Awkward Abroad: The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”

It started at Oktoberfest. French people I had talked about Oktoberfest with told me that Germans spoke better English than Americans, so I thought that’d be true. WRONG. Everything was in German, even at the train station and at the metro and the signs for everything. It was a huge culture shock and my shoddy scribbled list of German phrases did nothing, even when I showed it to the Germans sitting next to me and asked for pronunciation help. By that point, I had pretty much resigned myself to walking around Munich completely oblivious until …

The beer hall we were in had a traditional German band that played the White Stripe’s “Seven Nation Army” like every ten minutes. Seriously. Every ten minutes.

And the 10,000 people in the beer hall knew the iconic “DUH… duh-duh-duh-duh DUH… DUH” part just enough to repeat it OVER AND OVER AGAIN EVERY DAMN TIME. With the same amount of people standing up or raising their liters of beer at the end of the song.

I didn’t know if it was because they were hammered or because it was such a great song.

“Why is this song so popular?” I asked the German guy next to me.

“I don’t know. But do you like it?”

“Yes! It’s the White Stripes!” I said. Le duh!

“White Stripes!” he repeated, matching my enthusiasm in such a way I didn’t know if he was mocking me or being sincere.

“Yeah,” I said, apprehensively. “And this is ‘Seven Nation Army!’”

“White Stripes!” he repeated again.

“Um, yeah … is this song a soccer thing… or, I mean, football?” I asked. I wasn’t sure if he knew the White Stripes or just knew that I knew the White Stripes.

“I don’t know. But everyone knows this song.”

“Pretty sure it’s a soccer thing. I mean, football,” I sighed into my beer.

It totally was a soccer thing. It’d play on the TV when the French soccer team was discussed on the French news program. It’d play in Irish bars (or be sung by Irish people in Irish bars) when soccer games were on.

But then, it’d play during the first house party my host sister threw and I watched drunk French twentysomethings dance to it. It’d play at a French bar and people would drum their fingers on the counter in time with the music.

And no matter where it was played, EVERYONE knew the guitar part.

It made me wonder if everyone knew if the White Stripes had broken up this year.

Awkward Abroad: Hitchhiking

I don’t know when exactly this happened, but sometime between when my dad’s best friend would hitchhike from his hometown thirty minutes south of Boston to his college in Providence, Rhode Island and to the time when I was born it became this huge thing in the States where hitchhiking was something that just never, ever happened.

When I was in elementary school, I remember having to ask my dad what that guy was doing walking along the highway (something my parents had told me never to do) and he had to explain what a hitchhiker was. Hitchhiking was just something I never saw and, therefore, I never really had any desire to hitchhike and never really considered it an actual mode of transportation.

Maybe it’s because I never saw anyone or knew anyone who did it when I was alive, so that made me want to do it. Maybe it’s because of horror stories or movies about the innocent person who picks up the creepy hitchhiker or the creepy driver who picks up the innocent hitchhiker and, well, something undesirable always happens after that. Maybe it’s because everyone stopped being hippies and got jobs and cars. I don’t know.

But I do know that whatever contributed to this change of public opinion has not happened in Europe yet. Or, at least, the Europe stretching from the Netherlands to Paris.

There was a guy who had hitchhiked with his friend from somewhere in the Netherlands (never asked where specifically) to Paris—and as if that wasn’t crazy enough, it was just something they had decided to do for a weekend trip, completely in-the-moment and absurdly, admirably spontaneous.

“We were very lucky. It only took 12 hours and three car rides,” he proudly told me.

“You were very lucky because you didn’t get killed,” I replied.

He threw his head back and laughed. “You are such an American. You are so American right now.”

I shrugged. Yeah, I know. He was right.

“So how are you going back home? Are you going to risk hitchhiking across country borders again?” I asked.

He said yes, but he was shaking his head at much. “Such an American,” he muttered.

I didn’t shrug this time.

I think he was just as taken aback by my incomprehension as I was taken aback by his spontaneity. He was the first person I ever met who had hitchhiked in the modern era. And I’m twenty years old!

“You are an American and you are abroad, so that shows me you are open-minded,” he said, echoing what many Europeans have said to me. “Why wouldn’t you want to try hitchhiking one day?”

Because I want to live, I thought to myself. “I’m a girl. It’s different for me,” I said, stupidly thinking that would be the argument-ender so we could move away from this topic.

“Nonsense. I know girls who hitchhike all the time. You should try it. Maybe you could hitchhike when you are abroad,” he persisted.

He didn’t stop there. It was life-changing (not life-ending). He felt like he grew more as a person because of it (because the driver didn’t hack off his limbs with a machete). It was cheaper (but riskier and deadlier). If he was a candidate in the Mister World competition, he would wax poetic on the advantages of hitchhiking as a way to bring about world peace.

Hitchhiking, hitchhiking, hitchhiking. Blah, blah, blah. Kill me now. And not by forcing me to hitchhike.

This was one of those instances I just couldn’t win and had to forfeit. Usually when that happened, it was about French people telling me how Romney is Satan and Obama is God and regardless of my political beliefs, I don’t agree with that and don’t think it’s as black and white as that.

But do I say that? No! Mostly because I’m a weenie who doesn’t want to debate or have an argument in any language. So in those situations I swallow my ideas, my thoughts, my opinions and my words, and just suck it up.

“Yeah, maybe,” I said glumly. And then I hitched a ride out of that conversation thanks to the bathroom excuse.

Funnily enough, one of my friends that I went to that bar with had actually  recommended hitchhiking to me the first night I met him. We were in an Irish bar talking about my upcoming vacation in Dublin and how he went to Ireland this past summer. And guess what he did? Hitchhiked.

He just went to Ireland by himself. On a whim, for a week or so, just because. He’s that kind of guy (I guess I keep meeting a lot of them around here). And that same kind of nonchalant attitude carried over into Ireland, because he started hitchhiking in the countryside to get to Irish Place A to Irish Place B (I want to say Dublin to Gallway but I don’t really remember).

When he got picked up by this gruff middle-aged man, the guy only agreed to take him a little bit. And then once they started talking (this guy’s English is really good), then the guy said he would go out of his way to drive him to his final destination. And then later the guy said he’d still drive my friend to the end place but first they could have dinner at his place.

“And you did that and nothing happened?” I asked, flabbergasted.

“Of course!” he cheerfully responded. Oui, of course!

Obviously, my friend’s still alive. But his experience, as fun as it seemed, is not one I want to replicate anytime in the near future.

“You should try hitchhiking in Ireland,” he gushed.

“Um … we’re four girls, so I don’t think that’s going to happen,” I replied. The large number of people, coupled with our gender, was enough to make him back off.

So am I just being an American wuss? Have any of you guys ever hitchhiked? What was it like?

Awkward Abroad: Talking about Inglourious Basterds with Germans

I’ll have to update my resume so now it reads “International awkward conversation starter” because that’s what I’ve been doing since I crossed the Atlantic. I mean, I knew I was good at being awkward in English with Americans, but I never knew my true potential at being awkward in any language with any person until I studied abroad.

So I have all of these weird, embarrassing anecdotes that I pull out on occasion with friends or at a bar or even in my conversation class when my teacher asks what I did this weekend and I complain about all the bises I had to give. But this is only with the people I interact with in person, and what about all of my family and friends back home who won’t be able to see what an expert awkward conversation starter I am for themselves until I’m back???

And, I only tell these stories in person, and I want to be able to remember them so I could cherish my akwardness forever and have good stories to tell my grandkids or, if I grow up to be the crazy Pillow Pet lady that I think I am, anyone’s grandkids.

Therefore … I’ll post the ones I can on here and set up this reoccurring story column kind of thing. It’ll be like in Sex and the City when Carrie gives a voice-over about what she’s going to write about after it happens … except mine won’t be cute or sexy, it will be cringe-inducing. Because I am not a Carrie.

So here’s the first one:

Talking about Inglourious Bastards with some Germans, NBD

There were a lot of far-fetched things in Quentin Tarentino’s Inglourious Basterds, but the auteur was telling the truth about how the Germans count on their hands. Remember when (beautiful) Michael Fassbender’s (beautiful) British spy accidentally reveals himself as a Brit and not a fake SS by the way he counted off the drinks he wanted in that awesome bar scene?  Turns out Germans really do start counting on their thumb (1), and then ring finger (2), and then middle finger (3) and so on and so on.

Except, I only trusted this fact after the German guy sitting next to me at Oktoberfest signaled for three beers like he was making the “L” loser sign with an extra finger and I looked over and was like “Oh my god, Germans actually count on their fingers that way! Inglorious Basterds was right!

This is the wrong way to count on your fingers if you’re trying to be German. But look at his face ❤

And as if that didn’t make me sound like enough of a dumb Valley girl … I had completely forgotten that I was referencing a movie that is all about American scalphunters who wanted to murder Nazis during World War Two … to a German … at a festival celebrating German culture and history (and beer). Yikes.

At first I thought I could take it back. The universal “Ohhhh, I get it” look didn’t appear on his face. I could just say I saw it in a movie once and move on from there. Or so I thought.

“That’s the Nazi-hunting movie, right?” he asked. He seemed more confused than angry. That was a good thing, right?

“Um, yeah. But, see, the character counts on his fingers like this,” I said, demonstrating the non-German way, “and that’s how the Nazi knew he was a spy.”

“Oh,” he said.

“Yeah,” I replied.

Welp. That happened.

Looking back, I think we could have moved on from there. I think I could have saved it and made a joke like, “Well, you already knew I wasn’t German,” or something. I think I might have even risked spilling my beer just to make a distraction and get me out of this mess, even though technically I’d have to create a new mess to do that. But whatever. There was hope.

But nope, then his friend had to ask what we were talking about. And I looked at this guy, and he looked at me, and two whole seconds went by. TWO WHOLE SECONDS. And I just knew that I had to do something fast.

“So do you guys still give thumbs up to people or is that weird because it would look like you’re just counting to one on your hand?” I asked, blurting out the first thing that popped into my head.

I didn’t care if I looked like a ditz, a spaz, a dumb blonde, an American, whatever. There was just no way I was going to repeat this conversation.

They didn’t get it at first and kept giving me weird looks, so I legitimately thought that maybe thumbs up wasn’t a thing in Germany. But then my new quasi-friend started laughing and shook his head, like he couldn’t believe we were having this conversation.

Me neither, buddy.

But hey, don’t worry, the thumbs up is alive and well in Deutschland. The guy must have thought I was an idiot, but he still invited me and my friends to go to a club later. So it was like everything turned out okay in the end—except, you know, I had to leave and we didn’t have enough time to fall in love and get married and spend the rest of our lives eating pretzels and test-driving Volkswagens together in our color-coordinated lederhosen and drindls and never, ever, ever mentioning THAT MOVIE ever again. 

Talking about Inglourious Bastards with some Germans, NBD: PART TWO (yes, there is a Part Two … unfortunately …)

I know what you’re thinking. This girl brings up Inglourious Basterds AGAIN? But this time it was a German who brought it up!! He started it! It wasn’t my fault, I swear!

I did learn my lesson … sort of. This wasn’t at Oktoberfest. This was when I was in Dublin at Temple Bar talking to a German guy and he ordered two beers and used his thumb and pointer finger.

And in that dim light, in the noisy atmosphere, in the cramped bar space, it all came rushing back to me: Oktoberfest Awkwardfest 2012. Duh duh duh!

I want to make this very clear: I didn’t even REFERENCE Inglourious Basterds. I just said, “Oh, that’s right! I forgot about how Germans count on their hands.”

That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. I promise.

“What? Oh, yeah,” he said, looking down at his fingers and then back at me. “Have you seen that movie that came out a couple years ago … it’s American, I think … what’s it called again…?”

I figured since he was the one to bring it up, it would be okay to finish it. I mean, he was practically begging me to tell him. How could I not?

Inglourious Basterds?” I helpfully supplied, praying that was actually the movie he was thinking about.

“Yeah.” He made the same German “two” sign, although now it was used as a finger gun that he shot at me. “That’s the one.”

Any excuse to post another picture of Michael Fassbender on my blog is a good excuse … even when it’s commemorating his deceased character. I have no shame when it comes to Fassy. (GET IT?!)

I didn’t know what to do, and not just because finger guns make everything awkward. But I saw an opening and I took it.

“It’s funny you say that … last time I talked about that movie with a German it got real awkward real fast,” I said.

And then, I swear, his face lit up and he laughed a little. I laughed a little too, nervously, but I thought I was in the clear. It was all good. I survived!

But all of a sudden he stopped and then he got really serious and said, “But seriously though, yeah,” and looked deep into his beer glass for a moment before tipping it back and draining it.

Shit.

There were no finger guns this time to start off the awkward silence.

Because I was the finger guns.

Once again.

As I festered in the silence, I remembered that (beautiful) Michael Fassbenders’s (beautiful) British lieutenant died because of the way he counted on his fingers. I should just be lucky that I wasn’t killed because of the way I keep unintentionally insulting the way Germans count on their fingers.

Top Ten of Dublin Roundup

After a twenty-hour nap taken as soon as I washed all of the Irish grime off of me at my French homestay, I finally feel capable of at least beginning to document the eight days I spent in Dublin. I thought I would do a day-by-day post, but that proved very unlikely once I was in bed at 11 p.m. and waking up at 7 a.m. every day—often leaving the hostel at 10 a.m. and not coming back for another 12 hours. So I’ll just write a ginormous post about my ten favorite parts about the trip and that’s that.

My Top Ten of Dublin:

1. Dublin Pass

-My friends and I bought the Dublin Pass, which is a card that lets you get into museums and most tourist attractions (Guinness and Jameson, for the best deal) for free and get deals or discounts at other places, like a free coffee and cake at the famous (and kind of fancy!) Bewley’s Café on Grafton Street. A lot of museums in Dublin are free, like the Natural Museum of Archaeology or the Chester Beatty Library, but with the Dublin Pass you got additional deals, like 10 free post cards. We got a deal for 6 days of sightseeing for about 60 euro and when we added up everything at the end of the trip, we more than broke even on it. So I highly recommend looking into it if you want to be a big-time tourist in Dublin.

2. Guinness Storehouse

I’ve kind of already mentioned this, but I didn’t know a lot about Guinness the beer and Guinness the brand, but this trip definitely took care of that. I didn’t have as many things I wanted to do in Dublin as some of the other girls I went with, but this was something I knew I had to do, even if I would have had to pay for it. I didn’t, because of the Dublin Pass, but I would have gone here without that incentive.

The storehouse is kind of out the way, as it isn’t anywhere near proper Dublin where all of the touristy things are. It was like a 45 minute walk from our hostel but it’s do-able, I guess. We had to walk through a rougher area of Dublin than the polished, visitor-friendly part that we were used to, so it was good that we got to see another side to the city. The Guinness storehouse really is the only thing to see in this area, though.

When you first enter, the first thing you see is the 9,000-year lease Arthur Guinness signed for the place in 1759. I don’t really understand how that is possible or how it works but it’s a good thing to know if you need to start a conversation over a pint of Guinness, I guess. You could even see the original document, but it was kind of hard to read.

“My goodness, my Guinness!”

The best part about the exhibit is that you’re walked through the four main ingredients of Guinness (water, barley, yeast, and hops) and how and why they are used in the beer-making process. There are slightly dated videos about how to make the beer that you can watch, and you can also see all of the equipment used with creating and then storing the beer. And then after all of that, you get a shot of Guinness where you’re encouraged to swish, sniff, admire, and sip the beer—basically treat beer like a wine and be all snooty about beer. Sign me up!

After walking through a history of Guinness advertisements through the ages, we then could either pour our own glass of Guinness or go to the Gravity Bar at the top to have our complimentary pint of Guinness poured for us. The girls I was with wanted to go to the Gravity Bar, and I kind of just went with it. I already had a basic knowledge of how to do it just from watching the bartenders do it in Ireland: tilt the special Guinness glass at a 45 degree angle and fill it ¾ of the way while rotating the glass so it stands straight by the time you hit the ¾ mark, and then wait a bit for the foam to settle before finishing it off. Once I read the sign that explained all of that but in more scientific and professional-sounding terms like “surge” instead of “foam,” I was good to go. The Gravity Bar gave a really picturesque view of Dublin, but what really added to the experience was the fact that there were labels for all of the big attractions you could see (like St. Patrick’s Cathedral or Trinity College). But after walking so far to get to the storehouse and then walking up seven flights to the top, it was nice to sit down and get down to Guinness and relax with a pint—even if it was only 11 in the morning!

I will no longer be impressed by the hearts or ferns in cappuccino foam. Thanks a lot, Guinness.

I don’t know how, but the bartenders made four-leaf clovers in the foams of our beers. Maybe if I had known that they would teach you how to do it in the “Pour Your Own Pint” section I would have pushed for that, but overall it was an experience I’d definitely recommend, and not just for the free beer!

3. U2 Everything

I get a lot of flack for it, but I love U2. I know it’s Dad Music, I know Bono comes off kind of strong sometimes and their music sometimes isn’t that great. I get it. But I don’t care. I love U2. I was excited to go to Dublin because of the U2 connections. One of the things I wanted to see was the Clarence Hotel, which in person is really underwhelming and all but whatever, Bono and Edge are partial owners so it’s cooler than any hotel you could stay in, okay?

But U2 was everywhere, even if I didn’t have as many conversations about the band as I would have thought. The guide of the free Dublin tour didn’t remember Adam Clayton or Larry Mullin Jr.’s names when we were stopped outside of the Clarence Hotel—don’t worry, I unabashedly helped him out, and then again for a second time when we were at St. Stephen’s Green and he was talking about how since U2 has the keys to the city they could technically let their livestock graze on the grass thanks to an outdated but still legal law.

If you understand this, then don’t tell me what it means. Bono is perfect.

There were also wax statues of U2 members at the Wax Museum, which I expected. A couple of the pubs in Temple Bar area had pictures of the guys from when they stopped in for a pint. I expected that too. But what I did not expect was that U2 songs would be everywhere. The pubs, the cafes, the stores, the grocery stores, the hostels—if there was music playing, it would be U2 if you were there long enough. Most of it was old, pre-‘90s U2, which was fine by me. But yeah, if you listened to the music in a public place, then you were listening to U2.

I did see some anti-Bono graffiti. I don’t really understand it, and not just because I don’t understand why someone would take to the walls of Dublin to complain about the city’s most famous and prolific celebrities. But it was there.

4. O’Neill’s

-O’Neill’s is right across the street from the Dublin Tourism Center, and it looks like a big house that could be a hunting lodge or something. It definitely had to have been a house in another life, because there are so many rooms and stairs and nicks and crannies in the restaurant, which makes it a great bar to go to.

When we went here on the Halloween pub-crawl, they served mixed drinks with gummy eyeballs that were very creepy and festive (and deadly). There was also a live traditional Irish sessions band playing, and it was here that we were introduced to popular Irish songs like “Molly Malone” and “Wild Rover” (I just put up Dubliners videos, but every sessions band worth their weight in Leprechaun gold will know these songs, apparently; both of the sessions bands we saw at Temple Bar played these songs).

A nice hearty O’Neill’s dinner: broccoli, cabbage, carrots, mashed carrots, roasted potatoes, mashed potatoes, chorizo/mozzarella-stuffed chicken, and garlic bread. AKA everything that could ever fit in my stomach ever

When we went for late lunch/early dinner a different day at O’Neill’s (we got a free beer there thanks to the Dublin Pass), there was a ton of people there watching football on all of the screens and we ended up sitting in the most isolated seat, which was good because we stuffed ourselves on the 12 euro carving station meal. It was easily the best meal I had all week. In lieu of waiters or menus, they have a “carving” station that basically functions as an upscale cafeteria line, or you can go to their sandwich station and get a big hearty sandwich. They also do breakfast, which I almost did but I didn’t want to go to the same restaurant twice during the same trip. I kind of regret that now, especially when writing this.

5. St Stephen’s Green

My lunchtime view. So pretty!

I went here four times. The first was with the free, guided tour; the second was with a friend who had missed the guided tour; and the third and fourth were by myself on my last day in Dublin, when I finally did a full turn around the park and then returned with a package lunch to eat on a park bench and people-watch. No matter the weather, it’s always picturesque and beautiful with the water and the fountains and the birds—and let me tell ya, I got to see it in the sun, in the fog, and in the rain. There are a bunch of memorials here if you want to be touristy and a lot of benches if you want to be creepy. But it’s so nice, especially with the rich autumnal colors of the leaves (the leaves actually turn warm colors here, as opposed to the pale green and yellow-green of Paris!) that I felt instantly uplifted and homesick for raking leaves every time I entered the park.

6. ‘Evening of Food, Folklore and Fairies’

To be honest, I wasn’t super into the idea of this deal of eating a three-course meal at a pub and listening to Irish folk tales. Lily really wanted to do it and everyone else seemed okay with it and even though I wasn’t too happy about the 36 euro price tag, I just went along with it. I was glad I did. The food was really good—you had a choice of four or five things for appetizer and dinner and then a choice of two for dessert, and I got a “warm chicken salad” that was literally a skinless chicken breast on salad but it was so flavorful and delicious I completely forgot about its sparseness, a really spicy salmon that went really well with my two different types of potatoes, and then a chocolate cake that was, well, a really good chocolate cake. Plus, we got like a history of Dublin and Ireland from Viking Age to Great Potato Famine, and even though it was the same spiel we’d gotten from other tours and museums, it was presented in an interesting way. And the stories were great too. The origins of the banshee myth were explained, as long as stories with fairies and other popular folk tales.

If you’re interested, the organizer of the dinner sent everyone a 23-page Word document of all of the stories we heard that night, as well as book recommendations for further reading. So if you’re really into Irish folk tales, let me know!

7. Grafton Street

Grafton Street is well known for its street performances and stores. It’s a good, busy street that’s equal parts touristy and, um, not-touristy, I guess. There aren’t a lot of familiar shop names there but the clothing stores and shoe stores were fun to walk around in. I know this because I walked around here a lot looking for boots, since the only pair of shoes I had brought to Dublin, a pair of grey combat boots, had torn on the inside seam between the rubber of the bottom and the cloth area where my foot went—and the rubber bottom of one was cracked in two. These were the same boots that had both of the bottoms of the heel come of at Oktoberfest—and they are only a month old! Sheesh. Worst 40 euro ever. And it was so cold and drizzly in Dublin that before I found a good solid pair of boots, I would wear two pairs of socks. But I did find a good pair of sleeker, more feminine boots that were more Timberland than combat, but they were warm and do their job and don’t look like they’re going to be destroyed in a month.

My friend Lily would kill me if I didn’t mention this … apparently busking on Grafton Street is portrayed in the movie Once, which is all she talked about on our Dublin trip. It’s supposed to be very romantic, but I haven’t seen it. It’s on my to-see list. Wikipedia tells me that Damien Rice, Glen Hansard (from Once and his own bands, The Frames and The Swell Season), and Rodrigo y Gabriela used to busk there. Our tour guide from the free tour said that U2 used to busk there, but he also didn’t know the names of U2’s bassist and drummer and I didn’t see U2 listed on the Wikipedia page so I’m not sure who to trust.

Even his statue is rock ‘n’ roll. Le sigh.

But rest assured, the Phil Lynott statue is alive and well on Grafton Street! You have to keep an eye out for it, since it’s not actually on the main road and is placed outside of a random bar that actually was one of the bars Thin Lizzy played at when they were just getting started. But the map I picked up at the tourist center had the statue marked so it should be easy to find. I stumbled across it when I thought I was in the general area of the statue and a friend just pointed it out to me.

8. Old Jameson Distillery

Not to sound like an alcoholic, but touring the Jameson distillery was really the other thing I was looking forward to doing in Dublin. And just like the Guinness Storehouse, it did not disappoint.

It was also above the River Liffey, which not many important tourist attractions are, so we had another interesting stroll in a part of Dublin we might not have seen. It was in a more industrial area of Dublin with a lot of big buildings and people in business attire. But we let loose once we went inside. We had the driest tour guide ever, and his sense of humor was such that sometimes we didn’t know if he was kidding. But the one time he wasn’t trying to be funny was the absolute best—he was waiting for everyone to settle down so he could start talking, and in the wait he just stroked his goatee and whispered, “I miss my beard” to himself. It was creepy, but creepier that we were the only ones close enough to have heard it.

I’m Jameson for a Jameson.

This guy thought we were crazy. We were always joking and making each other laugh when it wasn’t laughing time. But he still picked me and Lily to become official “Qualified Irish Whiskey Tasters” at the end of the tour—though we did get him to smile when Lily dropped her hollow cardboard baton (that we would eventually use to put our rolled-up certificates in) twice during his presentation (earning a quip from him about how maybe he shouldn’t have picked her) and then during the tasting where I pretended to waft the tiny amount of watered-down whiskey in the shot glass instead of just sticking it under my nose like everyone else.

Oh yeah, the tasting. The Tasting. If you end up at the Old Jameson Distillery, you NEED to do this. It completes the whole trip. Plus, it’s more free whiskey so why not, right? When in Dublin…

I may not look it, but I am a Qualified Irish Whiskey Taster, thank you very much.

So at the end of the tour, once we learned about the importance of the triple distilled and, like Guinness, what was used to make the alcohol, the four men and four women were assembled in the bar and set down at a table where there were three watered-down shots of whiskey: Irish whiskey (Jameson, obviously), American whiskey (Jack Daniels), and Scottish whiskey (I don’t know the brand, and that doesn’t bother me because I learned Scottish whiskey is absolutely disgusting). We had to try each one (after smelling it and looking at its color) and then pick which one we liked the best. Jameson was flavorful, in a good way compared to the smokey, earthy Scottish whiskey and the slightly less flavorful and sweet Jack Daniels. I felt lame saying that Jameson was my favorite, but it ended up being true.

Now I’m gonna bring this with me every time I go to a bar.

So I’ll be a Jameson drinker now—and never, ever a Scottish whiskey drinker ever unless it’s like the only alcohol left on the deserted island I’m stranded on and Keira Knightley has already burned all of the rum and Johnny Depp has already asked, “But why is the rum gone?”

9. Jonathan Swift Everything

I didn’t end up going to the Dublin Writer’s Museum, but I knew coming into the city (and the country) that I could expect to see a lot of Oscar Wilde and James Joyce.

And I did! There were random little plaques of James Joyce quotes from The Dubliners or Ulysses about Dublin, like the Dawson Street plaque on Dawson Street from Ulysses. There’s also a James Joyce statue in St. Stephen’s Green and there’s the James Joyce Centre and the James Joyce Museum. There’s a lot for James Joyce, which makes sense for a guy that wrote a lot.

Oscar Wilde was much appreciated too. I expected that, just because he’s such a character. There’s a memorial to him in Merrion Park right across the street from his childhood home—which is actually now American College Dublin so you can’t tour it, which stunk. I’d never even heard of that College but you could only get a B.A. in liberal arts there so maybe that’s why. Seems sketchy but a BA in Liberal Arts would be worth having if it meant taking an Oscar Wilde class in Oscar Wilde’s childhood home.

But I didn’t think good old Jonathan Swift would be so involved in Dublin history and pride, and that made me very excited for the guy that most people, even in my English-major classes, only know as the eat-babies guy. HE IS MORE THAN THAT and I was glad that Dublin felt the same way too.

For example, Jonathan Swift was the Dean of St. Patrick’s, so when we visited that we were treated to a lot of Jonathan Swift history and artifacts, like a casing of his skull and his face as well as one of his writing desks. He’s buried at St. Patrick’s along with his friend and possible lover Stella. I always liked their “are they-aren’t they” relationship, since Stella grew up always being friends with Swift and some people think they were secretly married or secretly in love. All I know is, Swift had one romantic relation that he broke off because of Stella and he was so heartbroken when she died that he petitioned to have her buried at St. Patrick’s so they could be together forever when he died.

You’d think that they would have kept his brain…

Not only were we given access to what essentially his workplace at St. Patrick’s, but we also got to trace his steps through 18th century Dublin. Apparently he thought it would be wasteful to take a carriage to Christ’s Church Cathedral, Dublin’s other medieval church (something I agree with, since I walked from one to the other on the same day and they’re only like four blocks away), so he used to walk up a passageway of 40 stairs by Dublin Castle to get to the church. The passageway used to be filled with beggars, and Swifty would use the money he would have spent on the carriage to give to the beggars—so obviously after a while the beggars caught on and the place then became so overfilled with hobos (and their stench) that Swift had to change his route. But according to the Dublin ghost tour that we took, sometimes you can still see his ghost walking up the stairs at night and modern-day beggars sometimes sleep in that corridor in the hopes of waking up in the morning and finding an antiquated coin in their cup, which apparently has happened.

Such a good guy! And such a good writer too!

10. Tower Records

-It’s not lame to recommend a record store abroad when it’s one like Tower Records. It’s two stories tall and has a café in it called “Sound Bites Café” and is promoted by the tagline “Sex, Drugs, & Sausage Rolls.” There weren’t any available seats when I looked but the food was all artisanal and organic and, well, kind of the food you’d expect a record store to put out in the age of Portlandia.

Bono would love it here, I just know it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I didn’t buy anything so I probably annoyed the hell out of the workers because I spent like an hour and a half just looking through everything. They had a really good selection of Irish folk music, which I really looked through because I don’t know anything about that outside of The Dubliners or the Pogues. I was very pleased with their David Bowie selection, as well as their differentiated American folk/American country/American sections (the genres were that in-depth).

It reminded me so much of Newbury Comics (the New England-based record store I used to work at during my senior year of high school and every December after that) that I kind of wanted to name-drop it and have the cool people behind the counter like me. But alas, I just went through all of the Irish music and took pictures and pretended to be a hip spy.

Dublin Day One

We finally got to our hostel after midnight—it’s an old church turned orphanage turned hostel—and we’re sharing a room with seven other girls, bunk bed style. Of course, we come stomping in when it’s lights out and people are sleeping and we have trouble figuring out which bunk bed is ours and we’re using our cell phones as our only sources of light. Not exactly the ideal conditions to unpack, ya know?

One girl wakes up and tells us she’s sleeping in one of our beds but we can have her old one. Fine, whatever. We’re supposed to have little lockers, only my locker is right next to the head of the bed underneath my top bunk, so I’d have to stand creeper close to the sleeping girl below me to put my backpack away. Fine, whatever.

My friend Jenn and I go into the bathroom to change and brush our teeth. Lily comes in, tries to open the other toilet stall, and can’t get it open—but of course we don’t think anything of it. Wrong. We talk a little. Jenn and I leave. Lily, who had been going to the bathroom, stays and does some teethbrushing of her own. And then two guys come out of the other toilet stall, obviously not expecting to see Lily there—who obviously wasn’t expecting to see two guys walk out of a stall in the women’s bathroom while she’s brushing her teeth.

Not fine. Not whatever.

The next morning was a little rough—rough enough that I didn’t feel guilty about coming in at 1:30 a.m. and making a little noise that when people’s alarms started going off at 6 a.m and the girls left the lights on. The girl in the bed below my friend Lily’s actually tossed a pillow on Lily’s bed without comment and just nonchalantly answered “Yes” when Lily asked if we got pillows (in addition to the comforter placed on our bed and the linens we got at the front desk) and if she had taken Lily’s pillow. But the day could only get better from there, right?

Breakfast was equally hard, with the only redeeming factor being the cold milk (room-temperature milk is the norm in Paris) and the light, fluffy pieces of white bread that remind me of the bread in Alice in Wonderland. Our game plan going into Dublin was to eat a big, free breakfast at the hostel and then wait until late afternoon/early night to eat a big meal. We are poor college students studying abroad against the Euro, come on. So it was a little disappointing to walk into the church hall turned dining hall and see that the only breakfast options were carbs, just like in Paris—toast, Irish soda bread, Rice Krispies or corn flakes. There was NO flavor in the breakfast, as we didn’t even get jam and the orange juice was just water with a little bit of OJ poured in it. But did we let that distract us? Hell no! Poor college students studying abroad will eat anything, and that morning I had two butter sandwiches and many glasses of cold milk.

And it was raining and cold when we finally ventured outside. Lily even had to buy an umbrella and my feet were soaked because I’m too cheap to buy new boots when the rubber bottom has torn away from the foot part of the boot. When it stopped raining, it was still cold, but not cold enough to deter us from the free walking tour we absolutely wanted to have our first day in Dublin—not even when we got to the meeting spot and was told it was three hours long.

It was an interesting group, as international groups can be. We were in the “English-language” tour part, but we were the only Americans. There were people, mostly groups of guys, from the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Brazil; there were two girls from Croatia too, I think . We had to go around and say where we were from in the beginning, but we really cemented our status as the young American girls when our tour guide was talking about how we had to pose for a picture to post on the tour guide group’s Facebook page and Lily automatically turned to me and did the Eiffel Tower pose that had become an inside joke for us—we saw Asian tourists in Paris posing with their heads like the “A” dance move of the “YMCA” while on the Seine riverboat tour with the Eiffel Tower in the background, and we always do that in photos when we’re being super touristy.  Our tour guide called Lily out on it, made her explain it, and then dragged her to the front in the photo where, yes, we all did the Eiffel Tower pose. Great first impression for the Americans.

The tour was long—but it’d have to be, with Ireland’s history. We went from the Vikings to when O’Bama visited Dublin last year. We went to everywhere from Christ’s Church, built in 1090 A.D. (it used to hold brothel, a pub, and a whiskey bar at some point in its long life, funnily enough) to the Temple Bar area to Trinity College to some alleyway from P.S. I Love You (which I have never seen but my tour guide had—something he said he only watched because the girlfriend made him when he called me out on giving him a skeptical look).

I also gave him skeptical looks when we walked by the famous Clarence Hotel owned by Bono and the Edge and he couldn’t remember the names of the other two blokes—I had no problem shouting out their names. But come on—he’s Irish! Isn’t it the law that they have to know all of the U2 members, if not love the band? AND I had to remind him of their names when we were in the St. Stephen’s Green park and he was talking about how since all of the members have U2 have keys to the city, they can technically have the privilege of feeding their goats on the grass in the park. Geeze Louise.

But, I guess I had my own “Geeze Louise” moments when I asked if Irish car bombs were a thing in Ireland. Turns out they really, really aren’t. The Irish car bomb—a shot of Baileys literally dropped, shot glass and all, in a pint of Guinness that you have to down before the milk of the Baileys curdles—is an opportunistic American drink, much like St. Patrick’s Day, so you won’t find it on the menu of any bar and the bartenders might not even know what you’re asking for if you were foolish enough to try, according to our tour guide. And he said some Irish really take offense to it if they had relatives who died in car bomb tragedies. Luckily he told us this before we went to a bar! And, as if that question wasn’t ignorant enough, I also went ahead and asked if Shamrock Shakes were served year-round in Ireland. Nope. Another dumb American invention.

But the tour guide was nice enough to say, “Everything else about the Irish drinking stereotype is true,” even though we didn’t even go out the first night—a Friday, no less!!—since we were still exhausted from the night before and the three hour walking tour and the frigid, freezing temperature that chilled us to the bone and forced us to shell over 10 euro for hats and gloves (a decent bargain, but still). So we ended up going to the movies to see the latest Paranormal Activity film, which was a good time for me even though I spent most of the time with my hat pulled over my face and my face tucked into Lily’s armpit.

At that point, I was emotionally and psychologically exhausted from the stress of the movie and physically exhausted from the lack of sleep and the walking. We were all in bed sleeping by ten. Not very Irish, but it was still very nice.

P.S. Ryanair was totally not the stress, since it was a normal-sized plan. And I sat next to a fellow American student studying abroad in Paris, so we just talked the whole time! No free drinks or peanuts, but you could have bought cigarettes, scratch tickets, stewardess swimsuit calendars (you’d think an airline wouldn’t want to promote stewardesses on the beach…or maybe that’s just my LOST paranoia coming in).

I’m Flying up to Dublin!

I grew up in a suburb outside of Boston, but even there the Irish presence was really big, thanks to the Celtics, the Mc or O’ last names, and the people who liked to talk about their Irish heritage. I never got that: I don’t watch basketball, and my last name, Falcone, tells anyone all they need to know about my Italian heritage.

But even if I don’t have the Irish roots (I mean that figuratively and literally—I am not a ginger!), I did have the Boston thing going for me. I saw The Departed in theaters when it came out and I listened to the Dropkick Murphy’s before that movie and, well, I just got used to seeing green shamrocks on everything.

When I go to Dublin tomorrow, I’ll be able to own my Boston Irish background, even if it’s not actually mine. I’m interested to know if the Irish are better at placing the city on a map or at least recognizing it better than the French have been—and considering I get more of a response when I say I live in Philadelphia (Tom Hanks! Eagles! ROCKY!!) than when I say I’m from Boston, it won’t be hard to top.

It’s funny, really, because I never was dying to go to Ireland like people I went to high school with or even one of the girls on my study abroad program (my fellow shame-eating friend Lily from the cheesecake post). Lily also goes to Drexel, along with the two other girls I’m going to Dublin with (the same ones I went to Oktoberfest with, actually) and over the summer we’d meet up to try and plan trips and name our top destinations. This was how we all agreed to go to Munich. But Lily’s number one choice was Dublin, and I was kind of meh about it because I was gung-ho on going to Stockholm or at least Copenhagen.

However … once I started into looking into transportation (pricey!) and language problems (what the hell is that letter?) and money (how the heck to I exchange money?), the dream of going to Scandanavialand became less and less intense. And once I started living in a foreign country and started dealing with translation and culture shock issues on a daily basis, the idea of going to a country with the same language became more and more appealing. I’m not that proud of that, but it’s true.

We got the idea to go to Dublin for our week-long break after I met some Irish guys and told my friends about how fun they were and that kind of reevaluated Dublin for all of us. I think we booked the trip a week or so after that.

What am I looking forward to the most? Touring the Guinness Storehouse, of course! But we’re going to be there for eight days, and we bought a reduced-price pass to go to over 34 cultural attractions in Dublin for free … let’s just say I totally plan on getting my money’s worth! I’m pretty easygoing when it comes to the other things we’ll do, but we’ve already decided on Guinness Storehouse, Trinity College (mostly to see their awesome Harry Potter-esque library), and picnicking by the beaches.

PLUS: I WILL BE IN DUBLIN FOR HALLOWEEN!!!! We didn’t even plan that and actually didn’t even realize it until recently, but Parisians don’t really celebrate Halloween and the Irish do.

The weather’s supposed to be blah and in the 40s (Fahrenheit—still haven’t gotten the hang of Celsius) but that just means we’ll have to sit by the toasty fire while enjoying a pint at the pub!

I fly out tomorrow night, leaving Paris at 10:30 or so. I’m a little nervous because I’ve heard horror stories about Ryanair and I get nausea and motion sickness very easily. But maybe I’ll contract the luck of the Irish and not have any troubles!

I will be bringing my laptop to Dublin—can you believe I have to register for next term’s classes while I’m over there on vacation?!?!—so hopefully I’ll be able to put a couple blog posts up.