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Northern Ireland from the Perspective of an Eighteen Year Old American: Part One

Updated on March 17, 2011

Looney 'Toons

Laughter erupted when my colleague introduced me. Not being overly confident in the first place, I was alarmed. What faux pas had I committed?  I hadn’t opened my mouth yet so it couldn’t be my southern accent.  Then the kids began to shout, “Tom & Jerry, Tom & Jerry!” Now I understood, they were obviously well studied in American cartoons. That the minister I was working with was named Tom and I was named Geri (Jerry) struck the children as very funny. This was one of many enlightening experiences I had in the country of Northern Ireland.

Time Travel?

My maternal grandmother who lived with my family had objected strenuously to my Dad “letting that child fly all by herself to a foreign country.”  Daddy only increased her anxiety by replying that there would be lots of other people on the plane!  He was obviously much too flippant concerning her only granddaughter’s welfare. But the flights were uneventful that is until I reached Glasgow. There I exited the 747 jet that had brought me across the Atlantic Ocean and stepped back in time as I boarded a prop plane that looked as if it had been left over from World War II.  My anxiety over the age and condition of my mode of flight only increased when I saw the steward; he was definitely of World War II vintage or at least it seemed so to my youthful eyes.  The flight though turned out to be safe and comfortable and included the bonus of an in-flight snack of the most wonderful Scottish shortbread I’ve ever had. Soon we were landing in Belfast.

I Thought They Spoke English!

The airport was Spartan with evidently no concern for impressing tourists or comforting returning Northern Irelanders. I guess it was all the better for enforcing security in this country known for its violent acts in the age old battle between Catholics and Protestants. Thankfully I was welcomed warmly by the father and daughter of my host family, the Browns. The score: Zero for facilities, ten for hospitable hosts!

On the drive from the airport to Dundonald, the Brown’s home town, I discovered that Mr. Brown spoke a foreign language. His daughter, Doreen, was totally understandable to me as far as the actual words were concerned, but what was a lorry? After listening closely and after several miles I began to catch a word or two of English as spoken by Mr. Brown. He just spoke a lot faster than my Southern drawl-accustomed ears were used to deciphering. I had to learn to listen faster but even then his accent lost some words to my understanding. Not to worry, I knew from the tone and the words I did get that I was going home with a very caring family.

A Historical Cottage We Visited

My, the country was quaint. Everything was on such a small scale, the cars, the houses, the yards and even the streets, so narrow and close to the buildings, fences and homes. I began to realize just how new the soon to be 200 year old USA was compared to this place which had hosted civilization for thousands of years.

Mrs. Brown was the epitome of the cheery, efficient housewife. Her home was warm and inviting though a little on the busy side of decorating to my experience. Every surface had pattern. Floral wallpaper, a different floral in the carpet with geometric borders, a fair amount of bric-a-brac and more and different florals in the draperies. Even the furniture was efficient. No dining table was apparent anywhere. Then just in time for tea what I had supposed was a small chest transformed into a totally accommodating and comfy dining surface!

I had heard of the occasion called tea of course. It should include tea, a given, crumpets, scones and maybe tiny cucumber sandwiches. So when Mrs. Brown called us in for tea it was not what I had envisioned as “tea.” This spread qualified as a meal. There was boiled meat, boiled potatoes, boiled beans and bread with butter. The food was good but definitely bland. I came to find that bland was very much the best description of most of the Northern Ireland cuisine I experienced.

Tea with the Browns

Hot tea did not appeal to this sweet iced tea drinking Georgia girl. I did try it. I didn’t want to be a difficult house guest but I just couldn’t handle hot tea and it was even worse with milk. Yuck! So I compromised. I would mix just the right amount of sugar into my cup of hot tea, place it in the refrigerator and then drink it when it was well chilled. My hosts found this amusing and strange. But it was also way too little of a good thing with too much of a wait. I was used to always having a pitcher of sweet tea waiting in the fridge with plenty of ice available in our large side-by-side refrigerator-freezer.

The Browns refrigerator was probably not a fourth the size of the fridge I had left at home. It was what we in America considered a dorm room or efficiency apartment size and ice cubes for drinks were unheard of in this home. It was quite comic to me when at the occasion of a graduation dinner for Doreen and her classmates at a restaurant a pitcher of water was placed on the table and the girls went wild fishing the ice cubes out and consuming them leaving the water iceless!

I was eighteen. The year was 1976. So began the adventure of a lifetime


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    • U Neek profile image

      U Neek 5 years ago from Georgia, USA

      Yes, mikeydcarrol67, it was interesting and well worth the time and money. It would be wonderful if all youth could have some world travel experience. Thanks for reading and for the nice comment!

    • profile image

      mikeydcarroll67 5 years ago

      I bet that was interesting experience! I've done that a couple times and that is definitely worth the money that gets invested into it.

    • U Neek profile image

      U Neek 5 years ago from Georgia, USA

      Yes, it was an education and a great way to get one. I've been thinking about you as we have been studying Australia in our homeschool co-op classes. It makes the world a smaller place to "know" someone from the other side of the globe. I'm so glad I got to know a little more about your part of the world and you through your writing. Thanks so much for reading me. My apologies for being so long in acknowleding your comment. The past year has been one of extremem upheaval with my dad in his final illness and my husband's heart surgery and subsequent strokes which necessitated our moving in with my mom. I hope to get back to writing and reading here if my life will settle down a bit!

    • dags the drover profile image

      dags the drover 6 years ago from still lost in Western Australia

      Hi U Neek, yes... I had that experience in your country in 2000. That is... believing that just because we all spoke english that communication would be easy. I heard many words that I knew... but the meaning was not always clear to me, nor was I always understood. Sounds like it was a great time of learning and growing for you. Cheers Dags

    • U Neek profile image

      U Neek 6 years ago from Georgia, USA

      It was a great age to make such a trip and the memories are dear. The experience also enlightened me to the fact that there are many different ways to make a life and made me curious to learn more of other cultures. Thanks for reading!

    • dearabbysmom profile image

      dearabbysmom 6 years ago from Indiana

      What an adventure and what a perfect age to enjoy it!

    • profile image

      Sam 6 years ago

      I really enjoyed reading your blog! I'm very interested in Northern Ireland, and your blog was very informative, and a good read. Can't wait to read whats next. :)

    • U Neek profile image

      U Neek 6 years ago from Georgia, USA

      It was a wonderful experience even though I was VERY homesick or maybe it was boyfriend sick. Anyway, thanks for reading me and taking time to leave such an encouraging comment!

    • capncrunch profile image

      capncrunch 6 years ago from New Orleans

      Hey U Neek,

      I really like this story. Leaving and staying with a family in a foreign land, wow. What an experience. I just know you remember so much about your visit.