Irish Life

From the American perspective, Ireland is a foreign country and a magical island, but it’s not another planet. Both are Western cultures that share the same language (sort of), the same technological advances (sort of) and the same products (sort of). So, you’d think that there would be few (if any) misunderstandings.  But if you know our history of misadventures, you won’t be surprised to hear that some Americans living in Ireland are easily confused… and potentially stinky.

IMG_3656My husband Brent bought the product on the left “Comfort”, 42 loads of sunshiny days. I looked at it and I was immediately suspicious. “Are you sure that this is laundry detergent?” The liquid was so watery. Hmm. He was confident. Meanwhile, I suspected that Comfort might be fabric softener, not detergent with softening agents. So after we bought laundry pods, I switched to that… while the rest of the family trusted Comfort and used it until it was almost gone.IMG_3658

After a few weeks, my family had begun to smell. Brent noticed that his clothes weren’t “getting clean enough”, but when he got a whiff of our 18 year old son, he realized that he should probably take a closer look at Comfort… which was fabric softener, not soap. They’d been washing their clothes with nothing but water and fabric softener for over a month! I could have said “I told you so” but it’s more fun to remember this forever and bring it up at random. 🙂

IMG_3666All right, I’ve picked on them enough. It’s my turn. These are “digestives” or “digestive biscuits“. I know that these are cookies, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit anxious. What did they mean by “digestive”? How do these cookies aid in digestion? Will those of us who need no added help end up with, uh, problems? Was there a laxative effect to these so-called cookies? My daughter Cassie still mocks me for this one. They are just cookies – no hidden laxatives. Although I suppose if you ate too many of them you’d be in trouble, the reason why they are called digestives is because it is thought that food made with baking soda is good for the digestion.

And apparently there’s even a proper way to eat them.

IMG_3667IMG_3668Chocolate is on the top right? No, I guess they say it’s on the bottom.

IMG_3669This is the top, where the logo is. Seems odd to eat it that way – chocolate half definitely seems like the top!

IMG_3670These biscuits are not the same thing as American cookies. They’re like the “cookie” layer of a Twix bar. They are very inexpensive to buy, less than 1€ for a whole roll, and are a staple when serving tea.

IMG_3671I mentioned baking soda earlier. It took me a while to find it when I wanted to bake from scratch. Sometimes it’s called “Bread Soda”.

FrytexI also had trouble finding shortening. We asked at the Tesco grocery store and they had no idea what I was talking about. I had to describe it and what it’s used for. It was a funny conversation. Finally they understood what it was and they led me to the refrigerated section.  In the U.S., shortening is typically sold in a can and is found on a shelf near baking supplies, vegetable oil, etc. Here, they sell shortening in blocks that look like butter, and they keep it in the refrigerated section.

IMG_3675See? I wasn’t crazy when I thought that mince pie was made of meat. They call their ground beef “beef mince”.

IMG_3676This (above photo) is not to be confused with this:

IMG_2446IMG_2443IMG_2441Remember the story of my Irish friend Marie surprising us with a big Irish welcome? She was amused that I thought that a mince pie was a meat pie.

But I was off by only one letter! There’s “mince” pie and there’s “minced” pie.  Look at this Irish specialty:

IMG_3699IMG_3700This was very good – really rich, so you’d want to go easy on it and have only once in a while, but yes, it was yummy!

IMG_3701We thought both meat pies tasted pretty much the same, and I can’t remember which one was which. Both were good and I’ll probably make something like this from scratch next winter. It’s a comfort food meal that’s perfect for a chilly day.

IMG_3702There’s never a shortage of potatoes here! These are called “salad potatoes”. I mixed them with vegetables in my favorite cast iron skillet that I shipped from the United States. I know, I know… it’s expensive to do that. But those of you who cook with cast iron will understand. I had it perfectly seasoned and it’s an American made Lodge. Besides, it’s a good thing that I did this… Brent threw my smaller skillet into the trash at the airport because our suitcases were over the weight limit. I bring that up to him on occasion. :-/

IMG_3708A lot of people have an electric large capacity kettle, for making loads and loads of tea! I brought a very small kettle with me. I thought Marie was going to break out laughing when she saw the size of it. 🙂 And now we’re spoiled. We like the fast electric kettle that heats up enough water for all of us in a couple minutes.

IMG_3706Speaking of heating up water… this is our immersion shower. I hate it. I really, really, hate it. Most of my showers here have been frigid, either from start to finish, or after I’ve had a short while with some heat. I tell you, if there’s no hot water in that thing it’s like doing the Polar Plunge in reverse. I’ve learned that if I skip shaving my legs it’s no big hairy deal.

IMG_3707There’s a gadget in the attic to boost our cell phone signal. Way out here in rural and remote Ireland, we can’t get any cell phone signal unless we are standing right here in this hallway. And even then, the call could cut out without warning. Hello? Hello? Hello? That’s a lot of fun when on hold with a customer service call or when conducing an over-the-phone interview! :-O

IMG_3648I tried to explain to Marie what a “tater tot hot dish” (a Minnesotan thing) or “tater tot casserole” (other American states) is. She has never had a tater tot! She thought maybe it is the same thing as a “potato croquette”, which is a mashed potato that is shaped into pieces, breaded, and deep fried. Uh, no… but now I was intrigued!

IMG_3650IMG_3685These are much longer than tater tots.

IMG_3686Yep, that’s a stick of mashed potatoes… breaded, deep fried, frozen, then baked in my oven. Hmm… Well, those were weird. The texture was hard to get used to. These are definitely not tater tots. Marie, tater tots are crispy, greasy, and salty – like french fries (or “chips”).

IMG_3687The Irish may not know their tater tots, but they sure do know their banking technology. We held up many a line because we had our inferior lame-o swipe credit cards (that some had never seen before and had no machine to swipe them with!). We finally got new cards, but even now that we have the new ones that have a chip in them, our American cards apparently still respond a bit differently because there’s a moment of befuddlement and then a scramble to find a pen because, unlike the Irish, we have to sign a real slip of paper… and the cashier often doesn’t know which copy we keep. Speaking of pens…They sure don’t have many pens around here. No one seems to have one available when we have to sign something. Nope, all paperless here. The bank even gave me this gadget (in the photo above) to do online banking transactions that are made easier by inserting my debit card. Except that our Internet connection is crap (via satellite, very slow, very unstable, data capped—we always go over!–and expensive), so we can’t get it to work. The bank knows us. We’re the Yanks.

IMG_3679But hey, they seem to like our mustard. There are several products that are labeled “American Style”, like pancakes and BBQ sauce. Some name brand American foods are expensive to buy here. Old El Paso brand seems popular here, along with Kellogg’s and a few others. Some things the Americans just do better… like chocolate chips.

IMG_3674Oh dear, the size of the bag is a bit worrisome! Can I make chocolate chip cookies with this tiny amount of chips? Yes, they turned out fine. But I’m not one for using a whole bag of morsels for one batch – I routinely use only half of a regular sized bag. Those of you Americans (most of you!) who use the whole bag would definitely need to buy two of these to make a single batch of cookies.

IMG_3682Americans – what do you think these taste like? I was thinking Skittles or fruity Tic Tacs. No…

IMG_3683These are kind of like Wonka Nerds… I guess – Nerds that have somehow “gone off”. I thought these were horrible! I gave mine to Nicholas. A while later, Cassie gave hers to Nicholas. He ended up with at least three… I think Brent may have caved and given his up too.

IMG_3652We liked these. They remind me a little of a Caramello bar, except it has a cookie (“biscuit”) base like a Twix.

IMG_3653IMG_3654

IMG_3678The fish here is really good & fresh, even when buying frozen from the grocery store.

IMG_3681Speaking of fresh… they sell a LOT of eggs here… a LOT. They are everywhere–even outside of stores in sort of a vending machine! They don’t refrigerate the eggs, but we pop them in the fridge as soon as we get home because we are Americans and can’t bear to see eggs at room temperature (especially Brent who got salmonella from under-cooked eggs while in the Army). The eggs are brown (haven’t seen any white eggs so far) and are delicious. I’ve made eggs for meals much more often since moving to Ireland. Great source of protein, inexpensive, and keeps the five of us fed!

We also love the Irish sausages, although they are quite rich compared to the American version. The “Full Irish” is a huge breakfast platter, and I do mean HUGE. It can be shared by two or more people. Ours had eggs, toast, sausage (delicious and very different from American or German sausage), rashers (like bacon, but unfortunately not the same at all), blood pudding (breaded and fried with seasonings), potato cake (like a McDonald’s hashbrown), and… I want to say something else… maybe ham? I think there were baked beans and fried mushrooms too. I tell you, there was a LOT of food on that platter! Brent and I had been doing errands and wanted to try the Full Irish. We had no idea that it would be such a feast! Had we known, we would have picked one up for the whole family.

IMG_3680Well, they can’t do cheese like Wisconsin, but they have good cheese. They have even better BUTTER…. Remember me mentioning Kerrygold?

IMG_2470IMG_3677Here’s another thing the Irish do better than us Americans – they offer huge quantities of vegetables at low prices! Look at the size of that bag compared to my hand. Fresh vegetables are less expensive too. The local Aldi (I know, German owned, but they carry a lot of Irish locally grown/produced food) has a special section called Super 6 for “fruit and veg” deals. This week we picked up a large container of fresh mushrooms for only 39 cents!

IMG_3659Oh but here’s where we long for an American product! See that dryer on the left? It is the bane of my existence! In fact the “!£#! chime is going off right now.

IMG_3660See the open door on the bottom? That plastic jug/tray has to be emptied… often.

IMG_3662IMG_3664IMG_3665IMG_3661It takes hours to dry the clothes, sometimes ALL DAY. Now I know why hanging clothes on a line is so popular here.

IMG_3709Jelly Babies are a British invention, not Irish, but Ireland is a great place for finding specialty items from all over Europe. We get our pasta from Italy (MMM!) and Kinder Eggs from Germany (fun!).

Jelly Babies were featured in Doctor Who. Our son Nicholas is a Doctor Who fan who built a TARDIS console with his father and played guitar at the Minneapolis Doctor Who convention. So, when I saw Jelly Babies, I just HAD to get them!

IMG_3711But… these are absolutely REVOLTING, lol! I can barely stand to touch them, let alone eat them. They have a slippery coating of powdery sugar over a solid gummy exterior that holds a gooey gummy interior. The red ones taste good, but it’s hard to get past the bizarre texture. It’s the slippery powder that gets me.

IMG_3712There’s the red one. It’s tolerable because the flavor is good and it’s sort of like a jelly bean. But… the other flavors aren’t as easy to handle. If you get one that you don’t like, getting past the slippery powder is like eating a slug… or something. It’s in a class of its own, the Jelly Baby. :::shiver:::

It’s been great fun trying all of these foods, products, and candies!

Along with eating new foods, we’ve had to learn the local language. When I first met Marie, she said, “Shall I put the kettle on?” I couldn’t understand her Irish accent at all. I stared at her, blinking. She said it three or four times. Only when she picked up the kettle did I finally get it. To my ears it sounded like this: “ShallIputthe (<–so fast that it sounded like gibberish) keh-hill un”.

Since then, we’ve adapted and can usually understand even the thickest of Cork accents. We’ve also picked up on things that people say all the time, and what they probably really mean.

“Thanks a million!” – What they often really mean is, “I’m done with you, please go.” 🙂

“sorted” – Anything taken care of is sorted. Need paperwork? “Get that sorted.” Done with shopping? “That’s Christmas sorted.”

“No bother.” – Something people say even when what they’re doing is just an expected part of their job. I get the impression that they don’t like to be bothered, so they’re really saying the opposite when they say “No bother”.

A “cowboy” job/company/etc. – Shoddy work, shady

“Yanks” – Americans from anywhere in the United States, even if you’ve never stepped foot in NY or the East Coast.

“Brilliant” – Used to describe something or someone that is impressive, but not reserved for only the best… even only mildly interesting or entertaining things/people can be brilliant. Adequate customer service replies might be “brilliant”, bland and expected responses to standard questions might be “brilliant”, getting one’s own way is especially “brilliant”. So, when people have called me, or something I said, “brilliant”, it probably wasn’t as good as I thought it was. I may have been marginally interesting. :-/

Well, I’ve found the Irish to be more than brilliant, as they are certainly an interesting lot (“lot” = group of people).  We almost speak the same language, but not quite. I look Irish, so no one knows that I’m an American until I open my mouth. And then the grins appear, especially if I don’t say “Thanks a million”, but instead, in my typically American accent say, “Thanks a lot”. I don’t know why, but I’ve nearly cracked the Irish up by saying this.

So, thanks a lot for reading my blog, and thanks a million. 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

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