It seems like we’re in Belfast for a while, we’ve been here a week already and it doesn’t look like we’ll be home soon. So, I thought I’d get cracking on reflecting on life over the Irish Sea in Norn Iron. It never really occurred to me that when I got married that I would be entering a cross cultural marriage. Husbandface spoke the same language (most of the time) and seemed pretty similar in lots of ways. I’m not sure why I didn’t realise that being an English Protestant lady and marrying a former Catholic Northern Irish man would involve a fair few cultural intrigues and differences. I guess every marriage involves some degree of cultural clashes as you work out each others backgrounds, how you’ve been brought up and how that affects now. In our situation it seems like there is a wider amount of cultural baggage to try and hurdle.

I’m not going to give you a blow by blow account of the differences in our families. Suffice to say there are many. It’s the experience of culture shock that I have coming over to Belfast that I want to explore. There are differences, in language, in ways of relating and in life in this city that strike me everytime we come over.

Relationships between the genders seem much more old school over here, there seems to be much more eye rolling over men being useless and much more of a matriarchal vibe going on. Husbandface found it hard to deal with my relative quietness at first in comparison. I don’t think all men are useless and I’m not going to sigh about them in public. That sometimes seems to rule out lots of chat with people. I’d love to know if this is a vein that runs throughout life in Ireland. I’d love to see how this plays out in Christian lives over here and whether it’s a big issue more widely.

There is a high quality of sarcastic banter, I thought I came from a sarcastic family, and I’m glad I did because I get more than I would otherwise. My theory is that it’s a defence mechanism to detract from the crazy seriousness of life during the troubles. Sarcasm rules the day and despite appearances to the contrary is a sign of affection (I hope so anyway…).

The language is different as well, here are some phrases I’ve picked up in the last week or so:

“That’s us”- A kind of – we’re ready, I’ve finished what I’m doing, lets go type of phrase.

“Did you ‘lift’ that?”, “can you ‘lift’ my phone over”. A replacement for ‘get’ I think…

“Hot Press” – This could be Irish, or it could be a family phrase, someone please enlighten me, I think this is an airing cupboard.

“Happy Days” – A cover all kind of phrase for expressing something is good, turned out ok or has a good result.

“Raging”- As in I was… very angry, seriously annoyed.

“Slagging”-Slating someone, usually sarcastically for humorous effect, although probably with elements of truth to it.

“A fry”- No fry up’s for people over here, the Belfast Fry is a thing of legend. Possibly the reason why Norn Iron is one of the 6th most obese nations in the world but that might be the Guinness, or the large amounts of grease served with many meals. (Husbandface says this is due to having such a limited diet for so long, and that it’s the fault of the English because of their lack of help in the famine many years ago. To be fair he might have a point, England certainly has a lot to answer for)

Having said all of that I think I’m growing to love the place. Every time I look up from the city there are hills soaring above us. There is a crazy amount of weather, which being English I love talking about. Each day brings glorious sunshine, blue skies, black clouds, mist over the hills, rain and wind. All in one day. This is also the land of endless tea. I thought I drank lots of tea, but that was before I came over here. On my first day with the family a couple of years ago I think I drank about 10 cups of tea, we did a tour visiting various people and drank about 2 in each place we went to. Genius.

Being a lover of history I find this a fascinating city. I was hooked from the first time Husbandface drove me around pointing out the mainly invisible lines dividing the areas between Catholic and Protestant areas and the stories that went along with them. Flags and bunting suddenly took on a new significance and I could understand why Husbandface would shudder every time there was an England match on back home. I can’t make comment on the troubles over here, or the unique culture they have created. I haven’t lived through it. But I’m still intrigued by the affects of living in a pretty segregated city. Husbandface says until the school system changes there will be little major change in how the city is divided up. It’s a pretty weird state of affairs. So there you go, thoughts on Belfast, anyone from the other side of things in Norn Iron want to comment?

Update: how could I forget about ‘bold’? To be ‘bold’ means being naughty- children and dogs are told off for being so bold…

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6 Responses to Belfast

  1. Ros Honeysett says:

    Hot Press is indeed an airing cupboard!

    Have you discovered the new plural forms of “wes-uns and us-uns” and other phrases such as “what’s the crack?”

    Glad you’re discovering the idiosyncrasies of another part of the UK!

  2. UncleMickey says:

    Hotpress, all one word. The closet where the hot water tank was normally kept making it toasty warm and a good place to store linens.

    Usually had slatted shelves for heat dissapation.

    Very nice analysis.

    Also neglected the famous “catch yourself on” or the more localized “catch a grip”

  3. étrangère says:

    Yes, I still say hotpress. It comes from the Irish tradition of calling all cupboards ‘presses’ – in NI, we mostly just retain the hotpress, but some homes South would probably still use ‘press’ as a word for cupboard. And of course there’s scallions in your salad/champ – not spring onions. ‘Bold’ brings a whole new meaning to the kids’ song, ‘Be bold! Be strong! For the Lord your God is with you… 🙂 But my friend from Leicester teaching in Coventry has the same ‘bold’ issue I think.

    For some general Irish intro to the matriarchal culture and grumbling about men being useless, read the Dublin-set play Juno and the Paycock by Sean O’Casey. Some cultural cross-over here with other southern European RC countries – don’t know exactly why.

    I think there’s a slight difference between the sarcasm (found throughout Ireland, and Scotland) and the black humour of the Troubles. You’re right on the second being a survival mechanism – laugh or cry. In some ways, it’s not good that we were numbed to the seriousness of things, but how do you cope otherwise? Sarcasm, on the other hand, is indeed a sign of affection, as is the kind of banter which takes the mick of someone – you know you’re accepted in the group when someone makes a joke at your expense (cf your comment on ‘slag someone off’). It’s a sign of acceptance as ‘one of them’ who won’t get offended or take themselves too seriously.

    As for the diet, some years ago NI had the highest rate of heart attacks in Europe, and yes, it was because EVERYTHING was fried.

    Not sure we can just blame the school system for the segregation – the working class areas of the city self-segregate very effectively, no matter if their children are in integrated schools. To quote one delightful child in N.Belfast, from HBC: ‘We go to the Integrated, so we do – we hate those fenian b******s!’ Education neither causes sin nor cures it…

    I love your description of my city, from which you can always look up to hills above/around. Hills and sea (and endless tea)… and I’m stuck in the middle of England: makes me cry a little whenever I think of it.

    Have you discovered the World’s Best Christian Bookshop yet? 🙂 Evangelical Bookshop, opposite Inst (by the Black Man). If there’s a bloke behind the counter with a white beard and glasses, you can tell him you know his daughter.

  4. Mandy says:

    whats that beautiful photo of? and thanks for beer bread recipe. combination of blogs brought a lump to my throat – a nice one.

  5. Emma says:

    Aaaahh – you’re making me homesick! Great analysis too…now I’m off to make (another) cup of tea 🙂

  6. Pingback: Goodbye 2011. Here’s an epic roundup of the year. | The Long Walk Home

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