Our Bagels are much Better
January 22, 2010

Twenty two years ago, at the ripe old age of seventeen, I visited Boston for a summer. I had just finished my leaving cert and was ready for a big adventure. I can remember being stunned by almost everything there, from the height of the buildings to the size of the bags of crisps! The accent seemed so pronounced; the culture seemed so different. There was an atmosphere of “anything is possible” about the place.

South Boston or Southie as it is affectionately known to its residents was heaving with Irish people at the time and it was here that I landed. I remember stopping in amazement and staring when I saw a republican mural on a gable end of a building there. All over Boston there were Irish pubs, Irish shops, Irish bakeries and plenty of Irish Illegals, myself included.

I spent a few months there, doing all sorts of jobs and learning a lot about life.  I interacted with black people for the first time in my life, I ate bagels for the first time and I saw an eight-lane motorway for the first time.   I ate sub sandwiches all the time, never ceasing to be amazed at how many fillings you could get into one sandwich. I sniggered to myself when I heard people say things like “awesome” and “oh my God”.  I wondered at the size of the supermarkets, and my jaw dropped the first time I saw an old couple walking hand in hand, something I had genuinely never seen before.

After some time, waitressing and other illegal-friendly work ground me down and I went home to Ireland to try to secure a green card. As it turned out, this didn’t happen. I got distracted instead by London.

I returned to Boston this Christmas time, with my fourteen year old daughter in tow. How things have changed. And how our culture has changed! Nothing seemed different in America this time. My daughter was telling Bostonians that the bagels in Ireland are much better.  She knew the popular culture there backwards, having been exposed to it so much more than we would have.  Nothing seemed alien to her at all. She has been brought up in such a different country to what we were brought up in. We now have the motorways, the gigantic shopping centres, the sub sandwiches with multiple fillings and even the old people holding hands.

We went for a visit to my old haunt of South Boston. The mural is still there, albeit dishevelled, and  some of the pubs are still there. I went up to Dorchester and the bakery is still going strong. While waiting at the counter my daughter overheard some old men in the corner talking. She turned to me excitedly and told me that they were speaking in Irish. Being a keen Gaelgoir herself, she persuaded me to stay for a coffee so she could soak up this little corner of Connemara that had been displaced to a bakery shop corner.  This was role reversal in its highest order. Here was a young Irish girl from the West of Ireland finding something in America so quaint that she wanted to prolong it. Again, I say it, how things have changed!

The only moment that I got a hint of my daughter getting a sense of the wonder I felt when I first landed in America was when I took her up to New York and up the Empire State Building. Upon seeing the view from the top she exclaimed –

“Oh….my…God! That’s awesome, Mammy”.

Floatingingalway    22.1.2010