When you leave your country at a young age, you do not know much about the outside world. Coming from Russia, where the school curriculum revolves around everything Russian, I had only a vague idea of what Europe was like, let alone Ireland. Having found the college I wanted to study in, I started to do research and learn more about this faraway island. Yet, reading about and living in the country myself turned out to be two drastically different experiences. How? Read on this the article to find out what struck, surprised or even shocked me when I first came to Éire.
Here it is cold
I know my statement is going to raise your eyebrows: how can a Russian be cold in Ireland? In the eyes of many, I come from a country where it is always freezing. Of course, winters in Russia can be extreme with temperatures dropping to -50°C and less, and you may already know that the lowest temperatures ever recorded outside of Antarctica were recorded in Oymyakon, Siberia, where they dropped to a bone-shattering -68°C in 1933. However, Russia has 7 climate zones, and the chances of coming from the most extreme one are rather low. Seeing Ireland’s below-zero winter temperatures, I thought to myself – easy! But little could I imagine that the local +3°C would feel like -33°C.
Some advice to those who come to Ireland for the first time: bring layers and layers of clothes and don’t be fooled by the seemingly mild temperatures you see on the internet.
Expensive heating bills
Oh, boy. Considering what I have just mentioned, this is hardly ideal, or is it?
When I moved to Ireland, I rented a ground-floor apartment in one of those lovely Georgian houses. Spacious, with high ceilings and large windows, it was an ideal place for long late-night study sessions… Or so I thought. But then came November, followed by December. And January. In order to heat the apartment I had to use storage heaters – large brick-layered radiators taking up half the space of my hallway and bedroom. My parents, also unfamiliar with how these little monsters worked, gave me the best advice they possibly could: to put the thermostat to a comfortable +25°C and occasionally run a portable heater if things got particularly cold. Never could they have expected a massive €300 electricity bill I was going to receive a month later. I have not put the heating on again ever since.
Let us come back to the weather, though
During my first months in Ireland I learnt another valuable lesson: the weather is discussed everytime and everywhere. Remembering Russia, I can say that we, too, lead weather-related conversations, but Irish take it to a whole new level. Particularly, I love these short and sweet dialogues, in a shop or at a petrol station, when one goes, “Jaysus, the weather”, and the other responds, “I know, Jaysus”. Rain here seems an integral part of any conversation, and I never imagined it could be so. Before coming to Ireland I only knew of a light and heavy rain; in Ireland, I learnt that it could be bucketing, lashing, pelting down, and hammering. No, I don’t know the difference, but in public I pretend I do.
And since we are on a water topic… Taps!
One of the things that really confuses me here is having two separate taps: one for cold and one for hot water. Located on two opposite ends of the sink, they either let you wash your hands in a freezing cold or burning hot water. Once you make your choice, you sigh in relief, thinking the worst has passed. You put on a bit of hand soap, stretch your hands… But here comes the second catch: taps are very close to the sink itself, and by stretching your hands you do not really wash them but instead bump them against the sink. Water is everywhere. Hands are hardly washed. You feel like a little child making a mess in the bathroom. Only here you do not have your mum to clean it after you.
Some advice to those who are still relatively new to Ireland: use the plug! It is there for a reason. Plug the sink and do whatever you like as long as you like. Or
No wall sockets in the bathrooms
If you are a tourist to Ireland and staying in a 4-star hotel, don’t worry: your bathroom will have a plug. This is to prevent tourists from getting an unbearable shock which can cost them their sanity. But if you move to Ireland on a more long-term basis, be prepared: there is no way for you to straighten, curl or even blow dry your hair in the bathroom. If you are a girl and have thin and frizzy hair that needs to be styled every day, you will have to move like a spider all around the house, searching for a plug and leaving a trail of hair behind you. I understand that there is a danger of placing a socket in the bathroom (wet surroundings, the danger of electrocuting yourself, etc), but doesn’t any other country on earth just somehow manage?
I absolutely love Ireland, and these little odd things I encounter here only lend it a special charm. Stay tuned for the second part of the article or read our other article by Anne Canaveera.
9 cultural shocks French people experience when moving to Ireland