It’s safe to say that when we moved from the United States to Ireland, we downshifted to a much smaller country and a much smaller economy. But, while Ireland may have fewer resources than the U.S., this immigrant uncovered a host of upsides, both psychic and social, to living in a smaller country.
In our first year in Ireland, I became acutely aware that something in my life was missing. Indeed, not living in a superpower, I no longer felt the overwhelming need to prove myself or try to solve everyone’s problems. There is liberation in knowing that you aren’t the biggest and toughest guy on the block. You don’t have to pretend, or even try. Granted, if you are number two in that class (the “other” superpower) then you might feel a need to compete. But when you are as far down the list as Ireland, there’s simply no point. And, hot damn, that is a breath of fresh air.
Back in the United States, everything seemed to be about competing to be the top, the best. Truly, I believe “American exceptionalism” is more of a burden than a benefit. Over time, it has combined with the American grails of individual freedom and personal liberty, and fostered a society that simply doesn’t see those in need. Don’t get me wrong; on an individual basis there is plenty of compassion and volunteerism in the U.S. But collectively, the system caters to the middle, and forgets the extremes. For the wealthy, that’s fine. They have the cash to care for themselves. But the poor and the weak simply get forgotten.
And, it’s not just in the U.S. that this happens. If you’ve ever waited on line in China, you know that any sense of fairness and order gets tossed out the window as twenty-year olds elbow their way past pensioners, in a wild scrum to claim what’s “theirs”. And, in places as crowded as China and India, it’s hard to fault this attitude. In those cultures, if you don’t rigorously tend to you and yours, you simply miss opportunities.
In a place as small, or smaller, than Ireland, it’s much more difficult to collectively ignore the individual. The buffer between “haves” and “have nots” sems much thinner. Oh, it’s still there. But, since we relocated to Dublin, I’ve felt a much stronger sense of social responsibility, and an unspoken agreement that, ”of course you look out for others, and make sure that everyone has access.” Now, that may just be the difference between the U.S., and Europe, and may not be a size thing at all. But there are some aspects of life in Ireland that are purely size dependent.
Here in Ireland, one thing that I was not prepared for was the lack of market standing on a national scale. In this country of four million (about the size of Indiana, both geographically, and in terms of population), it’s not uncommon to have certain items disappear in stores from week to week. Brands simply go missing, and then turn up again later. I asked the manager of a major local grocery store about this. He told me that Ireland just can’t compete with other countries. When a wholesaler runs low on an item, like any good businessman/woman, they tend to their best customers (in this case Germany, the U.K., and European chains). We’ve since heard news reports that this happens even in the pharmaceutical industry here. Ireland, as a country, and the HSE (Health Services Executive) as a collective national pool, just don’t have the muscle to leverage the best pricing or ensure a consistent supply. Ireland is nobody’s best customer. By and large, it’s not a problem. If you have the money to stock up, you simply do that when the shelves are full. But, for potential emigrants, it is one more thing to think about when considering your new home.
Overall, I’ve certainly noticed, and enjoyed, the lack of entitlement that comes from living in a modest-sized country. That modesty seems, in many ways, to trickle down through much of the society.
So, for potential emigrants, I would caution you to be ware of not just the “health” of the economy. Think about the scope and scale of the country where you are headed. What will they have more, or less, of than where you live now? Can you live without those things? In what other ways does the size of the country you’re moving to affect the local culture? If you are moving to a more aggressive society, are you prepared to stand up for yourself? Do you want to live a more, or less, individual-centered existence?
Though it may seem glaringly obvious, let it be said that the size of a country is critical. But, more importantly, the little things motivated and manipulated by that size are crucial concepts that affect the lives of immigrants (and others) on a daily basis.
Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:
- Corporate Taxes Abroad, and the Con Artistry of Luring Foreign Investment
Ireland’s Upward Only Rent Review