As a traveler through Ireland, one of the things I longed to do, was to sit in an old, wooden pub and drink a pint with the locals. Public houses are a big part of Ireland’s culture. On my travels through the emerald isle, I have been to many pubs, and have encountered many different people. And being from the states, I was accustomed to bars hosting guests over the age of 21. When I was in Dingle, I was surprised to see people of all ages socializing and drinking in the very cozy pubs. One of the pubs I went to had a very long wooden bar. It had bar stools in front of it and in the rest of the place it had couches, benches, nooks and chairs.
I ordered a beer and decided to sit on a couch that was placed in a circle so people could chat with one another. There were two men sitting at the bar conversing loudly about politics, some older women sitting in the chairs in front of me were talking about their marriages, and at my feet were two toddlers coloring a book. I felt very strange at this sight because this would be forbidden where I’m from. Children in bars surrounded by adults under the influence did not seem safe to me. I started a conversation with one of the ladies about how adorable her children were, and she thanked me. I asked her if children were normally allowed in pubs, and she said that before 7pm adults and kids can be in the pub. No one really thinks anything of it; it is a part of the culture.
Life is different in Ireland. In the west especially, there are no parks, or malls where people can gather. People meet at their local pub to socialize from a very early age. In the US, bars or public houses are not the norm, therefore, I must be honest … I found children in pubs difficult to accept. But in considering what is acceptable and what is not in regards to drinking, however, there are norms in the US that are unacceptable to the Irish. One thing we differ in, is that they have a zero tolerance for drinking and driving. I was once in a pub once where some people were discussing this and they seemed appalled, almost enraged at the thought of people leaving the bars and driving home. In a place like Ireland where alcoholism has become a national concern, a zero tolerance is a way to manage the situation, and keep the community safe.
Until recently due to my exposure to travel writing theories, I would have not understood the situation I experienced and would have forever thought of the Irish as irresponsible parents. But after reading about The Danger of the Single Story, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I realize that I only had part of the story. Adichie states brilliantly, that “when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise” (Single Story 18:16). She argues that she has been the victim of a single story when people think of her as being from Africa, and with it the stereotypes we see in the media. She illustrates that if she had not been raised there, she too might have thought the same way: “If I had not grown up in Nigeria, and if all I knew about Africa were from popular images, I too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals, and incomprehensible people, fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and AIDS, unable to speak for themselves and waiting to be saved by a kind, white foreigner” (Single Story 5:55).
I think back on that day in the lively pub, and I am so glad I talked to the women with the children. If I had not spoken to them, I would have gone home with a single story: my own. In speaking to them I realized that it wasn’t as if the children were victims of abuse as they would have seemed here. The children were safe, and carefree, living in the place they call home. The women and men in the place were just being themselves, socializing, and nurturing relationships. I was the one who was out of my element, but thankfully trying to learn and to immerse myself in new cultures.