door hook 

Amazing what havoc this little piece of hardware can wreck!

I don’t embarrass easily. When I was 12 years old, I was the unsuspecting victim of a terribly random incident so deeply humiliating that it was just all uphill from there.

It was after recess (that’s the mid-morning break during the school day) and everyone was running back into the classroom, eager to get into their seats before the second bell rang. I, too, was in a hurry – I was lagging behind for whatever reason and realized I was only seconds away from that final bell. I first scampered into the coatroom, which was a walk-in closet inside the classroom, to hang up my jacket. I then turned quickly and sprinted toward my desk, but something suddenly and quite violently yanked me back. What happened was the bolt fixture (see photo above) had fishhooked the little gap between my blouse buttons and due to my rapid speed had literally ripped the shirt completely off my back. My arms actually flung back from the force – imagine Michael Phelps doing the backstroke – and within a split second I was standing there in my training bra in front of the ENTIRE class of students, some of whom were hit in the face by flying buttons. It was rock bottom as far as embarrassing childhood moments go.

Needless to say I have quite a thick skin, which has helped me tremendously in adjusting to life here in Ireland. The process of adapting to a new culture inevitably comes with awkward lessons, of which I have had many. The first time I went to the grocery store I just stood there, waiting for the check-out clerk to bag my groceries. When she asked me if I needed a bag, I thought it odd but still didn’t get that people here not only bag their own groceries but also bring their own bags (or purchase them from the store). I think I said something to the effect of “Uh, yes of course” and watched, confused, as she passed my groceries over the scanner and then just left them sitting there. She then handed me the bags and I’m thinking she’s the laziest grocery clerk in the history of customer service when she finally says, flatly, “Miss, you need to put the items in your bag.” I pretty much felt like the idiot American in that moment.

door hook shirt 

Dramatic reinactment of the aftermath of aforementioned shirt-ripping incident.

There are lots of little awkward situations every week, like when I pretend to understand what someone is saying through his insanely thick accent and the speaker realizes I haven’t a clue as to what he’s talking about. Once a cabbie asked me what I thought of the recent stabbings in town (I was well into my tune-out mode; sometimes it just takes too much strain on the ears to try and comprehend the accent). My reply was, “Oh yeah, really great.” We cleared things up but for a moment he thought I was nuts. Of course there is the on-going learning of Irish slang, which I’ve written about before. The first time I heard someone say they were “banjaxed” I thought they’d been hit over the head with a banjo. It just means someone is really tired. Recently someone asked where I would be going for my “holliers,” which I assumed was a reference to some religious event (holliers = slang for holy?). Turns out it’s short for “holidays.”


Even Ernie knows that the driver is on the right side here in Ireland (dramatic reinactment).

And since the Irish love taking the piss, my friends are delighted that I’ve given them so much material for slagging purposes. I still hear about something I did my first week here: We were all in my friend’s jeep, driving to dinner. I was in the back seat with two other people and my friend Sinead was the driver and her boyfriend Trevor the front-seat passenger. It was very dark outside and we were on one of those crazy winding country roads. I can’t remember what the topic was but there was a lively discussion going on between me and the others in the back seat. Trevor, who was sitting on the left-hand side in the front of the car, kept turning around to better hear the discussion. Finally I yelled, “Trevor, keep your eyes on the road!!!” because of course, in my American mind, the driver is always on the left-hand side of the car. “UH, I am not driving!?!” he said, pointing to Sinead, the actual driver. Because it was so dark and my brain was still adjusting to the whole right-side driver phenom I’d honestly thought he was driving. This story comes up at least once a month amidst a heap (or hape, as they say here) of hoots and hollers.

But no bother, as I learned from a very young age that sometimes really embarrassing shit happens and one can let them roll off the back (kind of like my shirt) or drive you mad. As I stood there in only my training bra and school-issued culottes in front of thirty 12-year-olds that mortifying day, I chose to just join in with the laughter. I grabbed my shirt, went to the nurse’s office and she safety-pinned my blouse back together. I got quite a bit of teasing for the next few weeks, took it with a smile and life went on. It always does.