The term Expat conjures up images of bronzed pensioners on the Costas, but expat is what I am. I’ve lived in Dublin for thirteen years; since I was 24, so most of my adult life. I have an Irish husband and two Irish children. I’m from Newcastle originally, and went to university in Sheffield , so it’s really been quite some time since Newcastle has been my full time home.
It’s an odd feeling , being an expat. Neither one nor the other. An Inbetweener. People think of Ireland as being very similar to the UK, and in many ways it is, but there are subtle differences which you might only notice if you have lived in both. Some are small ; for example, differences in vocabulary – runners instead of trainers, chipper instead of chippy, press instead of cupboard. The Irish have a beautifully economic way with language at times, which often comes from the translation of phrases from Gaelic into English. If press is a cupboard, then airing cupboard becomes ‘hot press.’ Say what you see. My son is now learning Irish at school, and teaches me as he learns.
Go raibh maith agat – I say (thank you)
Tá fáilte romhat – he replies (you’re welcome)
There are larger differences. I am grappling with the education system , even the naming of the classes is different, starting with ‘Junior Infants’ instead of Reception. We have to pay for school books and make a payment to the School for photocopying and other sundries. Letters are sent asking for ‘voluntary’ contributions. The inextricable interweaving of church and state is all to evident in Irish schools, with the vast majority being Catholic. Priests and nuns visit the classrooms in my son’s school; can’t imagine what he makes of that given he has never set foot in a Church. There is no NHS; you pay 60 euro to see a doctor and when my son stuck a piece of Lego up his nose a couple of years ago , the trip to A and E cost 125 quid. Ouch, indeed.
And it’s awkward , criticising a county when you’re not a citizen. Like slagging off someone’s family.
Never have I missed living at home so much as since I’ve had children. Not having the support of parents and childhood friends close by is tougher than I would ever have imagined. But a recent visit home has reminded me of the other things I miss.
British TV – cosy Sunday night dramas or Saturday night on ITV.
British pubs – proper country pubs with delicious food.
The NHS.The NHS.The NHS.
National Trust properties.
The countryside -especially the Lake District.
St Mary’s Island.
Grey Street, Newcastle.
A sense of belonging.
I return to Newcastle about twice a year. When I’m in Dublin and about to travel to Newcastle I say I’m going home. When I’m in Newcastle about to return to Dublin, I say I’m going home. Do I have two homes? Or none – an Inbetweener?