Our three-week home exchange in Ireland is coming to a close and I’ve learned a lot since arriving. It’s been a fantastic experience and upon reflection, I jotted down ten must-do’s / must-knows if you’re planning a trip to Ireland. Take a look:
1. Rent a Small Car. Before we left, I couldn’t decide whether to rent a minivan to fit the eight of us (including my in-laws) or to rent two small cars. I ended up renting two small cars because it was less expensive than a van, but it was the best decision. The roads are narrow, and so are the parking spaces. We split up when we drive, but it would have been far more challenging with a minivan.
2. Keep a Euro in Your Pocket. If you plan to shop for groceries, keep one Euro in your pocket. You’ll need a one Euro coin to get a shopping cart (a “trolley”), which gets returned to you when you put back the cart. Also, keep reusable grocery bags in your car. You’ll need them when you shop or you’ll have to buy bags. You also need to bag your own groceries.
3. Be Prepared to Line Dry Your Clothes. In my neighborhood, you’re not even allowed to have a clothes line in your backyard, but here it’s the norm. If you have a dryer, you can’t even fit in all of the clothes from the washer anyway. I actually found hanging clothes to be quite enjoyable in the quiet of the evening sunshine (which doesn’t set until around 10:30 pm this time of year) with a glass of wine.
4. Know that Waiters Will Hover Over You. In restaurants, waiters bring a mobile payment machine to your table when you’re ready to pay the bill (not the “check”). It feels awkward at first since servers will wait for you to sign the bill before they leave your table, but you get used to the practice. Apparently Europeans don’t like to have their credit cards taken away and swiped away from the table.
5. Don’t Tip in Restaurants. In America, waiters earn an hourly wage that’s far below the minimum wage with the expectation that tips will bring them up to and over the minimum wage. In Ireland, and Europe, waiters earn an hourly wage that’s far greater than American counterparts, so there’s no expectation to leave a tip for service. If you want to though, 10% is plenty.
6. Get Used to Product Sizes. We’ve enjoyed shopping for groceries in large part because it’s fun to evaluate the different product sizes. For example, chip bags and yogurt cups are tiny, but the cereal boxes are massive. Bread is huge too, at least 50% bigger than slices of bread back home. Also, eggs are not refrigerated here, which doesn’t relate to product size, but is something I do not understand.
7. Never Order a Harp. I swear, Americans think that Harp is a fantastic Irish beer. I love Harp back at home and like to order it in restaurants. But, never order one in Ireland. You won’t find it served anywhere and the first two times we did order it, the servers practically looked at us as though we ordered a Natural Light. The Irish seem to love Heineken, for what it’s worth.
8. You’ll Want to Find New Favorite Foods. With kids, we like to try new foods, but we also like to have foods that remind them of home. However, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches just aren’t done here. You’ll only find store brand peanut butter and grape jelly does not exist on the shelves. You also won’t find chewy granola bars. Experiment to find new foods and snacks.
9. Know that Restaurants Don’t Serve Food All the Time. It seems like we must have eaten out all the time, but really we didn’t. It’s worth noting, however, that some restaurants don’t serve food all the time. Sometimes they’ll only be open for drinks. Other spots only sell drinks. Still others may have only limited items, like burgers on Sundays. Just something to keep in mind.
10. You Won’t Have a Garbage Disposal. If you plan to stay in a house, know that you won’t have a garbage disposal. Not a big deal, but it’s worth knowing. There is a dishwasher here, so it’s been easy to manage cleaning dishes, though I’m still perplexed about clearing cereal bowls before you put them into the dishwasher.
Have you traveled to Ireland? Is there anything else you’ve noticed that you’d want to add for others planning a trip to this beautiful country? Let me know in the comments section below.