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September 16, 2004


Since our return, the niceties of conversational language in Ireland have resurfaced quickly. We remember from our last go-round here that just because we have the same words does not mean we use them in the same way. We have recalled that “grand” means “fine,” and “brilliant” means “great.” We have been told that our restaurant order is “grand,” but, sadly, we have not yet heard that it is “brilliant.” The accents are easier to understand this time, and we have learned to swallow those unnecessary final syllables. Shortly we may hear ourselves saying tanks for thanks. It’s so much more efficient.

Not only do we and the Irish share the English language but we also have the same number system. Numbers, however, are trickier. We have paid more attention to them this time in large part because the euro is so strong, and we no longer can think of a dollar as equivalent. In fact it takes 1 1/5 (and some days 1 1/4) dollars to make a euro. On top of that, cost of living has gone way up here. A narrow, attached house in a nearby neighborhood listed today for 1.5 million euros. It has been restored so it is in nice shape, but it is small, relatively speaking, and one of many. Our car insurance is a lot more here than in the States. It costs 2/3 of what we purchased the car for, and that is with Mark as the only driver. (Remember last spring, Robbie, when I went through that yellow light? Well, that violation on my record means that we would have to pay more for insurance than we paid for the car – if we could find a company that would insure such a high risk driver. Let me just say that is my only violation in 40 years of driving… really…)

Here are some more numbers to wake you up. Lamb at the competitively priced supermarket (not the local butcher) runs at 18+ euros a kilo – now, that is 2.2 pounds so it’s not as bad as one first thinks. All meats are right up there. So, what’s the good news? Well, Guinness costs a lot less than meat! So do charlottes, my favorite potatoes. So do the fabulous fresh sugar snap peas (from Zimbabwe). In fact, an evening of excellent Irish theatre costs less than a big, fat lamb chop.

Sometimes prices look like a great deal. 97.9 cents for gas! Yeah! Bring it on! Until you realize that once again it is euros, not dollars –AND you have to buy it by the liter. Now, how do you feel about paying $5.00/gallon? We walk a lot, and the 1.45 to take the bus downtown doesn’t look so bad – until we remember it was .85 for that same trip when we were last here.

Numbers are not just part of the monetary system. We think about numbers in another way every morning when we watch Sky News for the weather forecast. (One of the hardest things for me here is that there is NO weather channel. Many of you know I start and end my day with the weather channel at home – even when snow days are in the distant future.) Anyhow, England’s news covers weather for all the big islands in our area so we can get a sense of temperature for the day. The numbers are different, though – what does 15 mean to you? Do you remember how to invert and multiply and what fraction do you use? My solution is to live by approximation. Wow! 20! I don’t need a sweater! Yikes! 0! I need my winter coat. Then there’s the great, in-between vague. I guess it doesn’t really matter, though. The weather is constantly changing so the answer is layers every day – unless you are Irish and go around in a t-shirt just because the calendar says it is summer.

Some numbers still carry very little meaning for me. On our hob(that’s the stove) there is a nob for the oven – what do you think 210 means? All I can tell you is that it is near the end of the dial so it must be hot. Sure makes it hard to bake at the right temperature, though.

Oh, here’s one of my favorites – Irish TV. We have access to several channels – a couple of English and several Irish. Most stations change programs as we would expect – on the hour or on the half hour. On the Irish language station it varies. Often it is on the hour or half hour. However, An Aimsir starts at 7:22 and Two and a Half Men is on at 9:05 tonight. Some city area codes have two digits; some have three. Some phone numbers are seven digits long; some are six. In town our bus, the 48A, goes by the tanning shop with a 6 second tan. The government is about four years into the 17-year transportation plan. Where do these numbers come from? You may be reassured, as I am, that some of the old familiars are still in use – 7 days in a week, 60 minutes in an hour and 365 days in a year, though Christmas lasts a fortnight.

My solution is to stop trying to make sense of all the numbers we run into. It is complicated, probably unnecessary and, at times, too confusing. Just make a guess. Just do what you want to do and spend money as you need to. But don’t plan on buying your golden boy son a tweed jacket like you did for your husband four years ago. What went for about 175 euros now is going for 395 euros. Sorry, Jess.

Posted by gretchen at September 16, 2004 08:19 PM


Gretchen! Thanks for sharing. How funny and clever. Who knew you were so good with numbers! I guess one should expect this from a teacher.

My favorites - cheap Guiness and cheap theatre tix. Sign me up! I can leave my fiancee here in the states right?!? ;-)

Posted by: Danny at September 16, 2004 08:36 PM

Of course you can leave your fiancee behind - I travel without my husband!

This is simply amazing, what you have set up... we'll see what comes. Too bad my computer isn't on-line yet, but it should be in 11 days now (oh, those Irish numbers). In the mean time, I'll bump Mark off his, and write from here . Thanks - Gretchen

Posted by: Gretchen at September 17, 2004 01:11 PM