It’s hard to travel through Europe and not notice the cultural differences, so here’s a few that have impressed us.
First, the trip from Barcelona to Dublin: Barcelona Airport is like many airports now: a shopping mall with places. Especially over here, you have to walk through a labyrinth of stores just to get to the security checkpoint, and then again to find your gate. One thing that impressed, though: when boarding time got close, people lined up in an orderly fashion before the doors opened. When was the last time you saw that in the states?
There is, at least in the people we’ve met, a belief in honesty. In Dublin we had dinner Saturday night at Peruke and Periwig (you should go there). As Americans we’ve been conditioned to leave substantial tips to service personnel (mostly to help cover their atrociously low salaries). But we’ve read that tipping here is far less expected, and when you do it, 5-10% is more than enough. Anyway, we waited until the bill came to ask our waiter. That was a faux pas. He explained that you’re supposed to mention adding a gratuity before the bill is presented. He took a minute to inform us of the correct tipping protocol, and in doing so shed light on the Irish way of thinking about commerce, and honesty. He was adamant about the European (and Canadian) practice of bringing the bill and the card reader to the table, since anything can be charged to your card when it’s not in your sight. (This actually happened to me a few years ago.) He couldn’t understand how Americans could put up with the way it’s done in the states.
His attitude made me think about Ireland’s history, as prompted by our visit the next day to 14 Henrietta Street. The museum there is a fascinating microcosm of what’s happened. The building was established in the 1700s as a home for a wealthy family. In fact the entire Henrietta Street area was for the well-to-do. But when those families moved away in the late 1800s, the building became a tenement, and the street became a slum. At one time around 1910 the four-story building housed 17 families and 100 people, some of whom lived in the hallways.
Ireland was a Catholic nation for centuries. Deeply Catholic. Despite this fervent belief Ireland, and Dublin in particular, was home to horrifying poverty and injustice. Sanctioned by the church? Certainly not, and yet atrocities like Henrietta Street, the Magdalene Laundries, and others persisted into the 1980s and beyond. Now most people in Ireland are not religious at all. A tour guide of ours last year mentioned that only about five percent of the population is churchgoing.
Ireland is still coming to terms with its past. What we see here is a concerted, nationwide effort to eradicate the injustices. Sure, some of them still exist—there are homeless people throughout the tourist area, for example. But we also followed last year’s referendum on making abortion legal. Although the country was divided about 50-50, the discourse was remarkably civil. And when the vote turned out in favor, the people on the short end seemed to accept the result. At least we haven’t heard of violence over the matter since then.
And by the way, on our way home from dinner tonight we passed a large gathering of homeless, who were being fed by volunteers.
All this is a prelude to a discussion we had in Barcelona, among brothers-in-law Mike, Brian, and Joe. We forget what it started with, but eventually it came around to things that other countries have done in the name of national unity. South Africa, for example, abolished apartheid, and a while later launched a national reconciliation campaign. When a mass murderer killed about 50 people in a McDonald’s there, Australia’s people agreed to drastically limit gun ownership, and many turned their weapons in. A similar movement seems to be starting in New Zealand. No nation and its people are perfect, of course. And if you want to, I’m sure you can find examples of continued evil and injustice in those countries. But they all, to my mind, exhibited what I would call “essential goodness.” The people agreed to sacrifice their personal interests for the good of the population.
So then you have to ask, where is America’s essential goodness? When faced with the abolition of slavery, instead of legislating it away as was done in England, we fought a Civil War in which 600,000 died. When faced with ongoing gun violence that kills about 40,000 people a year in the U.S.*, we continue to stonewall efforts to alleviate it. In fact I’m having a hard time thinking of something besides war that has brought our people together, and that hasn’t happened since 9-11.
In other news, we also took the Guinness Factory tour, a lively, fascinating, two-hour commercial for Guinness beer. We bought some cool coasters.
And it’s fairly cold here in Dublin, cold enough that Dona thinks I should wear a hat. So I bought one. I have not looked good in a hat my entire life, and the last time I wore one regularly was when I was in the service. But she says it looks good. It’s the same kind John Wayne wore in “The Quiet Man.” You may have to start calling me “squire.” Anyway, a photo, I’m sure, will grace this blog soon enough.
– Dona and Joe
* This includes suicides.