Our bean an tí, Maire, is so sweet and always hanging around the kitchen, ready to engage us in conversation As Gaeilge. Earlier in the summer I would avoid entering the kitchen alone because I didn’t want to be put on the spot and forced to deal with the brunt of all her questions. The first time I had to do laundry, I had to sit in the laundry room to sort my clothes, I was nervously conversing with her in Irish, and quickly realized that it was not nearly as intimidating as I had thought. While I was doing my laundry, she was cooking dinner, and so I engaged her in conversation about our meal for that night, Curry.
The Irish obsession with curry fascinates me. The best explanation I received was that how Americans consume Chinese and Mexican food, the Irish like Indian food. I can’t find tacos here for the life of me (and at home they are no more than 15 minutes away at any given time), but you can find curry at just about any restaurant. In Carraroe, there are 3(ish) restaurants (if you can call them that). Of those 3, the tiny chipper sells curry chips, and the pizza place also includes an Indian menu. Every Thursday, we get Curry chicken and rice at home. Although I expected a difference between American food and Irish food (a difference that makes me miss home), I wasn’t expecting a difference between the international food preferences. I mean how can not everyone love tacos? What does one need to do to get some tortilla chips around here?
As I talked to my bean an tí about the curry for that night, I told her I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the curry. I had never had it before coming to Ireland and hadn’t necessarily expected that to be one of the “Irish” foods I would miss. Our conversation on the topic was limited by my (lack of) food vocabulary, but she was telling me “is aoibhinn liom bia spíosrach” and the intonation in her voice made it very clear how passionate she was about spicy food. She showed me the brand of curry sauce that was the most popular in Ireland, McDonnell’s. The conversation then shifted to some of our other favorite spicy foods. In trying to relate the topic back to American food, she asked if there were any Subways where I was from, telling me that she loved Subway, and always got the hot sauce (?) on her sandwich. I brought up one of my personal favorites, buffalo sauce, and not surprisingly, she loved buffalo sauce too. The conversation on spicy food wasn’t necessarily grammatically difficult or intellectually challenging, but I felt that we were actually bonding in some way over “bia spíosrach,” and it is always difficult to do that in a language you aren’t fully comfortable with.
I try to stop in the kitchen and chat with her every afternoon. I used to stop in in the mornings, but we would talk so long that I wouldn’t have time to finish getting ready for class. She has been telling me how much my Irish has improved in our recent conversations. I do feel that my conversation skills have improved greatly. When I don’t understand something said, all she has to do is repeat it a bit more slowly in Irish before I understand, rather than translating it to English. We generally chat about the weather, class, my plans for the night. Her mother is often also around the house and is also a joy to speak with. She has a heavier accent but speaks almost insultingly slow sometimes so that we understand. She used to be a bean an tí and host students, so she loves talking with us and forcing us to use our Irish outside the classroom. She, however, seemed less convinced that my Irish was improving, as I was talking to her about my experience she kept repeating “I hope your Irish improves, le cunamh Dé” (Le cunamh Dé meaning with the help of God). I too hope that my Irish is improving, le cunamh Dé!