United States vs. Ireland: The Ten Biggest Differences

“How different could Ireland be?” “The people speak English there, it’s sort of close to the United States.” These are some of the thoughts I had before flying over to Dublin, Ireland, where I’ll be spending the next few months. 

Aside from the Irish accent, the contrast between the U.S. and Ireland may not be apparent until you arrive and get some firsthand experience, so here is mine. 

Below are the biggest differences between the United States and Ireland that I’ve noticed since I arrived in early September. 

Pubs Galore

Pubs are a way of life in Ireland and not just for those looking for a wild night out. Whether you’re out with friends or meeting a boss for a few pints, a pub is usually the place to do it. These social hubs can be found bustling even during the week. Dublin, Ireland’s capital, is home to roughly 772 of them, with some that are especially good for international students.

Friendliness – A Game of 20 Questions

Irish people are friendly, many have said it, and the idea is largely true. That’s not to say walking down the street will be a series of “hellos” with strangers, but in places like the office the greetings seem to go above and beyond. Asking how someone’s night was or what someone has planned for the weekend can be just the tip of the iceberg. What starts as a conversation about the weekend can turn into a play-by-play of each day, how you got to said place and even how things are going or “getting on” at home.

English with Some Flair

English is commonly spoken in Ireland like the United States, but it’s, shall we say, a unique version of it. There are some terms that are not used much in The States but are not difficult to understand in context like “lift,” “football,” and “lads.” Other terms are not as self-explanatory. 

  • “Craic” – In Ireland the term commonly refers to “fun” like someone asking another, “Any craic?” 
  • “Cheers” – The word is used quite often and means “Thank you.” 
  • “Jumper” – The word may elicit images of a tracksuit, but in Ireland this term refers to a sweater.
Police with a Different Perception

The police in Ireland, otherwise known as guards, tend to be viewed more favorably than their counterparts in the United States. Most members of the Garda Síochána (guardians of the peace) do not carry firearms.

Driving Doesn’t Seem Right

People drive on the left side of the road in Ireland, with drivers located at the front right of the vehicle. You may not drive in Ireland, but this is a helpful tidbit to avoid getting hit by cars, especially while jaywalking. 

cheerful young diverse couple couple traveling by car at sunset
Photo by Uriel Mont on Pexels.com
Time, Temperature and the Metric System

Ireland leaves the United States in the past, literally. Parts of America are currently eight hours behind Ireland, even cities like New York are five hours behind. This can complicate calls home and make the first few days a bit odd. Ireland measures daily temperatures in Celsius like much of the world, whereas the United States still uses Fahrenheit. Multiply the degrees in Celsius by 1.8 and add 32 to get the temperature in Fahrenheit. Similarly, Ireland utilizes the metric system, while America does not.  

  • 1 kilometer is roughly .62 of a mile 
  • A person who’s 183 cm tall is the same as a person who’s about 6 feet tall
  • Someone who weighs 90.7 kilograms is about 200 pounds 
Loud Meets Quiet

“Just don’t be the loud American.” This thinking rings true here as well. In a restaurant your group may quickly find itself noticeably above the volume of everyone else. Conversely, people in Ireland can be quieter and hard to hear. It’s an odd thought for a country synonymous with Guinness and drinking alcohol, but in some places like a grocery store you may find yourself asking an employee to repeat themselves multiple times. 

Not so Laid-back

It’s not too hard to spot Americans abroad, clad in Nike T-shirts and gear from their local sports teams. Visitors from the United States tend to dress more casually. In America wearing shorts and a T-shirt is casual but not out of the ordinary. You’ll be lucky to count even a handful of people dressed in shorts, while walking around Dublin in September. 

Where’s the Tip?

Tipping in the United States is an unspoken rule of etiquette, but in Ireland the practice is less stringent. Tips are expected in American restaurants, whereas the Emerald Isle sometimes has service charges built into the bill at a restaurant or pub. It’s polite to tip a taxi driver who helps with luggage or a server who did a good job, but the range for such starts closer to 10% compared with the bare minimum of 15% in the United States.

Spelling – Separated by a Letter or Two

Spelling differences between the United States and Ireland are very minor, such as a word ending in “our” instead of “or.” Some of the differences in spelling in Ireland are shown below:

  • “Programme” instead of “program”
  • “Centre” instead of “center”
  • “Labour” instead of “labor”

The differences between the United States and Ireland go well beyond people driving on the opposite side of the road and the country’s pub culture. Embracing Ireland’s differences is a surefire way to enjoy your stay and have some craic.

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Jacob Owens

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