Tuesday, August 27, 2013


George Bernard Shaw once said that Britain and the United States are two countries divided by a common language. I am finding that this goes double for Ireland. After years of living in Francophonia I am used to struggling to communicate, but there's something especially jarring about having trouble getting simple ideas across while speaking one's native tongue. Living in Dublin is bringing a whole new level of "...what?" to my life.

Some of this is vocabulary. Now, I am familiar enough with British English in general to know all about brollies and wellies and the cookies/biscuits/scones and fries/chips/crisps confusions. But then the are the Irish quirks I did not previously know about, like that "gaff" means "house," the many and varied uses of "craic," and that if you ask someone for a ride instead of a lift you are in fact saying something along the lines of "wanna fuck?" That's an important one to know.

Some of this is accent. Some of the thicker Irish brogues are nothing short of impenetrable to my untutored American ears under the best of circumstances, and exponentially worse in crowded bar conditions. The accent problems go both ways though: bus drivers never seem to understand where I want to go on the first try, and bartenders always make me order twice. This is despite the fact that I know my bus stop is "Shrews-bree" and not "Shrews-berry", and that I am aware that the W in Smithwick's is silent and pronounce it accordingly. I'm trying here, I really am. You could even say I'm making a go of it. But somehow the twang always gets in the way.

I know some of this will get better with time. I'll get used to the local accents and the local slang, and my new habitat will slowly become more comprehensible. But there are still millions more Irish out there who I have not yet encountered, just waiting to meet me, listen to me speak, and reply, "...what?"

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