Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Rural mutliculturalism

I have always thought of Dublin as a very multicultural city. After all, it is a capital and, like any other capital city, it is a main pole of attraction for businesses and people from every horizon. Other big cities like Cork and Galway would be too, of course, but not to the extend of Dublin. I have witnessed in the last 12 years, the development of Dublin as a multicultural city. When I first arrived here, being foreign was still a bit exotic. It was still something quite unusual. The Celtic tiger was only a cub at that stage, only a few years old. Walking on the streets of Dublin, you could hear English spoken everywhere. You could point out the foreigners, usually because they were large groups of unruly children on school trips. Loud Spanish, French or Italian youngsters, all with the same back packs. On a night out, you could play 'spot the foreigners'. They were the ones wearing jeans and big jumpers. Hardly dressed to impress, just dressed for the weather. Funnily enough, the less you seemed to reveal the more you seemed to draw attention to yourself. Irish people were the most helpful people in trying to integrate you into their culture.

As the years went on, I have seen more and more foreign people coming into this country, for work reasons, for personal reasons, for whatever reasons. I started working in a huge multinational, where due to the nature of the business we were in, only 5 to 10% of the workforce was Irish. Slowly but surely, over the years, on the streets, English was replaced by so many other languages. At some stage, even printed adverts on the sides of bus stops were in a foreign language. Being a foreigner was soon becoming the norm.

When Marie went to school, outside the school gates, I noticed that the Irish mums were mostly sticking together, and the foreign mums were doing just the same. A lot of invisible barriers seemed to be erected between the two groups, language, accents, cultures, etc. I never belonged to any of those groups. I was one of the lucky ones who didn't sound too foreign to talk to the Irish mums and who didn't look too Irish to talk to the foreign mums. But to be honest, I mostly kept to myself anyway.

Then we decided to move to the country. I didn't know what to expect at all when it came to multiculturalism. I didn't think that there would be as many foreign people around as there are in Dublin. I didn't know how people would react to me being a foreigner, to my children being half French. In my head, the Irish countryside was still very much inhabited by Irish people.

How wrong was I! This tiny place, probably the only village in Ireland that doesn't even have a pub, is as multicultural as Dublin is. I would even go as far as saying that it is more multicultural than Dublin. And here is why. Although most of the men are Irish, it turns out that a lot of the women around are not. There are British nationals, Dutch, Belgians, even some from South America! There are a lot of Irish women, don't get me wrong but I was amazed that for such a small place, such a small school, there were so many non Irish people. I was talking to the woman I let Marie go off with a couple of weeks ago. She is Belgian and we were switching from English to French during the conversation. Whenever people came over we would speak English and include them in the conversation. When they'd walk away, we would either keep on going in English or switch to French. I was talking to our landlord and he told us that one of the people who rented our house before us were German. I was talking to my ever so helpful neighbour, who happens to be British and she pointed one of the houses along the road and told me that a family from South Africa used to live here. I was also speaking to one of the South American mums at the school. So many different nationalities in such a small place.

And do you know why I think this small tiny little village in the middle of nowhere is more multicultural than Dublin? Because people mix, they talk together at the school gate when they're waiting on their children. It is true multiculturalism because cultures are being shared, and not just observed warily from one side of the yard to the other. I have felt so welcome and accepted in this tiny little place. I expected a 'rural' welcome, being looked at as the new mum etc. I thought it would take a bit of time but it didn't. Marie has been made feel so welcome and accepted in her new school by teachers, children and other parents.  The people here have turned my expectations upside down and inside out. I have found again, here, that spirit, that helpfulness, that willingness to integrate newcomers that has slowly faded in Dublin again. THIS is the place where I want my children to grow up.

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