Thursday, July 5, 2012

Differences Between Ireland and America

(Or at least between Ireland and Richmond, Virginia):

1. Americans don’t eat with a knife and fork. They mostly just use a fork. Knives are strictly for cutting and spreading, not for trapping food against the fork.
2. They call cutlery “silverware”, even when it’s made of plastic.
3. Advertising is much more direct. Here we have ads that often have a very tenuous connection to the actual product; short films or vignettes or sketches. Over here, you often can’t tell what is actually being advertised until the last second. American “commercials” are more likely to be a talking head telling you exactly why you should use their business. I think this difference is down to European squeamishness about money, and American readiness to talk turkey.
4. Instead of VAT, Americans have sales tax. The price on the tag is not the price you pay at the till. This kept catching me out. I also think it’s part of the reason Americans are so conscious and resentful of government. Taxation is much more visible to them.
5. Credit/debit cards are more popular. At least, I think so. I always use cash for over-the-counter transactions myself, so maybe I don’t realise how popular plastic has become over here, but it seems to me that most people in Ireland still pay in cash. In America, most people pay with cards.
6. Americans call courgettes “zuchinnis”.
7. They don’t have the term “runners” for “trainers”.
8. As anyone who has seen the famous Des Bishop sketch will know, Americans don’t have to heat up their water to have a shower. It’s just there.
9. Americans don’t say “take a left” but “make a left”.
10. I was refused alcohol in a restaurant and in an off-licence because I had no ID, despite being well past my salad years. This probably differs across states.
11. Supermarkets are bigger and have a bewildering variety of brands and products. And futuristic gimmicks, too; motion-activated voice-recordings make sales pitches and artifical thunder and lightning storms draw your attention to particular products.
12. In one supermarket, there were racks of inspiring reading which mostly consisted of Christian books. Impossible to imagine this in an Irish supermarket.
13. Much to my pleasure, Americans fly flags everywhere. The stars and stripes are omnipresent, but there are lots of other flags on display, too; State flags, college pennants, rainbow flags, and many I didn’t recognize. Lots of Americans fly a flag of some sort on their porch (and most houses have porches.) They also like to announce their allegiances on car registration plates and bumper stickers.
14. Their traffic lights have no green and red men. Instead, there is a white walking man and a “Don’t Walk” caption. The high-pitched beeping noise that most of our traffic lights use, to alert blind pedestrians when they can cross, is much less prevalent there, even though America seems to be generally ahead of us in terms of provision for the disabled.
15. Residential streets seem to go on forever. There are often thousands of house numbers on one road or avenue.
16. Television is almost omnipresent—in shops, airports, hospital waiting rooms, and so on. And it usually has subtitles, and isn’t muted in public places.
17. Despite our stereotype, Americans don’t actually say “have a nice day”. They do say “have a good day”, or “have a good one”, or “have a great day”, or some variation thereof. They say those all the time. But I don’t think I heard anyone say “have a nice day”. (I mentioned this to a colleague and he suggested it might differ according to region.)
18. “Sir” and “ma’am” are ubiquitous. Perhaps this is a Southern phenomenon. I strongly approve. Also, Americans (even adult Americans) address their aunts and uncles as “Aunt Such-and-Such” or “Uncle Such-and-Such”.
19. Virtually all toll-booth operators are black women. The racial divide is very evident. Black people tend to have a different way of speaking to white people—a faster tempo that I sometimes found hard to keep up with. Beggars are mostly older black men and they say “spare some change?”. There are far fewer beggars in Richmond, Virginia than there are in Dublin.
20. Religion is much more visible. There are many more churches, and a huge variety of different denominations. Churches tend to be, not old stone buildings with spires, but broader and flatter buildings made of brick. They hustle for custom with big placards and signs (at least in the case of the Protestant denominations). Religion seems to play a huge role in social life, too, with many people belonging to church groups and associations, such as the Knights of Columbus.
21) When Irish or English people say "homely", we mean "cosy", "comfortable", "down-to-earth." In America, "homely" has only one meaning, and that's "ugly". This can be important to know.


  1. Definitely enjoyed reading this - I think I learned a bit about Ireland from it. Most places will check your ID before selling you alcohol over here as you said - some places in the US will card even if you are going to see a Rated R movies.
    -BTW, this is David from the Theology on Tap

  2. So glad you liked the post, David! It's a pity we didn't get to meet up for longer in America, but hopefully some other time, I am sure I will be in Richmond again before too long.

    I don't have any problem with the more stringent alcohol laws in Virginia. I think alcohol sales should be regulated and it was my own fault for forgetting I needed ID.

    More than anything else, I just relish the differences, and I'm glad that they are there.

  3. Thank u 4 ur post....doing a school report on Ireland, needed Sim./diff. & look'd @ tons of websites....think I got the best stuff from you ! Thank you very much "fella". Much appreciated. Luv, julee