Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Foreign object(ive)s

Three weeks before we left Seattle, we went away for the weekend with great mates. They, like us, were British, but, unlike us, were committed to staying in the US forevah. At the end of a bottle or few, someone asked what we'd be taking with us back to Europe.

It was an easy enough answer, actually. 'That sense of possibility', I said. 'The way, if you say you're going to try something new, everything gets really enthused. It's lovely to live around and it gives me way more confidence'.


There are many things I love about Ireland; the dips and curls in the language, the colour in the expressions, the friends that come pre-packaged with a healthy dose of 'stealth evil'. But over the years, I came to learn that where the US is known (and often derided) for its insistence on a 'can-do culture', sodding Ireland can quite often be guilty of a 'can't-do culture'. There are a million historical and sociological reasons for this; but as a damn foreigner, it can be wearing, in the same way as living amongst someone's ingrained optimism is oddly liberating.


When we first mentioned that we were moving back to England, our Irish friends would often say to us, 'but you seemed so happy here'. And I guess that's the point; this is where what we brought back from Seattle comes into play. We were happy in Ireland. We have fabulous friends; a really nice, comfortable lifestyle; the boys were thriving. But at the backs of our minds was the ultimate in American doctrines: the pursuit of happiness. And sure, we were happy. But was that a reason not to make a change? Maybe it's because we're contrary to the point of obnoxiousness sometimes, but for us that seemed almost to be the reason to consider a move. Were the essential things that were missing in our lives (close family access; friends who'd known us since the year dot; a sense of belonging to a country) going to be things that would make enough of a difference?

We don't know the answer to this, of course. And I'm guessing that repatriation is going to take just as long to get used to as living outside the country did. But because of our time in the US, we felt that just giving it a go is going to give us something. Mal sehen, as the Germans put it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fattening up for the long journey home: what the Irish have in common with Jewish grandmothers

We're in our last week in Ireland, and our friends, misreading the parable, have decided to fatten us up as if they were expecting the prodigal son, not getting rid of us. And yes, I realise that I've ended up as the cow in that particular mangled image. Let us move swiftly on.

It's incredibly lovely. Our next-door-neighbours, who've been surrogate parents during our time here (down to nagging about buying a house but stopping short of telling me I can't go out looking like that) came round last night with fish pie and creme brulees. And wine, of course. Lots of wine. This is Ireland; the booze is assumed.
Tomorrow and Saturday are dinners out with other, equally lovely, groups of pals; and on Sunday our neighbour-friends and 'co-parents' are hosting a farewell brunch with a gang of our local mates with kids. I'm anticipating bagels, bubbly, and chaos. And lots of tears - mine, at least.

When it comes to emotions, the Irish are more like the English than the Americans. They'll keep it to themselves; people don't want to see that kind of mess. But this revolving platter of meals that's coming our way is showing us what we knew without words. For our Irish friends, we're part of the family here; and when family comes round, you cook. You show them you care. Then you drink way more than you're capable of and start a fight. Think we'll leave the latter to the kids - this time, anyway.


Relatedly, I've been thinking recently about Irish words and phrases that I'm going to miss. There's all the usual stuff, that makes you feel like you're in a Hollywood version of a set-in-Ireland movie; the 'your man's and the 'that's grand, so's. But there's also a wealth of sayings that make me giggle every time I hear them. And here, in a terrible segue, are my two favourite food-related ones:

1) If you want to say that something took you about a week, or that you haven't seen someone for most of the week, you describe that time as 'the guts of a week' ('Sure, I haven't seen your man for the guts of a week, so')

2) If you want to describe someone as skinny, you'd say, 'Sure, there's not a pick on you'.

The latter especially always reminds me of Hansel and Gretel and I get a picture of all these Irish folk poking out sticks rather than fingers to be considered svelte. I'm relatively certain that, after this week of being fed for the long trip to the new country, 'there's not a pick on you' will be the last phrase I'm hearing. But in the guts of a week, we'll be gone. And excited though I am to be going home, it'll be sad to leave this crazy country behind.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

This one goes out to the ones I left behind

There are three invites on our mantelpiece right now. One's to a friend's book launch here in Dublin. One is to brunch in honour of lovely Kim, who's pregnant...and in San Francisco. The third is to the wedding of one of my dearest college friends, in Manchester (England, not NH).

The mantelpiece sums up the thing I hate most about overseas living. Sure, I don't exactly miss the residual homesickness that kept me company the whole time we were in Seattle, and I think I'll probably be able to cope without Dublin's insane cost of living; but making lifelong friends who are all scattered is a total bitch.

I've never really believed in going overseas and living as an expat, all Pictionary leagues* and Guy Fawkes nights. Apart from anything else, the latter'd get you shot in Ireland, and rightly so. This probably stems back to my first two year-long stints abroad, in Austria and Germany. In those instances, I was there for the explicit purpose of learning the language and immersing in the respective cultures of the country, so that later I could pass an exam.

Apparently, being a total nerd, the fear of failing the exam persists, so I've always thought that if you're living in a foreign country, the only option is to 'go native'. Not least when there's no foreign language to act as a barrier.

And we've been really lucky. We've made some incredible friends in both the US and Ireland; friends who are still in the fabric of our lives even though we're not hanging out regularly any more. These are people we've spent Christmas with; friends (in both countries) who got me through endless months of sleep deprivation and terror-of-the-tiny-newborn; friends who've drunk cocktails with us in Hawaii; friends who've sung 'Fairytale of New York' with me at the tops of their voices and bottom of their glasses.

I'm not at the stage yet of missing my Irish friends because, with two-ish weeks to go, it's all about trying to see as much of them as possible in the hopes that, like perfume, the more intense the experience the longer it'll linger. And because Ireland is so much closer to England than Seattle is, it'll be easier to get back, for people to come over. But, like a sheep in dipping season, I can see it's coming. And I'm not looking forward to it one little bit.

I don't think there's an easy answer to this. Don't go abroad in the first place? Well, fine, but then we wouldn't have met the people or had the experiences. Go abroad but keep it light, don't get attached? Maybe possible if you're going for such a short length of time that it's almost an extended holiday; but work somewhere, have kids, and you're going to form attachments. I don't have the answer yet, except to try my hardest to make it to as many events as possible, something that's growing easier as the twinkles get bigger. And to put effort into those friendships, because they matter, dammit.

And to be grateful, of course, that I even have this problem. Friends are magnificent, even if they don't all live in the same street any more.

*A friend of mine who spent a year in Caracas said that this was the height of expat entertainment. I can't even sodding draw; I'd have been screwed.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Read on for a mental image you really, really didn't want

A few weeks ago, in a fit of enthusiasm fuelled by Twitter telling me that what I needed for maximum mileage was power ballads, I bought a CD of running songs. Once it arrived, I remembered that I don't, in fact, ever listen to music whilst running. It's one of the things I like most about it, actually; the solitude. OK, so I may belt out 'Footloose' whilst stumbling towards the coastline, but I could do without Kenny Loggins turning it into a duet.

Still, all is not lost: power ballads are great in the car, where I can turn them up loud and pretend I'm still driving a convertible Beetle rather than a 'mummy machine'.

When I collected the kids from daycare on Tuesday, I was halfway through 'Wake me up before you go go', and reluctant to swap back to the nine-millionth rendition of Jack and the Beanstalk.

'Let me finish this one, then you can choose' I said.

As Julia Roberts put it in Pretty Woman: Big mistake. Big. Huge. The next twenty minutes were given over to a deconstruction of 'Wake me up' that would've put even George Michael to sleep:

'But how is he singing when he is asleep?'

'Is the singing man wearing pyjamas to sing or is he naked?'

'Are they spiderman pyjamas?'

'Why is he sleeping at dance time?'

The next morning, back in the car for the drop-offs, Lucas 'delighted' Dave with yells of, 'NO Jack Beestalk! Me wan' Wike me GOGO'.

Dave turned to me in horror. 'What have you done to them?'

It's all better today. We've moved on to the next song on the CD; Billy Idol's 'Rebel Yell'. Jonah has this one down pat: 'It's about a man who's doing naughty shouting, Daddy'. The Confederates would be proud.