Even before we moved to Ireland, one of my constant refrains has been that the Irish seem to be universally friendly and welcoming. I knew there would come a day when that feeling would be tested. And earlier this week I met my first Irishman (a woman actually) who was instantly judgmental, critical, condescending, and dismissive. While I know this is one person among thousands I’ve encountered in the past six months, it nevertheless got me thinking about fitting in, and notions of “belonging”.
Long before the actual move I began thinking about and wondering where I /we fit in. When does Ireland become home, and the place “we are from”? When are we of this place? Now I’m the first to admit that I’m an intellectual carpetbagger when it comes to “big thinking” on subjects like emigration and immigration, so what follows is strictly my gut on this subject.
For me, thoughts of belonging get me thinking about the things that bind people together, or make one group of people strike out from “their people” to join another group. And, over time, what holds those groups together as their needs and priorities change? As I’ve watched the economic and cultural infighting and EU identity crisis unfolding over the Greek bailout and the general state of EU harmony (or the lack thereof) I’m reminded that at the end of the American Civil War Abe Lincoln forced his country back together at the point of a gun. Right, wrong, or indifferent, that act of “hitch up your big boy pants and get your shit together” parenting has been enough to keep the U.S. together for quite a while.
God knows Texans have threatened succession often enough. And, why the rest of America doesn’t tell them, “fine don’t let the door hit you in the ass.” I’ll never know. California, which by itself has one of the largest economies on the planet and posses incredible cultural economic, and environmental diversity, could likely make it on its own. Alaska and Hawaii have localized concerns that speak to their needs, and have almost no point of reference for residents of Mississippi or Vermont. Yet there’s something that holds the U.S. together. The EU is a collection of states with as much (or more) in common fiscally as socially. In order to call Ireland and the EU “home” I believe I’ve got to understand it, and what unites these people.
Though the Irish hate to hear it, Ireland has far more in common with England and the other U.K. states than it does with Latvia, but there they are all cozy together in one big union created not so equal. Can you honestly tell me that two farmers separated by a hundred meters across a relatively arbitrary border between Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland have more in common with people in London and Dublin than they do with each other?
I know I’m using a lot of U.S. examples, but it’s not from any notion of the U.S. “union” being superior to any other. It’s simply my point of reference. And I can’t shake the feeling that the concept of unification and union among people can most easily be grasped through the words of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution when it uses the phrase, “a more perfect union” and not the words “ a perfect union”. They knew these things aren’t perfect, and likely never will be. These are imperfect relationships that will always need to be tended and prodded in the right direction. For immigrants, perhaps belonging and fitting in is a bit like that.
For now I guess I’ll just boo Monday’s rude encounter off the stage of my life, and continue to watch the way the EU evolves into a more perfect union. We’ll see if simply working towards that goal is enough to bind people together.
Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:
Taxes in Two Places.