Putting the Ex in Ex-Pat
On Friday, I had to drive nearly 40 miles to Blarney for my NCT, which is a sort or road-worthiness test that every car over a certain age has to pass every two years. My car is 11 and its certification was due to expire at the end of this month. I didn't want to leave the test too late, since I was worried about passing and wanted to have enough time to fix any defects and retake the test if I failed. However, since I'd waited too long to book the test, under the misapprehension that I would be sent directions for booking, I ended up having to go to Blarney instead of being able to go only 15 miles to Macroom.
When I pulled into the test centre, I was already annoyed. I'd spent a portion of the trip stuck behind a rental car, driven by an ancient tourist. When I'd managed to find a straight enough stretch of road to ditch old Grampsie, it was only to get stuck behind another rental car, driven by the far more annoying kind of tourist. I understand how it is to be a newbie on the roads in the wilds of County Cork. They're narrow and they're twisty and, on some of them, 80 kph isn't a speed limit, it's a suicide pact.
But that's only some of the roads. Other roads, once you get to know them, as long as you don't drive up the middle and you take it easy on the corners, they're not that bad. You should be able to go at least 60 on most of them. This annoying type of driver is annoying because they drive 30kph on the twisty bits, but then shoot up to 70 or 80 on the straight-aways, making it nearly impossible to pass them. When you're in a hurry, it is absolute torture to get stuck behind one of these Jeckyl-and-Hyde drivers.
To make matters worse, the map on the web site was less than useless, I'd gotten a little lost, and had to ask for directions. I managed to find the place on time, but I was cranky. And hungry. And was realising I had no paper or coin money on me, only my Laser Card, which wasn't going to work in the center's vending machines.
To their credit, the test was efficiently run and I was out of there in under a half-hour, happily clutching a certificate stating my car is roadworthy until September, 2009. But I was still cranky and hungry and I knew I was going to have to remedy that if I had any chance of making it home. The town of Blarney looked crowded and the parking seemed a bit nightmarish, so when I saw a sign for the Woolen Mills, complete with AIB Cash Station and parking lot, I figured it was my best hope for one stop problem solving.
Half-way through my right-hand turn into the place, I had a feeling I was making a horrible mistake. The place was mobbed with the worst kind of American tourist. The kind that wear fanny packs and and sans-a-belt pants and take bus tours and are just so overwhelming in their American-ness. They have no desire to blend in, to follow local custom, to quietly appreciate a place for what it is. They're the kind of people that make me shut my mouth up tight because I don't want anyone to think that I'm one of them. Usually, this isn't too difficult because they stay together and I don't usually end up places that are packed full of them.
But this is something I don't understand about some ex-pats I've met in my travels. People who join Democrats Abroad or the American Women's Club. Maybe if you're only here temporarily, or you're a trailing spouse with nothing else do do. But ex-pats who make an informed decision to live in another country, sometimes permanently, but then spend all their time seeking out their fellow ex-pats. I just don't get it. Couldn't you have stayed home, if you wanted to do that?
I knew a Canadian who was here first on a sort of temporary work permit and then she started to go through the rigourous paperwork and process to get a work permit to stay long-term, with an eye to making the move permanent. But she spent a huge amount of time seeking out fellow Canadians and feeling a surge of pride when she went by the Canadian embassy. She actually seemed a bit puzzled that I had no interest in seeking out fellow Americans.
I'm an Irish citizen and I've decided to make this country my home. There are days when I want to go into the American embassy, light my passport on fire, and walk out. (I don't because I've been counseled by many people not to and I'm no longer a hot-headed teenager.) I know I'm a goose, and that I'll always be a goose, but that doesn't stop me from wanting to be a swan. And nothing is going to make me want to hang out with a flock of geese.