‘In Ireland, people don’t always mean the words they say’

New to the Parish: Ramona Boban-Vlahovic arrived from Croatia in 2013

Ramona Boban-Vlahovic in Dublin city centre: “It’s hard for me to understand if people are being friendly here or just putting it on. Like ‘sorry’, that’s one of the hardest words to understand.” Photograph: Eric Luke

Ramona Boban-Vlahovic in Dublin city centre: “It’s hard for me to understand if people are being friendly here or just putting it on. Like ‘sorry’, that’s one of the hardest words to understand.” Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Ramona Boban-Vlahovic’s kitchen back home in Croatia is stocked with home-made goods made by friends and family. “In my parents’ house they have walnuts from my granny, home-made Croatian liquor from one friend, home-made wine from another,” says the English teacher.

“Theoretically you could stock your whole kitchen from the gifts you get from friends. It’s like everyone specialises in one thing and that’s what I miss here.”

When she goes into an Irish supermarket, Vlahovic longs for these home-made products from home.

It makes me feel so sad when I see people walking around with ready-made meals thinking it’s real food

“It’s this consumer culture we’re living through and I think it’s particularly obvious in Ireland because it went through a stage of development during the Celtic Tiger years when people had a lot of money.

“It makes me feel so sad when I see all the plastic that is used and people walking around with ready-made meals thinking it’s real food. A lot of people think if you put that plastic in a recycling bin you’re helping the world but then some of it will end up in an incinerator. Ireland isn’t the only place that suffers from this but here and the UK are bad. It’s probably an American influence.”

Despite her discomfort at Ireland’s consumer culture and overuse of plastic packaging, Vlahovic says she’s happy to live in Dublin.

She first visited Ireland aged 18 in order to test her English. She left two weeks later with a newfound love for this small island. “It was so different from everything that I knew. The weather, the colours, the types of houses, the things you buy in the shops, it was all unfamiliar. Even the atmosphere and the way that people interact.”

Worked as an au pair

Over the next decade, Vlahovic returned to Ireland a number of times while eagerly awaiting Croatia’s accession into the European Union. She moved to Dublin just weeks after her home country became a member of the EU.

Vlahovic began working as an au pair for a family in Templeogue but after a few months realised the pay was considerably lower than what she could earn in other jobs.

“I was working around 35 hours a week for €100 a week. At the start that seemed amazing, I felt rich, but then after a few months when the enthusiasm had died down I realised it wasn’t enough to live on.”

Vlahovic found work as an English teacher at Seda College, a language school which was happy to offer her a job despite the fact that she was not a native English speaker.

“I had spent 10 years learning English from non-native speakers and only one year from a native speaker,” says Vlahovic, who after 3½ years in Ireland speaks English with a Dublin twinge to her accent.

You can exchange experiences with so many people, it’s absolutely beautiful

“I understand that if a company sees a CV with a foreign name, they’d rather choose the native speaker. But Seda really respect how much you can also learn from a non-native speaker.”

Vlahovic teaches students from around the world who all come to Ireland for different reasons. “Being an English teacher means you’re in touch with people from so many different parts of society.

“Some are really rich and others are really poor and then you’ve got everyone in-between from so many countries. You can exchange experiences with so many people, it’s absolutely beautiful.”

Vlahovic has noticed huge diversity among Dublin’s large Brazilian community. “You could have someone who was sent here because they’re from a rich family and they want to take over the business so they need English. Then in the same class you’ll have another Brazilian who sold their car and their house so they could come here and learn English to find a better job.”

Began teaching English

Shortly after she began teaching, Vlahovic also joined Concern’s on-street fundraising team in Dublin to make some extra cash. Convincing strangers to sign up for regular donations to the charity was extremely difficult and Vlahovic was tempted to quit straight away.

“I arrived with a really negative view and thought to myself who would ever want this job, it’s the worst job in the world. But after two weeks I realised how supportive everyone was and what a great organisation it is and that people actually believe in their work. I ended up falling in love with the company.

“Some days I would work 10am-6pm and the whole day people would reject me. Then two minutes before six someone would stop and sign up for €10 a month. That makes your day. It teaches you that it doesn’t matter if you’ve had rejections all day, it’s never too late.”

Like ‘sorry’, that’s one of the hardest words to understand. Does it mean ‘sorry, you’re in my way’ or ‘sorry, I was in your way’

She met her Irish boyfriend while working at Concern which made it a lot easier to make friends with Irish people. However, she still struggles to understand Irish expressions and manners of speech.

“It’s hard for me to understand if people are being friendly here or just putting it on. Like ‘sorry’, that’s one of the hardest words to understand. Does it mean ‘sorry, you’re in my way’ or ‘sorry, I was in your way’.”

“That’s one of the things that you need to learn here, that people don’t always mean the words they say. It’s taken me three years to learn to recognise these different meanings.”

Visit Zagreb

Vlahovic says she loves living so close to the sea and the mountains in Wicklow but hates the damp winters. “I love where I live and my landlord is a really nice man but generally I don’t like the accommodation here.

“It’s so cold and damp and sometimes it feels colder inside the house. It’s like some houses weren’t built for people to live in them. In Croatia it gets very cold but the air is dry.”

Like both her parents, Vlahovic is an only child and tries to visit Zagreb a few times a year. Her parents often ask her to move home but Vlahovic knows she will struggle to find work in Croatia and has watched most of her friends move abroad in search of employment.

“They don’t really understand why I’m here and ask me to go back all the time. But it’s important for children to live away from their parents, or at least to have their own lives.”

We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past five years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com. @newtotheparish