26 April 2014

"I am a Podunkian"

I am typing this on Friday evening and the week ends with visible progress! Perhaps this is because we started off the day by embracing the experience. Bill woke up feeling a little grumpy about the bank. After a few minutes of grumbling, he declared, “Here I am in Podunk, Ireland. I am a Podunkian.” Now, “I am a Podunkian” is exactly the kind of statement that will send me off into fits of laughter--especially in the pre-coffee hours of the morning. When I stopped laughing, I told him that I would be a Podunkian, too. As I have every day for the past two weeks I thought about how this is my Northern Exposure experience--much more so than when I actually moved to Alaska. There was weird stuff going on there to be sure, and the show actually got some stuff right. Unlike the show, however, life in villages was frequently ugly and had a dark side. This isn’t ugly, although plenty of the history of the place is (as it is everywhere). With the exception of the problem of Bill’s blood test, which will be the hassle of the week for next week and has the potential to become serious, the rest of the stuff is just silly.

I keep remembering one scene from the first episode in particular. Joel, the culture-shocked doctor from NY is talking to Maurice, the rich guy who owns most of the town. He says, “...I’m not just some putz fresh off the caribou farm.” The thing is that with regard to the culture in which he found himself, he WAS some putz fresh off the caribou farm. He had no clue what was going on and he fought against the reality of it. I’m in the same position--I don’t know what is going on sometimes or why people are asking me questions that seem completely bizarre. I was unprepared, for example, to be asked several times why I wanted to open a bank account. Clearly my answer that I live here and need a local bank account to pay the bills was unacceptable. Since it was the reason and I had no idea what the correct answer was supposed to be from her point of view, I kept on repeating it. She kept repeating the question. Finally, one of us mentioned transferring money from one account in the US to this account in Ireland. That was the right answer, I guess, because that is what she wrote down. In my opinion (which does not matter in the least!) the process of opening this account was way more trouble than it needed to be for everyone, but it is what it is (and it is pretty comical, really). I can fight against it, wish it was otherwise, or accept it and experience it--then think about why and how things got this way and what it says about the culture--LOL. I guess I’ll choose the latter course as often as possible. I am always happiest when my mind is actively engaged in learning new things and there will be plenty of opportunity to do that in the months ahead!

The landlord called this afternoon. He asked me whether there were numbers on the keys, because he wanted to be sure to bring the right ones to Ballinrobe tomorrow. I got the keys and read off what was on each one. He told me that he was thinking life would be easier if we had another set. Indeed. After I repeated the info on each key at his request, he then said that he would come, get our keys, have new keys made, and bring all the keys to us. I told him that we could get the key made if we knew where to do it and if it was OK with him, since the lease says not to have keys made. He told us not to worry about the lease and that he gave permission. Then he told us where to get the key made. Now we don’t have to meet with him tomorrow or spend time looking for a key-making place next week, which we would have done had he not called.

On the way to the bank--after 3 as instructed--we stopped and had the key made. Then it was on to the bank where we “made the lodgement” (deposited money) into the account and she gave us all the info she says we’ll need to transfer money into this account. This appears to settle things on this end. Interestingly, when we walked in, the place was jammed. It was almost 3:30, I think, and they close at 4. There was one long line at the teller’s window and another, longer line at the ATM. We realized this was because they were about to close for the weekend and people were withdrawing the cash they’d need.

We both noticed when we got here that people always pay with cash in the store. Yesterday when we looked at the bank account fees, we understood why. There is a 20 cent charge every time you use the debit card for anything--ATM withdrawals, point-of-sale swipes, etc. If you do anything that requires communicating with a live human being, it’s 40 cent (they do not use plurals for “cent” and “euro” no matter how many of these are being discussed). So of course it makes sense for people to withdraw as much cash as they will need from the ATM, thus incurring one 20 cent fee rather than swiping the card and paying 20 cent for each swipe!

Bill decided to call Eircom last evening about internet service. Since the bank account looked like it could be settled, and we need that to do anything, he figured he could start gathering info. He went to the website at the library yesterday, but the live chat was unavailable, so he clicked around until he got a number to call. He talked to a guy named Mark, who said it would take 5-10 days for us to get service (Vodaphone would be 4-6 weeks). Mark told him that we need to have a bank account before we can proceed, so Bill told Mark that we started the process yesterday, but it wouldn’t be finalized until today. Mark went off to check with a supervisor to see if that would be good enough. While he was gone, Bill told me that he wanted to go with Eircom. His deciding factor was the 5-10 day wait instead of 4-6 weeks. Bill spends a lot of time online, reading news, looking at people’s photos, uploading his own photos and more. One of the benefits for me of never having time to look at anything online these days is that I have had a little news fast and I like it. There are segments of news on the radio, but they are very short and much more time is spent on covering sport (no plural there, either) than on actual news. I don’t mind this, but Bill really wants his internet connection!

Mark returned, having gotten permission to begin the process, so apparently a modem will be mailed to us. We know that the place is wired with Eircom stuff. We would have to wait and see if Vodaphone was available here--Ger, the guy at Vodaphone, wasn’t sure about that. I have my concerns about the quality of service. There were issues at the BnB and Bill can’t connect at the library--they use Eircom. On the other hand, we have read that internet service in rural Ireland is crappy anyway and we were unfortunate enough to have Comcast in Maine and they were terrible, so we’re well used to it and there’s probably not much we can do about it anyway. We’ll see how soon we can stop planning days around trips to the library, home to charge the battery, and back for round two of tag team computer use!

This morning in the weekly regional newspaper, we saw a blurb about a support group for people who have had a stroke. They meet in Castlebar (a bit north of us) but there were names and contact info so people could get more information. Bill is going to call these people to try and get suggestions about where to go for his blood test. It’s likely that someone in the group is taking warfarin and knows the system. We have found that people are quite friendly and eager to help. It is when they have to follow strange institutional rules that things get annoying. So we are hoping for an answer. If that’s no help, we have the bus schedule at the ready so we can go to Castlebar and present ourselves to a live person at the hospital there.

I am quite enjoying RTE Radio 1 weeknights between 10 and 11:30ish. There’s a different show on each night at 10. I came in on the tail end of a couple of them, but I will be sure to tune in from the beginning next week. Then at 11, there’s a short news break, then a book reading--15 minutes a night. I sit and listen and crochet--quite nice!

We got junk mail today. Here it is.

Why bother with printing addresses and all of that? Just stuff the unmarked envelope in every post box.

I have been reading a very interesting and comprehensive book called Ambiguous Republic: Ireland in the 1970s by Diarmaid Ferriter. It covers the cultural changes that took place in the country during that decade and it goes into depth about many aspects of culture and society, including politics, family issues, women’s rights, law, economics, the role of the Troubles and how that affected the Republic of Ireland, and a lot more. I am a little more than halfway through it, so there’s plenty more to go, but the first 400 pages have provided me with some context in which to place my current experiences, my thoughts about why things are as they are, and my observations about how things operate here. Some of it is quite amusing. I leave you with an anecdote that had Bill and I laughing this morning.

Ferriter talks about the smuggling problem in the 1970s and says that the differences in tax rates between northern Ireland and the Republic exacerbated the problem. He says, “Cars were being smuggled, but so were pigs, to the extent that in the period between spring 1976 and the autumn of the same year, pigs were being wheeled round and round the border until they were dizzy. There was an EEC subsidy to be gained from exporting pigs north. The loophole was that this subsidy was available every time the pigs went north. Consequently, the pigs were going north, collecting the subsidy, being smuggled south, and then being sent back north to collect the subsidy once again.” (p 353)

The way this is written makes me imagine a line of pigs at the border, each one with a hoof out, to collect their subsidy as they pass through a checkpoint.

Have a great weekend!

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