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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Dublin, Ireland

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Dublin

Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

No. The culture was very different than we expected. If we had known that, the adjustment might have been easier.

We thought it would be easy to adjust to Ireland because before moving we knew so many friends of Irish heritage. But, unless you are from a family that has frequently visited relatives in Ireland over the years, the culture shock is great. However, visitors to Ireland who are of recent Irish decent will have an automatic network of family to befriend. The Irish are friendly with tourists and tourists are very important to the country's economy. Immigrants are treated differently than tourists.

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

The Irish speak some Gaelic (now called simply "Irish") and it is widely taught in schools. In the west in particular you might find towns that are Irish speaking only, but otherwise the primary language is English.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

No

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How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

Significant. The Irish have somewhat of a "tribal" culture, can be wary of outsiders, can be hard to get to know. They do not answer direct questions. They are incredibly polite in their speaking and are very subtle. If you adopt their speaking style it will be much easier for you to communicate. The Irish will quiz you to death if you let them but all information is potentially fodder for stories at the local pub so be careful about that! If they think you are living in Ireland short term, they may be uninterested in making a connection (I've heard the line "I'm busy the next few months" more than once!). However, the key is to join a group where there is a common connection. There are good international clubs, or schools with a large percentage of international students where the parents of Irish students are more open to having international friends who might be in Ireland shorter term. Those who want to brave the pub culture will find it easier to have social engagements with local Irish, but make sure to learn the rules of drinking etiquette and be careful about staying out in the dark wee hours of the morning when trouble can brew. It takes a year before your Irish acquaintances will turn in to friends. However, once you are a friend, they will place a very high value your friendship and will treat you accordingly. If you are in crisis, they will do anything for you to help. The Irish will spend quality time with you as a friend and you will feel welcome and at home. Last thing, it is key if you can be introduced in any setting by someone local. Even to the local pharmacist or shop keepers, who will become suddenly more friendly. Our landlord allowed us to say she sent us to various shop owners and the doctor, etc. and it really created an immediate level of trust and welcome that was missing when we did not have that.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

YES. The first year was VERY hard. By the end of our third year, we had made good friends, and it was wonderful.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

The lack of sun can take a toll. Get away during the summer for a vacation somewhere hot. Staying connected by internet to friends at home helps with homesickness, also joining one of the international clubs to hear your own accent again. Taking lots of pictures is a great way to find joy in the local surroundings. You can get lots of great pictures in Dublin as there is so much architecture to look at and many good parks. However, in Dublin there are many cultures and you can find food, restaurants, etc. from a surprising number of cultures and countries.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

Quality of friendships (once made). Kindness and helpfulness of friends. Fascinating to learn about a new culture and to learn Irish history, of which there is an extraordinary amount!!! So many places to see going back through time. In a few days you can take a visitor to ancient ruins (3000-5000 years old), historic castles and abbeys from 1100s, Viking outposts, Book of Kells from the 400s? 500s?, you can walk down a sidewalk and see a Celtic cross next to a cafe that is from 800 AD, loads of castles from the 1700s and 1800s, lovely gardens, incredible natural scenery. And lots of green hills and sheep of course!

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Be careful not to talk too much about yourself and reveal too much about yourself too early. It will takes weeks and months of getting together with an Irish friend to learn personal details about them. Only reveal one or two personal details per visit or it will overwhelm them. They will respect the friendship more if it is earned and learned over time. Forget getting anything fixed, it will take weeks and more than one visit. Always offer a service person (plumber, gardener, etc.) tea and make sure it is one of the two Irish brands, offering a biscuit doesn't hurt too. Won't improve the service but they will appreciate that you are polite. Always apologize if you create any sort of inconvenience for another person, it will be much appreciated.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

Eh hem....

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

Hang in there, it gets better!

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