Back in March of 2001 I took my then-seven-year-old daughter to Ireland for a two week exploration. This was my first and only international travel experience with a young child, and I had no idea what I was getting into. I was a single mother on a limited budget. A small amount of money came to me through a distant relative I’d never known. Like a movie, eh? Despite my struggles to support us financially, I wanted to use this money to do something we’d otherwise never be able to do. So I decided to take my daughter to see a little bit of the world outside our neighborhood, to acquaint herself with her family’s heritage, and to taste a bit of culture not too different.
In a way I thought it would be easy. English is the primary language in Ireland, after all. It would be foreign, but not overwhelmingly so.
What I didn’t realize at the time is subtle differences can be the most jarring. When traveling to a foreign country, a place you may think of as truly foreign, you expect to be lost and confused. But in the eyes (and stomach) of a seven-year-old, there are no subtle differences. Sure, you can get a grilled-cheese sandwich in Ireland. A grilled-cheese sandwich was one of my go-to quick meals for a hungry kid on the brink of a low-blood-sugar tantrum. But when traveling away from home, perhaps even closer to home than Ireland, what you think you’re getting can be just different enough to blow the whole thing.
However, our first strong sense of “we’re not in Kansas anymore” did not come from food or the hours and hours and hours of transit. Nor did it come from my struggles to drive a manual transmission rental car on the “wrong” side of the street, driving from the “wrong” side of the vehicle.
It came from the TV.
We arrived in Shannon in the late afternoon. Our hotel was very near the airport and we were exhausted. We ate an early dinner and took hot baths and slept hard for a few hours.
We both woke up sometime around two or three in the morning, our bodies thinking it was daytime. We switched on the TV in our room and happily discovered that the Academy Awards were on. We drifted in a jet-lagged fog through the ceremonies, glad to have something to entertain us but not really stimulate us away from the possibility of more sleep.
Until the commercial break.
We’re innocently watching when a commercial comes on with a thumping beat depicting young couples laughing and talking. They’re driving the Irish countryside, la-la-la. They’re perhaps driving too fast. Perhaps not paying enough attention on the narrow winding roads. Their car goes around a bend obscured by hedges and we hear a grinding crash, see a bit of metal fly above the trees. This is where, as a sheltered American, I expect a simple message – something like don’t drink and drive.
But not in Ireland. They really mean it. The commercial goes on to visit the scene of the accident, not sanitized with emergency personnel swooping in to whisk the kids off, but showing the immediate aftermath. To the same perky, persistent beat, the camera pans the horrible reality of blood and gore. One girl screaming. One boy glassy-eyed in death. The camera zooms in to one terrified and conscious boy’s eye, then pulls back on him at a later date, wheelchair bound, bouncing a basketball that has been providing the beat to the soundtrack.
We sit in our hotel beds, in the middle of the night, mouths wide open in horror.
Yep, we’ve left our comfort zone.
Needless to say, for the rest of our stay in Ireland, each time we’d be watching TV and hear that beat start up, one of us would jump up and change the channel. Once was enough for us.
I also drove very carefully.