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Irish economy « An American in Ireland

Irish economy


lobby

The lobby of my old LA apartment building

I was at a shopping centre the other day when I witnessed a little girl – probably about 10 years old – throw herself at a pile of fuzzy, stuffed animals for sale while simultaneously begging her mother to buy one. “Pleeeeeease, I need one!” she squealed, clinging for dear life to one particularly pink panda.

Unconvinced, the mother firmly tugged her daughter away from the cuddly temptation and I could hear the whine slowly fade in the distance as the pair disappeared in a sea of shoppers. Though I can’t say for certain, I’m guessing that the little panda was likely forgotten by the end of that day. Out of sight, out of mind.

When I lived in Los Angeles, I was surrounded by shiny toys. Of course they were of the adult variety: high-end cars, expensive footwear, designer clothes and opulent restaurants with over-the-top menu offerings (and prices to match!). The more I was exposed to these things, the more I felt I needed them.

pool

Every time I’d get a lift in a friend’s wood grain interior-ed Mercedes Benz, my Honda Accord started to feel like a hunk of junk. Whenever I’d dine among the privileged elite at a Hollywood hot spot, I’d long for the freedom that an inflated salary afforded them; instead of dining there once every blue moon, I could go as often as I’d want. Even the gym wasn’t safe; working out next to the ladies-who-gym in all their designer workout gear would make my ratty t-shirt/tracksuit bottoms combo look like something from a charity shop reject pile.

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Beaumont

When it comes to healthcare in Ireland, the news isn’t good. The headlines in the papers and the television news reports are ripe with exclamations of how badly the system has broken down in recent years. Stories of patients waiting for beds, tests and appointments are featured daily in the Irish media.

As someone who has no private health insurance here, my own experience has been quite good. For 50 quid I can see my general practitioner and she’s available with one or two days’ notice. My prescriptions cost about 10 euro on average. Of course I have never needed emergency hospital care – which according to the news reports is a whole different story all together – until recently.

Last week I went to my GP complaining of chest pain, rather a tightness in the middle chest area, for the previous few days. She surmised it was likely esophageal spasms caused by an upsurge of stomach acids. While I was there she took my blood pressure, which was surprisingly high; I’ve always had perfect readings and my last check was only a few months ago, also perfect. She prescribed meds for the spasms and told me to come back in a few days. When I returned with the same symptoms and high blood pressure, she sent me to the emergency room at Beaumont – a public hospital in Dublin.

And that’s where I got my first dose of the reality that is public healthcare in Ireland.

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DUBLIN

It can be incredibly difficult to see the bright side around here these days. Not only has this summer been quite gloomy weather-wise, but the air is thick with defeat and depression over Ireland’s ever-increasing economic woes. Between the nightly news reports on the mortgage crisis and the tabloids’ hysterical headlines about Ireland’s doomed future, it’s hard to stay positive.

As I stated in my last blog post, work has been quite slow and sometimes I feel like I will *never* make it here in Ireland. Though I still enjoy a decent amount of work from back home, it’s been an exhausting, uphill climb to get any work here. But with enough persistence and a positive attitude things do work out sometimes, and I’m happy to announce that I’m now writing restaurant reviews for The Dubliner magazine! The first review is out in tomorrow’s edition.

Make Flower

Part of the reason why I keep pushing forward is because of my friends here. Against all odds, they are making it work and I’m constantly inspired by their unending dedication to succeed in an utterly sh*t marketplace. When I first met my friend Catherine last year, she had recently lost her job and was on a diligent search for a new one. I’m certain she was aware of how difficult it would be in the midst of a terrible recession, but she plugged away and found one within a few months. She’s thriving and recently moved into a bigger rental (complete with a gas cooker, I’m green with envy!) with her partner.

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customer_service

Today I went into a big-box sports shop in town looking for a pair of running shoes. I saw a few pair I liked and stood near them, waiting patiently for one of the two sales clerks who loitered nearby to assist me. After a few minutes of being stared at, I did a little hand up gesture, the polite and non-verbal “oi” to let them know I needed help. No reaction. One of them, a young woman, walked over to me (or so I thought) but then passed and started arranging shoes on the very shelf I was standing next to. “Excuse me,” I said. She turned, pretended not to hear me (there was just no way she didn’t unless she was legally deaf) and walked away. She then strolled over to a boy, no more than 10-years-old who stood about 5 feet away from me and asked him, “You doin’ all right there?” She then turned again and started to walk toward me, and again I said, “Hi, excuse me…” but my words hung in the air like one of those cartoon bubbles of text as she passed me by, again ignoring me.

I’ve touched briefly on customer service (or the lack, thereof) in Ireland before, but I think it’s time for a full-blown rant. To be frank: I’m fed up. Even after over 10 months of living in Ireland, I’m still taken aback by the blatant disregard for customers around here. For a country in the depths of a dismal recession, I’m surprised that businesses are still ignoring the need for better customer service. The big-box stores are especially guilty of this. Almost every time I’m in the check-out line at Dunnes, I’m standing there, waiting while two register clerks exchange weekend gossip, completely ignoring the fact that there are numerous customers waiting to get on with their lives. Thankfully Tesco offers a self-checkout line, which I always use as I am over the slow and often rude service there.

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street musicians

With Ireland teetering on the brink of economic collapse, it’s hard to stay positive around here. Some worry, others blow it off as a phase and a few actually want the ax to drop. At least then we can all stop holding our collective breath in anticipation for the worst.

Still, people around here are surprisingly cheerful and it seems there is a concerted effort among folks to keep their chins up. I think for a lot of Irish there’s just really nothing else to do but be optimistic in the face of overwhelming negativity…it’s just how they’re made. All of this reminds me of a story I wrote about New Orleans, which I visited shortly before moving to Ireland, and I thought now would be as good a time as any to re-post it here.

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