I think back to those first exciting, confusing and lonely months here. In my mind I documented all the new details, trying to incorporate them into my life. Details like paying for parking at a parking box within a shopping center to go to the grocery store, using a euro coin to borrow a shopping cart or 'trolley' (the first time I did it there was an attendant at the trolleys who saw me coming, obviously out of my element and taking pity, simply rolled me a trolley freed from its chains, I naively thought was how it was always done), taking your own shopping bags for your groceries and SACKING your own groceries as the somewhat surly, definitely bored, person at the cash register sat (yes, sat…they have chairs here) not entirely patiently as I struggled to stow away my purchases with my cranky 3 and 1 year old embarrassing me by seeming so darn loud. And that was just the grocery store.
People walk an awful lot here and everything is measured in how many minutes it takes to walk from point a to point b. And there is usually a hill involved. So, if the shop (grocery store) is around 5 blocks away you'd be told, "the dunnes stores is just a 3 minute walk". Or for directions to the school you'd be told, "just through the town and up the hill". No one uses street names when giving directions either. It's place names and hills and minutes that serve as markers. Which is not very handy when you don't know the area. And everything seems to have more than one name. It's like they keep calling places by their previous names as well as by the new one, figuring it out is like peeling back layers of old paint. For example, there's a pub commonly known as Jackie's but the name on the outside is O'Driscoll's. No one calls it that so you have to sort of know. Best of luck.
In retrospect I can also see how I must have appeared to them. In the beginning I just kept smiling and trying to ingratiate myself with the people I would regularly see. The smiling was probably seen as weird. Why is this strange girl always smiling at us? was probably whispered among the older neighbors I would pass on my way out to the shops. Most of my neighbors were older and they would pass by with a nod of the head. When we got here I had a big red jogging stroller for Sofia and Rowan. One of the selling points of the town and location of our house was the proximity to the sea. And the mile long Victorian era promenade along it. It is perfect for a jog and that was the potential I saw when I first laid eyes on it. People are always walking along it, kids ride their small bikes on it even though the ground is painted periodically with 'no cycling' in big yellow letters, dogs run and chase and it is the center of the St Patrick's and summer festivals every year with amusements and rides erected for weeks on end. All of this yet no one really jogs, especially women. You have your occasional guy or two pounding by the walkers and you will sometimes see a woman jogging but it is definitely not the norm. And then there was me. With big red. And shorts! Taking up so much space plowing up and down the mile long promenade, smiling. Always smiling. My friends now who would see me back then like to joke about how I was so alien in my shorts with tanned, Texas sun legs, running along behind my big red stroller with the two kids.