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Brianna Parkins: The people of Ireland will not let me be in bad form

I was having a Bad Ireland Day, but conversations with strangers in Dublin made this impossible

I had to get to a meeting that was a 20-minute drive but a 65-minute journey on public transport, because Dublin buses as we know have to pass through rips in the space-time continuum. If they show up at all. Photograph: Alan Betson

I was trying to have a bad day but the people of Dublin wouldn’t let me. I was having a Bad Ireland day. It’s a phrase I stole from a friend who lived in China for a period. Occasionally someone in her circle of fellow foreigners would just snap from the frustration of cultural differences, not being able to get things done in the way they had been accustomed to at home and/or feeling stupid for not knowing an unsaid social rule. They would have a short meltdown spanning a few hours, flipping back and forth between “what am I doing here” and “maybe I can change things if I try”, before arriving at a red-eyed and snotty-nosed acceptance.

“It was just a Bad China Day,” she said with the wisdom of a woman who once was suspected of espionage at the post office while mailing her boyfriend a birthday present. She aroused suspicion by sending a USB which contained a silly video of her singing Happy Birthday, something much more embarrassing than state secrets. Worse still, she had to film it in the shower room because that was the only privacy she had in her shared flat. When officials started playing it in the office, she burst into tears, half terrified she was going to jail, half mortified a roomful of strangers would see her using a loofah as a microphone. They let her go after only a few seconds of footage, out of mercy or sheer second-hand embarrassment.

The thing about Bad Ireland Days is they don’t discriminate. I wasn’t facing extra challenges because I was born abroad

My Bad Ireland Days so far haven’t involved accusations of sedition, which is something to be thankful for I guess. The closest I have come so far is being told I’m “stirring up trouble” by telling people that immersions and electric showers aren’t the only choices. “We have large water tanks that are heated in a way that actually saves power and/or money and the water is pressurised at the mains and your bills are lower but the water is always hot and never runs out,” I try to explain.

“You lie, the elders told us this was not possible,” my housemates responded before trying to banish me with Holy Water.

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One fellow Antipodean who was trying to put such a system in a new Irish home was given the “ah missus, that would be very expensive/impossible/against the Constitution” from a plumber for months until she sourced it and nearly installed it herself. She suspects it was because yer man’s wife was in the same book club and once she found out, she’d nag him for one too.

The thing about Bad Ireland Days is they don’t discriminate. I wasn’t facing extra challenges because I was born abroad. The jaw-clenching exasperations that had me ranting to the neighbour’s cat were the same ones experienced by Irish locals. I couldn’t get a medical appointment for months, even though my private health insurance had just gone up and the provider refused to entertain any sort of loyalty discount. Like banks and their high fees and low interest rates on savings, they seem to be fellow graduates of the same “and what are you gonna do about it?” customer service school.

I had to get to a meeting that was a 20-minute drive but a 65-minute journey on public transport, because Dublin buses as we know have to pass through rips in the space-time continuum. If they show up at all.

Then we got an insane power bill that was threatening to bounce a direct debit, because I had opened a new bank account but a glitch in the system meant I couldn’t access it online, and while the bank man was lovely about it on the phone, he was adamant nothing could be done until next Monday. Sorry about that. No, I couldn’t pick up a new, temporary card from the branch. It would be posted in 5-20,000 business days. But yes, if the direct debit bounced, it would hurt your chances of getting a mortgage. Chances that were already minimal, with the likelihood of getting loan approval looking slightly lower than your odds of becoming the next TG4 weather woman without a word of Irish.

The last time I tried to talk to a stranger at home in Australia, she pulled her bag closer thinking she was going to get robbed

I was cold. I missed my family. Then it started to rain, as it always does when you were already loitering around the threshold of going berserk and just needed a good shove to tip you over. I took shelter in a nearby garden shop where a stranger struck up a conversation about his indoor plant collection, which resulted in me spending 10 minutes looking at a slide show on his mobile phone of calatheas. Then his cats. A shop assistant joined us to tell us all about his own cats, before informing me that the reason I can’t keep a monstera alive is because of its location. I leave with some plants and several free cuttings, with the promise I’d come back with photos documenting their progress.

Then my taxi driver launched into a story about how his daughter just got her dream job and how delighted he was that she was the first in the family to go to university. And sure we were having an awful summer, but the rain would run out eventually. It always does.

He was right, of course. It stops even briefly. But there was no guarantee these conversations, these interactions that make it impossible to be in bad form, would have happened in any other place but Ireland. The last time I tried to talk to a stranger at home in Australia, she pulled her bag closer thinking she was going to get robbed.

Brianna Parkins

Brianna Parkins

Brianna Parkins is an Irish Times columnist