One of the first things you notice when you visit a new place is what is different. When we first moved to Ireland, there were a lot of things that took some getting used to and a lot of things that I missed from home. Today, however, marks one year since I first set foot on Irish soil (when we visited for our house-hunting trip)–and I can tell you with certainty that some things are actually better here. As it turns out, there are several areas where Ireland trumps America. In no particular order:
1. Never-Ending Rainbows
Rarely does a day go by that I do not see beautiful Irish rainbows. Of course, that means that it rains a lot here, but that also means that the sun is sure to follow. I will never get tired of looking out my window to see beautiful colors painted across the sky.
2. Tea Culture
Tea is to Irish as…I don’t know…life is to Americans? Seriously, these people love their tea! And for good reason. The tea is good, but even better is the lifestyle that comes with a culture built around tea consumption. You have to slow down to drink tea. You have to take breaks in your day. You have to invite others over to drink tea with you, and you have to accept invitations to drink tea with others. Sometimes you even have to eat cake with your tea. You see, tea is a very, very good thing.
Ireland: 2,000 (castles, still standing). United States: 0 (castles, ever). Castles are just really cool.
4. Family Parking
I’m sure that only parents of young children can really appreciate the significance of this, but family parking is incredible. Most shopping centers here have special extra-wide parking spaces located near the store’s entrance that are reserved just for families. They’re really VIP parking spots. And, let’s be honest. I’m a mom. I like to feel special. I like to feel appreciated. Thank you, Irish shopping centers, for giving me that little boost every time I go to park my car.
5. Occupied Indicators On Bathroom Stalls
I’ve always wondered why this isn’t more common in America. Instead of entering a public restroom and peeking under the door of every stall to see if anyone is inside, you can just look at the indicator on the door. Red? Move along. Green? Step right in.
Europeans are, in general, more eco-conscious than most Americans. In Ireland I have seen people hang their clothes on clotheslines in the middle of winter to avoid wasting energy on dryers. Everyone drives manual diesel cars because they use less gas. They are sticklers for recycling. Alarms start going off if my fridge door is left open for more than 30 seconds. There is no such thing as a plastic bag in this country–anywhere. Bring your own reusable bag or buy one at the store, those are your only options. And the best part about all of this is that living this way is just, well, how people live–you don’t have to think about it or go out of your way to make these eco-conscious choices because they’ve already been made for you.
All working people in Ireland–whether they are the CEO of a major corporation or flipping burgers at McDonalds for minimum wage–are entitled to at least three weeks of vacation time per year. And everyone takes their vacation time. All of it. Conversations revolve around where you will be going for your holidays this year, not if you will get any time off. Holidays here are not a privilege, they are a right. And for someone like me who is always dreaming of the next vacation, I think this is a pretty good way to look at things.
8. Milk. Cheese. Butter. Cream. Dairy, dairy, dairy!
I have never tasted anything quite so delicious as fresh Irish dairy products. The milk is creamier, the cheese is richer, the ice cream is smoother. The butter is so amazing that David literally eats in by the spoonful straight out of the container (at least, until I catch him and remind him that butter is not one of the basic food groups). And I know why. There is a farm behind our house and from my kitchen window I can see the dairy cows that live there. There are only about a dozen cows and all they do all day is wander up and down lush green hills munching on grass and frolicking beneath rainbows. Irish cows are happy, happy cows. That makes for some durn good milk.
9. Maternal and Baby Benefits
Having a baby in Ireland is a pretty sweet deal. There are no medical costs to the parents for prenatal care, labor, delivery, or recovery. None. Zip. Zilch. After the baby is born, mothers in Ireland are entitled to about 6 months of maternity leave–and the government pays them a stipend each month that they are away from work. There are also government stipends available to new parents to buy essential baby items, a stipend that the government gives you for each child every month (just because), and a stipend to send your child to preschool for FREE. It’s madness, really.
Craic is the Irish term for having a jolly-good time–and the Irish are experts at it. They know how to relax and just enjoy life. Schedules, deadlines, and duties often take a backseat to friends, beer and good music. I can appreciate that.
Now, excuse me for a bit. All of this talk about Ireland and I think I need a pint of Guinness. Perhaps with a chaser of butter.