Where in the world is Clara?

February 28th, 2013

ROME  – By the time you read this, I will be in Rome, Italy, wandering the streets of saints and caesars, perhaps strolling along the Appian Way or enjoying some gelato (or a glass of wine) on the piazza. I suppose it depends on what time you read the column.

Last Sunday, I hit the one month marker. I have officially made it one month in a foreign country without getting arrested, killed or deported. It is hard to believe that a little over a month ago, I was sitting in my kitchen in Michigan bored out of my mind and longing for adventure. It is hard to believe that only a few short weeks ago, I was emailing my parents telling them that I wasn’t sure if I should be here.

And I can’t believe all that I have already seen and done in the past month. I remember when I arrived, and I was worried that I would never get used to the differences between here and the States. I almost got myself hit by a car several times when I failed to look the wrong way first. I’ve gotten used to that, though I still have to mentally remind myself to look right, then left. I’m hoping that eventually it will become somewhat instinctual.

I have gotten used to the cars on the opposite sides of the road, but I still am thrown off every time I see someone driving on the opposite side of a car. There have been several moments of panic when I’ve seen children in the passenger seat and thought they were driving.

The Irish “timeliness,” which is to say, not timeliness, has finally started to sink in. Being German and, therefore, exceptionally punctual (at least I’ve always told myself that it’s because I’m German), I had a really hard time coping with the fact that people weren’t in their offices when they said they would be, or that they take a two or three hour break for lunch. And only the Irish can underestimate travel time by over an hour.

I ran into one of my professors, the one who is from Michigan (I think I’ve mentioned him), during the first week of classes, and he told me that it took him a really long time to adjust to the Irish concept of time, and he still didn’t really understand why they needed such a long lunch break.

Fortunately, it hasn’t taken me long to adjust. The Irish in me has taken over; and I’ve started to not care so much about timetables. But I still don’t like being late. I don’t think that’s something that I’ll ever be comfortable with, no matter how long I stay here.

I barely even notice the accents anymore. Okay, that may be a bit hyperbolic. I notice the accents, but I’m not struck by them anymore. Clearly, they speak differently, but I’m not as taken aback by it as I was when I first arrived here. I am now only conscious of a different accent when I encounter someone from a different part of         Ireland who has an accent I have never heard before.

Like the United States, different places have different accents. I was told that I wouldn’t be able to understand people from Donegal (I can) or Derry (I haven’t met anyone from Derry yet). People in Galway sound different from people in Belfast,  who sound different from people in Cork. Everyone who isn’t from Dublin seems to love to make fun of “Dooblin” accents, like we do Boston or New York. And mostly everyone I’ve met can identify where anyone is from based solely on their accent. I’m not that good yet. But I can tell that the accents are different, and I think that’s a start.

I’m even getting used to the word “grand,” which I’ve always had a propensity to hate because I felt that it was “phoney,” as Holden Caulfield so bluntly put it. It sounds much less phoney in an Irish accent.

It’s funny. One month and already what seemed so different from the norm is becoming the norm. Isn’t it great how quickly we adapt? Things that I never thought I would get used to have become commonplace, or at least don’t bother me anymore. By May, it seems, I’ll be a regular Irish lass, and then I’ll come home and have to adapt again. Adapt or die … or at least get hit by a car because you looked the wrong way first.