I’ve been living here now for about 7 years, so I guess you could say I’m beginning to settle in. Admittedly, there were things that took adjusting to, some easier than others. When you go to live in another country seems only polite that you should adopt certain behavioral characteristics of your adopted homeland, you have to make certain changes in the interests of harmony. Certain behaviors, while they may be perfectly acceptable at home, must be either curtailed or adapted when you’re “playing away”.
Of course I learned this the hard way. Like when I first got here I thought: “Why the heck should I switch to driving on the right-hand side of the road? Where I come from everyone drives on the left, (when they’re sober), and this arrangement has worked out fine for Ireland. We Irish didn’t get to be the global economic superpower that we are today by driving on the right.” Still, as I found out, most Americans are very conservative and they insisted on sticking to the right hand side of the road while driving, so I was left with no choice but to follow suit. And so began a process of adaptation and integration. You learn to “fit in” and while some behavioral adaptations are conscious, others just seem to catch you by surprise when you find yourself doing them.
For example, I now use “Yes sir” and “No ma’am” far, far more than I ever did before I came to the South. Once you realize you’re doing it, of course then it’s a conscious phenomenon which presents you with a choice: so, do I continue to use these expressions, or do I eschew them? Personally, I like the way the
“Yes-sir” and “No mam”” denote courtesy, without sounding subservient, so I now they are part of my lexicon.
Some cultural phenomena are however much trickier to navigate. Take the subject of hats. Now, if you’re in a pub or restaurant in Ireland and you’re wearing your hat, the chances are you are in a huge minority, because Irish men do not wear hats indoors. No one is going to tell you to take it off. Some might not even notice, but some might just consider it, ‘bad form’, a tad disrespectful or crass. If you were an American living in Ireland, you might pick up on this and thus taking your cue from the natives, you’d remove your hat. Doing so will not offend anyone, leaving it on might. And here’s where I’m on the horns of a dilemma, because frankly, I don’t know what to do here in the USA.
Many, many men leave their hats on in restaurants, notwithstanding the formal fancy shmancy ones. Taking my cue from the average guy, I therefore leave my hat on in part because I want to underline the informality of the setting, and partly because I’m bald. Which brings me to the dilemma; is it bad manners to leave your hat on indoors? Yes, I know the military have special rules for this, and yes I’m guessing that if you’re over a certain age, you’ll probably say it is bad manners, to which I’ll say being “old-fashioned” doesn’t necessarily make you right, sorry. Part of me wants to do what I want to do, i.e. leave the hat on. Part of my wants to be a good boy, and take it off. Decisions, decisions.
Brian O’ Nuanain runs “Across The Pond And Beyond”, a company that organizes international vacations. You can reach him at acrossthepondandbeyond.com