I hope with posts like my discussion on communication breakdowns between Americans and the Irish that I don't give the impression that I dislike Ireland or its people. As anybody who has traveled abroad or lived in a foreign culture should know, there is no such thing as better/worse or right/wrong.
Each country--sometimes each region--operates under a distinct set of cultural mores, folkways, and norms. Each culture has developed its values with influences based on unique historic, religious, ethnic, political, and socio-economic circumstances. The only things I can objectively talk about are differences between the cultures I have studied and experienced. Why do you think academics use the term 'empty universals'? My research consists of observation and asking questions and I can speak with certainty about learned societal reactions with respect to my own upbringing. I fully realize how easy it is to comment on a society that I did not grow up in and don't have personal attachment to--much the same way that people the world over comment on the United States. This doesn't mean I should stop making observations.
I am interested in culture to my very core. I am the product of an international, inter-racial, inter-faith marriage. I grew up with two distinct cultures and need two languages to speak to my family. I was born in a country built by immigrants where cultural diversity is at the constant forefront of current events. I travel because I know that the mere presence of foreign culture is an invaluable experience. I'm not critical of Ireland, I am learning.
In Spain, I noticed that the masters students had a sense of humor about it. When asked why people in the street bump into you without apology, why servers refuse to put mayonnaise on a jamon iberico sandwich when you ask, or why Spanish people would sell their furniture for money rather than get rid of a pricey fur coat, the answer was the same: "Espain ess deeferent." The answer jokingly means there is no explanation-- except that it's the way things are done in Spain. It makes sense to the Spanish, so does it matter if it makes sense to anyone else? I think it's the perfect answer and captures all the weird/funny/confusing/frustrating aspects of cultural idiosyncrasy.
That said, I continue making my observations. The most recent thing I have come to enjoy is Ireland's close connection to the arts. Dubliners typically make reference to Ireland's noteworthy authors, playwrights, filmmakers, and artists in everyday conversation. Brendan Behan this. Conor McPherson that. In the US this might be seen as pretension, but in Ireland it is knowledge and genuine pride. The surprising part is that it's not just the academics who name drop...the general population is well-read about Ireland's literary and artistic contributions. Since arriving only five months ago, I may know more about Irish authors than I do about American writers and I've certainly gotten more interested in theatre than ever before. To be fair, hubs is studying literature in college but I must say I enjoy the second-hand learning.
In a city where the first statue I saw was James Joyce in his floppy hat and the first marked residence was that of (George) Bernard Shaw, the connection to literature is profound. My friend Meagan posted a link to a great article that illustrates this phenomenon and explains a bit of the history: UNESCO City of Literature - Dublin Today.