This past week I had the pleasure of visiting my esteemed Gruntwork co-founder where he currently lives in Dublin, Ireland. I had a blast, it was awesome to work in person with Jim, and it was the first time I’ve been to Europe in about 15 years!
In theory, Irish culture and American culture aren’t much different. We both speak English as our primary language, we both eventually left the rule of the UK, and much of Ireland feels like a typical Western country. But there are some really interesting differences, too, and to make sure I don’t forget them, here they are!
1. It’s really easy to talk to people here.
The taxi driver that took me from the airport was friendly and a pleasure to speak to. The baker I met on my first day spent 10 minutes talking with me, telling me about himself and asking me about my background. Even the tech recruiter I met at a Dublin AWS Meetup who clearly couldn’t recruit me for anything (I’m neither located in Ireland, nor available for hire) spent 20 minutes talking with me and even referred me to a client of his.
People in Ireland are just nice, and connecting with others is a priority. It never even occurred to me that it’s hard to strike up genuine conversation with strangers in America, but by comparison it is.
2. It’s safe.
I stayed in a wonderful AirBnb in Dublin that meant walking alone at night for about 10 minutes each night. The first couple of nights I tightly clutched my backpack and walked a little faster when I was the the only one on the street. I’ve just been trained to think the worst of walking alone at night in a major city.
But Dublin is actually really safe. Guns are illegal here. Even the police don’t carry guns. People walk alone all the time, even women, and it’s just not a big deal.
It’s wonderfully freeing to be able to walk at will at whatever time of day suits you. Speaking of walking…
3. People here walk. A lot!
I know this varies by city in the US, but in Phoenix, AZ where I live, unless I consciously intervene, I walk from my home to my car, and from my car to my office, and on a good day, I’ll walk around our neighborhood with my family. Either way, walking is rare, and the exception.
In Dublin, you walk everywhere. Partly it’s because the city just isn’t that big. Partly it’s because public transportation here is OK, but not great. But you know what, it was wonderful. Walking is an essentially human activity that clears your head and gets your body moving. I’ve been here about a week and probably walked about 50 miles in that time (in addition to whatever jogs I did). That means in a given year, I would walk 2,500+ miles more here in Dublin than in Phoenix!
4. Retail chains are the exception.
Sometimes in the US, I feel like different cities or suburbs are arbitrary permutations of the same set of 100 ultra-successful retail chains: Starbucks, Subway, Chase, Staples, Lions, Tigers, and Bears, oh my.
I’m a big believer in capitalism and don’t begrudge the success of the large chains, but there’s no denying that in assimilating so many of our city corners to the same core set of stores, we’ve lost some charm along the way.
Walking by independent businesses run by the same people and which sometimes close because the owners want to relax is a comforting feeling. Sure, I’d love for the baker to be open on Sunday, but you get used to not having stores open whenever you want, and it feels human to know that stores are closed because their owners need a break.
Sometimes the US chains try to approximate the local community relationship (ahem, “community bankers” at every bank chain), but while it’s nice to talk to a human, the real decision making power is far away. It’s a subtle but sad difference.
5. Having fun is more important than professional success.
Finally, I was struck by how people in Ireland took pride in their work, but it didn’t define their lives the way it does in the States. People work hard here, but most businesses are closed on Sundays, and frankly, by 5pm or 6pm, the pub is calling. It was nice to be around so many people who put such a priority on having fun and hanging out.
So there you have it, and even writing this out helps me understand why my trip to Ireland was so much fun! Of course, no country’s perfect, and I’m excited to go home and re-join my family, whom I miss dearly. But I feel one notch wiser about the life I lead back at home. Thanks, Ireland for a new perspective on how to live!