Panda peanut butter, depressing downpours, and beautiful Burren


Rachel Craft, Full Irish Breakfast

When I first arrived in Ireland back in August, my program orientation taught me about the U-shaped curve of culture shock. It starts with the honeymoon phase, where everything is blissful and exciting, then, after a while, the homesickness sets in and things become difficult and frustrating, and eventually, one fully adapts to the new culture and begins to feel at home. I realized last week that my honeymoon phase is over. Sometimes, I think the marriage might be over as well.

I miss the food. I miss knowing where things are in the grocery store, knowing my favorite brands. It turns out I’m more a creature of habit than I thought. They don’t have black beans here, or baby carrots, or those handy steam-in-the bag vegetables. The only peanut butter I’ve been able to find is Panda brand, which has a panda on the label with a little speech bubble saying “American style!” It doesn’t taste very American to me; it tastes more like chalk.

But my primary peeve with Galway lately is the weather. It appears that the Irish winter is beginning to set in, based on how much colder and wetter it’s gotten in recent weeks. I didn’t need my galoshes at all for the first month of my stay, but last week I wore them nearly every day. It’s been raining considerably harder than it used to, and it tends to alternate between downpour and sunshine every hour or two, so I’m never sure what to expect. Not that it would help anyway; there’s really no way to prepare for a Galwegian downpour. Umbrellas are useless because it’s so windy, and if you’re caught in a downpour during the ten-minute walk across the bridge to campus, there’s really nothing you can do except mutter a stream of profanities until you get inside.

I know I shouldn’t complain; after all, I’m practically on vacation. Although the walk to class can be miserable, I’ve been fortunate in that almost every weekend has been beautiful and sunny for my various trips. Last weekend, I took a bus tour around a region known as the Burren (from the Irish Boireann, meaning “great rock”). The Burren is a bizarre and beautiful landscape, with, as you can imagine, a lot of rocks. It’s one of the few places on Earth where Mediterranean and alpine flora coexist; it also contains the Poulnabrone portal tomb, one of Ireland’s most photographed landmarks. Crisscrossing the landscape are miles and miles (or I should say, kilometres) of dry-rock walls, painstakingly made by stacking rocks with no mortar or filler of any kind. On the region’s coast are the famous Cliffs of Moher: high, sheer cliffs abutting the ocean and topped with a castle-type thing which no doubt has some sort of archaeological significance. You might recognize them from the sixth Harry Potter movie.

This weekend I’m going out of the country to Belfast, Northern Ireland. They’re part of the UK, so they buy things in pound sterling and measure roads in miles. It should be quite the adventure. Slán go fóill!