I thought I was doing pretty well with this whole culture shock thing. I'm getting used to figuring out recipes and reading the weather using Irish measurements. I know that the parliament is called the Dail and what the major parties are. French fries are called "chips" and are eaten with a fork, guys are called "lads," and the police are the Garda. I've had a fry-up for breakfast and potatoes for both lunch and dinner on the same day and Guinness. I've learned that drinking happens on Tuesday and Thursday nights and that 9am classes don't happen on Wednesday and Friday mornings. So really, I was starting to feel like I had all the important stuff down.
Then today I had 6 hours of classes.
First was my class on Multiculturalism. "Can you name part of Irish culture that's currently in contestation?" the professor asked.
"Um... the language?" I hazarded.
"What about it?"
"Uh..." It was way too early in the morning. I grasped at straws from conversations with classmates. "Everyone learns it, but there's debate about how useful it is to keep encouraging it...?"
Fortunately, I was let off the hook with that - she was hoping for different examples, none of which I'd ever heard of. The Angelus? Huh? And what's this business about Travellers?
Then on to Sociology of the Family, which was actually pretty straightforward because it was about love and romance novels and that's pretty much the same everywhere. But lest I think pop culture was a solid ground I could stand on, my next class was a tutorial for Gender and Pop Culture, where I was again completely at a loss. We were talking about reality TV, and the Tutor kept mentioning shows - "Who's seen Come Dine With Me? Operation Transformation? Tallafornia?" (And those are just the ones I could find on Wikipedia after class - most of them I couldn't even catch the name well enough to Google!) At least some of them were in categories I understood - Tallafornia is basically Jersey Shore, Operation Transformation is The Biggest Loser - but where no obvious American parallels existed I was lost in a sea of unfamiliar celebrity names and famous episodes.
After that, I headed to two hours of Irish Politics. Again, I had been sort of feeling like I was finding my footing until I got to class today. "So, who thinks there should be a tax on septic tanks?" the professor asked, referencing a recent major issue in Irish politics - namely, whose responsibility it is to fix the often old and piecework system of plumbing and septic tanks that's seriously damaging Irish water systems.
To me, the idea that the government could ask you to pay 50 euro to inspect your water tank and then help pay to fix it if it needed it was pretty straightforward, but people are quite wound up about it. Apparently whether or not one should pay taxes for one's garbage collection is also contentious, as is the idea that the president should have a political opinion or that the senate should exist at all.
"What are Higgins' political beliefs? What about Enda, what's he trying to do?"
"Who's Enda?" the girl behind me, another American, whispered.
"The prime minister?" I guessed, which didn't help answer the question at all, because in truth I have no idea what he's trying to do or what party he's in.
So now I'm back in my dorm with a stack of reading to do, so that I can understand changes in Irish culture, reality TV, and the different branches of Irish government before I have those classes again later this week. It's all really fascinating, but it's weird sitting in a class and having none of the cultural background that the professors assume the students are familiar with!