Thursday, March 25, 2010

Shifting perspectives

As you may have noticed, the blog entries have slowed down considerably. I'm aware of this, but because I promised myself that this blog would not be about work or anything resembling work, I needed to keep it purely in the land of inclination. And I guess I haven't been so inclined, for various reasons.

But one reason is simply this: Dublin just isn't as weird to me anymore. When I first got here, my eyes were peeled in a newbie kind of way - I noticed the odd phrasings on street signs, and the way people walked, and the different foods on offer in the shops. But now that I've been here for seven months (today), the quirky has started to shift into the mundane, and it isn't captured by my consciousness in quite the same way. I have to intentionally create Brecht's verfremdungseffekt , in my mind's eye, to see the cultural peculiarities.

The fact that life here is becoming familiar is very interesting to me, because acculturation happens on many different levels, and at many different paces. Plenty of things still appear unusual or alien to me, but the things I notice now are harder to articulate, because they are about the fundamental ways that people interact with the world and others in it. When I have a better grasp on these more intuitive aspects, I will write about them.

My shift in perspective has been highlighted recently by a couple of factors. I have a new friend who is originally from Italy, and immediately I found her compelling; she is so different from the Irish. It's not that I am tired of the Irish, but more that, maybe, her particular cultural distinctiveness is refreshing, and it puts Irish customs and practices in relief. It helps me to see Dubliners, and myself, in a new light. My Italian friend, Elisabetta, is animated, and quick to engage passionately in conversation, and verbally free - she says things directly. She told me that in order to get along with colleagues in Ireland, she had to learn to be less direct; she's had to figure out how to come at things a bit sideways, because her regular approach - which she would use with colleagues at home - would be considered too forthright.

The international stereotype of the Irish is that they are friendly, and quick to bring outsiders into a chat, and great conversationalists, etc. Just look at the first 5 minutes of The Quiet Man, when the American is greeted with glee and offered directions by half a dozen animated little 'ole wans'. Or all the shenanigans that go on in films like The Matchmaker and Waking Ned. I choose the Hollywood Irish films because they have been instrumental in fabricating Irishness for lands beyond Ireland. And these representations are not complete fabrications - the people I have met are friendly, and they do love a great conversation and opportunities for good craic, but I am also finding that there is often a barrier or wall to real social intimacy. My friend Paul pointed out to me that Torontonians are not quite so different - we, too, can be friendly and welcoming to the outsider on one level, but then slightly closed when it comes to really letting people into our inner circles. I like to think that I have thrown away that barrier as I crossed the Atlantic and allowed myself to become vulnerable in so many ways. But it's hard to tell, of course, because how does one use the V-effect on oneself? I know that, in this blog in general, I have been approaching people entirely as products of their culture and society, and that this leaves out a whole realm of other factors that shape identity and behaviour, and that such an approach is reductive and potentially stereotyping, but... oh, well, I said this wasn't work :)

The second recent thing that has shifted my perspective is the arrival of my sister Amber, who in fewer than 12 hours has shown me how accustomed I have come to this place. She is finding so many things interesting that I now take for granted. She giggled at the sign for 'Irish Ferries' that was pointing in the direction of the harbour, and seemed genuinely concerned that our bus was going to crash into other vehicles on the way back from the airport. She isolated the combination of the short buildings and narrow streets as the distinct architectural feature of Temple Bar that creates the character of the space, and she noted the oddity of having one's washing machine in the kitchen. These are all things I noticed when I arrived, but that do not cross my radar any more. They seem like simple differences, but I think they are fundamental differences - radical differences, in fact. What I mean by this is that objects and the layout of objects in space affect our movement patterns in daily life. The narrowness of the streets means that bodies interact in a closer proximity than they do in places that have more space, like Canada. The height restrictions create a different aspect relationship between the human body and the world it inhabits - we are not dwarfed in the streets of Dublin. Amber said that the smaller scale made her focus more on the people and how they were interacting (she also had her ear opened outward, trying to soak up all the Irish accents). The placement of the laundry machine means that certain household tasks become related to one another in particular ways. It might sound like I am grasping at straws here, but I really do think that the shift in spatial relationships can have a concomitant effect on social relationships and customs. But this is starting to sound a bit like work, so perhaps I will switch gears, and leave you with two pictures of my lovely sister Amber, excited by the cobblestones of Temple Bar, and the Liffey and the beauty of its bridges, on her first night in Dublin (and her first night in Europe).


  1. Yay, Amber! Enjoy your stay. And, although I have not had a first had experience, I think I would like to have my washer and dryer in the kitchen. In Japanese apartments, they are typically on the balcony, while in houses they are in, or adjacent to, the bathroom.

  2. Not that I want to insult the Irish by comparing them to the English, but I suffered (and I do mean suffer) culture shock for three years in England, then I think it took me the next two years to get over it, now I no longer feel Canadian, but I don't feel British and I have no culture shock in Australia because the only thing I'm really acculturated in is living as at foreigner. I've been abroad that long that the only thing familiar to me is unfamiliarity. Too bad I left when I did, you could have come over to Nottingham, I think you would have liked it, very literary city. All the best Nat! xo April

  3. I can't believe how much I wish I had found your blog months ago.. I moved to Dublin from Toronto in September for the year, and am blown away by how similar our experiences have been (sparkling water and proper yoga class conquests and all!). I've poured over all of your entries for the past hour, and have been close to tears through many of them. I don't think it's until you see how much your perspective has changed that you can really appreciate how much you've grown as a person. So thank you for that. I really needed it. I don't think Dublin will ever really feel like home the way that Toronto does, but as I catch myself before a 'yer man' or 'fair play to ya' slips from my lips, I realize this place has found it's own place in my heart and being.