"In America a torch is called a flashlight. A biscuit is called a cookie, a bun is a roll.
Confectionery is pastry and minced meat is ground. Men wear pants instead of trousers and they'll even say this pant leg is shorter than the other which is silly. When I hear them say pant leg I feel like breathing faster. The lift is an elevator and if you want a WC or a lavatory you have to say bathroom even if there isn't a sign of a bath there. And no one dies in America, they pass away or they're deceased and when they die the body, which is called the remains, is taken to a funeral home where people just stand around and look at it and no one sings or tells a story or takes a drink and then it's taken away in a casket to be interred. They don't like saying coffin and they don't like saying buried. They never say graveyard. Cemetery sounds nicer." -Frank McCourt, 'Tis.
I am so happy I finally got around to reading 'Tis while I'm here, because I feel I can identify with Frank McCourt's culture shock of moving to New York from Ireland in the 1950s. Granted, I don't have a few advantages over his situation; I don't have sore eyes like him, or bad teeth, and I'm fortunate enough to attend school while I'm here. He describes the daily round of questions that come at him, including "Do I detect an Irish brogue?" when he opens his mouth, and an explanation from every American of exactly where in Ireland their parents are from. My parallel to this is "What part of the States are you from?" and "Isn't Minnesota where the Mighty Ducks are from?" Of course, there's also "Your name's Roxanne? Like the song? ROOOX-AAAANNE!!" But when someone says that here it just makes me homesick because I've had the exact same exchange at least once a week since entering grade school.
Though I do not have to face half of the struggles Frank McCourt did, I feel like I can understand the feeling of disorientation in a new environment; even one that shares a common language but not vernacular and social mores can leave me feeling confused and unsure whether I should ask someone and look silly or say nothing and hope I make the appropriate choice in any given situation. Usually the Irish are more than happy to answer questions and lead you in the right direction, unless they decide they like you and want to have some fun with you first. Irish people mainly communicate to each other in social situations through "slagging" or "pulling one's leg." The more comfortable you are with someone, the harder of a time you'll give them, and the more clever the insult or big of a whopper you can get them to believe, the better. It is a scientific fact in Irish scholarly journals that Americans are a highly gullible people who have the unique disability of discerning sarcasm or dry humor when delivered in an Irish brogue. It's never malicious and the Irish feel it would be cruel to slag a non-English speaking visitor, but it is just too irresistible to slag Americans because we'll believe just about anything. While I consider myself to own a pretty dry sense of humor, I envy the Irish ability to say something so straight-faced it will be hours before I realize they weren't serious.
For instance, our program director gave us the story of last year's trip to West Ireland, where they joked that Irish sheep have longer back legs so they can better stand on mountains straight. Weeks later, the stude nts still had probably accepted this as a zoological fact. Even at my internship, my supervisor will regularly give me a fact about an artifact, only for me to realize half-way through nodding my head in agreement that he's only joking, and silly me, I should have known that such-and-such animal I've never seen before has obviously been extinct for thousands of years. While it sounds like I'm complaining, it's actually a cultural trait I really enjoy, and I like that I can slag back without worrying it will get me in the same kind of awkward situations I often find myself in the States when I'm only trying to be funny; pretty sure it won't be much better when I get back.
In other news, I've really been enjoying my internship so far; I like that I get to work in two different buildings because it gives me some variety and when I get off work it gives me a good excuse to explore some of the restaurants in the city. So far I've done a lot of different things, but my favorite jobs are ones that involve wearing a lab coat because I always feel very busy and important, even if I'm just washing the tops of display cases because the darn taxidermy whale is flaking again. My favorite job though, is when I get to clean bones in this big room with
only a Dodo skeleton, Irish rock music on the radio, and for some reason an old gramophone for company. The bones are from ancient Irish deer and come in giant bins and need to be cleaned before they can be processed and cataloged. I sit with my lab coat, a face mask and gloves and use a stiff paintbrush to gently scrape off the dirt into a special "MuseumVac ." I then polish it with a dense sponge, called a Smoke Sponge because it's usually used to clean smoke-damaged objects. It's the sort of mindless task that allows you to zone-out and think about life then you realize you've made the artifact look really lovely and polished. It's nice; plus when I wear the lab coat I pretend I'm a scientist who is working at a technical breakthrough. Whatever, it's my daydream not yours so don't judge.