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Dublin: 15°C Saturday 25 September 2021

Larry Donnelly: I'm taking a break from politics this week ... now, about lasagne and spuds

Larry Donnelly, a ‘yank in Ireland’, has a little shutdown rant.

Larry Donnelly Law lecturer, NUI Galway

IN YEARS PAST, I wrote columns in this space about the linguistic divide between my American English and the English that is spoken on this island, as well as on the things I just don’t get about Ireland. 

In an effort to provide another distraction from Covid-19 – and perhaps to provoke laughter and annoyance in equal measure – I have been thinking about several further cultural differences which are admittedly trifling, yet irk me nonetheless.

Measure me this

shutterstock_612907787 Source: Shutterstock/pikepicture

The metric system is awful.  I do acknowledge that the United States is an outlier on this one.  But I find metric measurements absolutely incomprehensible.  Those who are acquainted with me know that I don’t like change, particularly what I describe as “change for change’s sake”.  Inches and pounds were perfectly good units.  There was no need for this metric rubbish. 

Now, when someone puts weight in kilos or height in centimetres, I wince and offer one of two responses: “I have no idea what that means” or “please tell me it in American.”  I regularly encounter older people who concur.

Fore golf’s sake

90422770 Former US VP Biden plays golf with then Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Mayo, 2016. Source: Department of Foreign Affairs

Golf is not an elitist sport.  At the behest of my 7-year-old namesake in October of 2017, I decided that we would join our local golf club.  As a teenager, I had been a decent golfer (I was a 12 handicap when I was 17) before two decades plus dominated by higher education, work, travel, etc., during which I played not more than 25 rounds.  Sadly, to use an Americanism, my return to the game has not been like “riding a bike” and has featured more setbacks than advances.  But young Larry and I love it.

What has astonished me, though, is the reaction of so many to our frequent playing.  A widespread perception persists that it is a sport for the wealthy elite.  From personal experience, this is bizarre.  At my former course on the outskirts of the city of Boston, a full annual junior subscription with unlimited play was $300 (I used to repay my parents for it in small weekly instalments with earnings from my part-time job), beverages from the bar came in plastic cups and blue-collar workers vastly outnumbered the suits.

And at our Wicklow Golf Club, membership for a stunningly beautiful course is very affordable.  All are welcome and there are as many vans as luxury cars parked outside.  On behalf of the men and women endeavouring to democratise golf in this country, please discard misguided preconceptions and give it a try.  I can honestly affirm that it is accessible and could change your life.

‘Would you like spuds with that?’

shutterstock_1144495502 Source: Shutterstock/Mohamad Baihaki

Lasagne does not go with potatoes.  Among the numerous culinary shocks, I got when I relocated to Ireland in 2001 was that chips were typically served with lasagne.  As a first point, I remain disappointed to have never discovered on a restaurant menu the lasagne most of us who grew up in the Boston area would recognise – that is, with ricotta cheese, not béchamel sauce.  I have managed to convince my wife that it is better with ricotta, however.

But isn’t there enough starch in the pasta without necessitating chips as well? Isn’t lasagne rich and calorific enough without a half a plate of chips to accompany it?  And when a heaping helping of mayonnaise-drenched coleslaw is also there, I struggle not to vomit.

Brand love Ireland

tayto-crisp-launch Model Joanne Dever at the launch of the new Tayto flavoured crisp, Prawn Cocktail , St. Stephens Green, Dublin. 15/8/2005 Source: Graham Hughes/Photocall Ireland!

Ireland’s Brand loyalty is OTT.  Barry’s vs Lyons.  Tayto vs King.  Heinz vs Chef.  I could go on. Of course, taste is an individual matter, and to each her own.  But the extent of brand loyalty in Ireland is extraordinary.  In the US, brands such as these are often preceded by a lethal tag: legacy. 

More and more consumers are abandoning them for the supermarket versions of the product that are every bit as good and are far cheaper.  The same goes for the quality of own-brand goods here.

For instance, I have converted my own house to SuperValu tea and I have rarely seen anyone decline the few crisps with a sandwich in a café, although I’d wager serious money that the snack did not come from the bag people would instinctively reach for in a shop.  Brands retain a very special place in the hearts and minds of many here.  All I can say is that those in the Irish advertising and marketing business are clearly superb at selling.  They deserve what they’re paid.

Voting rights, or wrongs

ny-long-lines-at-polling-stations-in-new-york Hundreds of voters wait in line to enter the PS33 polling station in the Chelsea neighbourhood of New York on Election Day, Tuesday, November 8, 2016. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

It was too hard to write a whole column without discussing politics.  Hold up a mirror when attacking the US on voting rights. Images of ridiculously long queues of Americans waiting to exercise their sacred right to vote are beamed into Irish sitting rooms. 

The recent primary which went ahead in Wisconsin, despite a pandemic, with a hugely reduced number of polling places was an egregious example of the flaws in American democracy.

On the other hand, let’s contemplate a few indisputable facts.  I will put the most contentious one first.  American citizens have the constitutional right to vote, no matter where they are in the world and regardless of how long they have been away, in US elections for life.  To dispel the old canard, only the highest ex-pat earners pay taxes to Uncle Sam.  I have never missed a vote at federal, state or local levels in the time I have lived here.  Irish citizens lose their say after a mere 18 months.

Even as I disagree, I understand the objections that have been voiced to emigrant voting.  What I steadfastly refuse to countenance, however, is that Irish citizens (with few exceptions) are denied the right to vote if they happen to be out of their constituency on polling day.  American citizens can vote for months or weeks ahead of the date of the election – either in person or by post – in most states.  It is an uncomfortable truth that many who have to endure a long wait to cast a ballot on the appointed day have no one to blame but themselves.

And lastly, asking for photo identification prior to voting is commonly deemed per se racist in the US.  That mantra is repeated on this side of the Atlantic.  While it brings me into conflict with my Democratic Party, I don’t see this as an unreasonable requirement, at all.  In Ireland, we are instructed to bring ID with us to the polling place.  I know that reforms on these matters are in the offing.  They are overdue.

No better place

mccain-flags UNITED STATES - AUGUST 27: American and Irish flags fly at half-staff outside of the Phoenix Park Hotel in honor of the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on August 27, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

I can already see “go back to America if you don’t like it here” in the comments section.  Relax.  These quibbles and criticisms are in jest.  And if I have upset you, at least your attention has been temporarily averted from the coronavirus.

Ireland is my home and there is nowhere else I would rather be, especially at this fraught period in history.  We should take heart from the broad and tangible sense of societal solidarity right now. 

Yes, I still love the US.  It is also my home.  But as for where I prefer to live, work and raise a family?  I’ve voted with my feet.

Larry Donnelly is a Boston attorney, a Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and a political columnist with TheJournal.ie.

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Larry Donnelly  / Law lecturer, NUI Galway

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