, as if I had two heads. I blankly stared at him, making the situation even weirder. I pointed at his eraser and asked if I could borrow it. 


Later, I asked my friend Britten what the word rubber meant. “It means condom,” she said, howling in laughter with tears rolling from her eyes. I knew I’d probably have to face many more of these moments with my new life in America. In my new school, the strong sense of American Patriotism quickly became apparent. I realised that saying the pledge of allegiance is a phenomenon that actually exists; it doesn’t just happen in movies. It felt quite alien to me at first. I could only describe it as feeling awkward, standing with my hand on my heart, looking at the piece of material hanging above the corner of the whiteboard, awkwardly standing without knowing the words. However, at that time, I preferred to do that then to opt out and stay sitting. The kids that did stay sitting were often met with condemnation. I found that the sense of identity in this country is highly complex. It confused how some people here identify themselves by where their ancestors came from. I guess it’s because this country is still a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities and people feel the need to identify as something more than just as American. 


St. Patrick’s Day is always an eventful experience, usually involving fake beards, bad accents and sickly green hats and green beer too, of course. I found the popularity of the four leaf clover amusing. Ironically, it has nothing to do with St. Patrick or Ireland. It somehow got mistaken with the Shamrock, which has three leaves and was used by St. Patrick to explain the Holy Trinity: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. I found the irony in many things, including the fact that the famous cereal Lucky Charms is not even sold in Ireland nor is corned beef and cabbage eaten in Ireland. Apparently, it only became a notoriously Irish dish when Irish immigrants moved to America, began working and could afford to buy corned beef. Despite the culture shock I experienced in the beginning, I love living in America. I love the diversity and the opportunities this country holds. In fact, when I returned to Ireland this summer I actually experienced reverse culture shock. Sitting in Philadelphia Airport waiting to board the plane to Shannon, waves of anxiety and excitement rushed throughout my body. 


Would I fit in? Would my old friends be different or think that I was different? Inevitably, my trip was bittersweet; things and people did change. I picked up conversation with some old friends and grew apart from others. I was able to recall some of the funniest moments of my life with some of my old friends, but felt lost when they talked about moments I missed out on. The hot topic of conversation amongst my Irish peers was the dreaded Leaving Cert, which is an exam equivalent of US high school diploma. Apparently the Irish language exam this year was ‘bollocks’. Lucky for me, I dodged that bullet. 


Walking through the streets of Dublin I suddenly realised how beautiful the place was. The old school Georgian architecture and iconic statues of poets, writers, a musician: James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Phil Lynott. The beautiful sounds of traditional Irish music escaping the doors of crowded pubs. Pride flags elegantly waving over the bustling River Liffey. Red and white tents towering market stalls, selling all kinds of colourful and exotic fruits. Cafes and small shops lining the grey, cobbled streets. I felt an overwhelming sense of nostalgia walking past all the familiar places I spent many stages of my life in. However, I have an incredible thirst for travelling and knowledge and believe that it’s important to explore various cultures and meet new people. I have learned many things about myself and others, that I may not have learned if I stayed in the same place and enclosed myself to the same people. Because of these experiences I have faced, I have a greater ability to see from various perspectives and have a more open minded outlook on life. I hold America and Ireland equally close to my heart and I believe that living in both of these places has shaped me into who I am.

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