This post is part of a sporadic series about how our life is Dublin is different five years on.
Before we expatriated, I tried to avoid having too many expectations about living in Ireland. I’m sure I thought I’d go to the pub now and again, would eat a lot of cabbage and potatoes, and see sheep from time to time. We wanted to get comfortable but also pay attention. Like how driving a car becomes second nature, but you sometimes feel the thrill of motion and can be amazed at where the car can take you. We do have a dually quotidian and spectacular life.
One thing I did not expect about living in Ireland is that we would know so many Americans.
I remember many times in our first few months, someone would say to me, Oh, you should meet this American person or that American person. This annoyed me. I was particularly uninterested in meeting Americans. I knew lots of Americans. I wanted to meet Irish people. Those quirky, witty, inscrutable Irish people. And I have. We know loads of wonderful Irish people, but when I look around our social circle I find a large percentage of Americans.
My surprise testifies to how little I understood the expat experience and the powerful connection of being “other.” I remember a year or so in when I began to appreciate my fellow Americans. America is such a huge country, and yet there is something familiar in another American, even if she grew up 2000 miles from me. Of course expats are a self-selecting group and Bill and I have some element of common experience with any other American expat. But we do wonder what exactly makes an American recognizably American. Several times an Irish person has said to me, Oh you know how it is in America, how you have that can-do attitude and feel like anything is possible? Um, not really, I say. One of my friends told me he thinks all Americans are united by the Constitution. I cracked up laughing when he told me this. People barely even know what it says, I told him. I don’t think we see a constitutional glint in each other’s eyes. It may be shared culture–TV, movies, music–more than anything.
Now I understand our American friends don’t take away from our Irish experience, but rather are a key part of it. If we weren’t in Dublin, we likely wouldn’t have found these kindred spirits from as far away as California and Maine. By moving to Ireland, Bill and I changed our orbit. We circle our new emerald world, enthralled, tied to its gravity. But still separate from it. We’re learning that expat truth–as long as we’re here, we’ll always be a bit apart. Our fellow expats are celestial companions in orbit, as sparkly and beautiful as Saturn’s rings. I’m so thankful for them.