I have committed cultural faux pas after faux pas in a little less than two weeks here. There are probably plenty more that no one ever brought to my attention as well. Between assuming pedestrian right-of-way at intersections, misunderstanding of tipping etiquette, and too many misunderstandings of the Irish accent to count, I have basically accepted the role of the ultimate foreigner. My most glaring faux pas, and one that I continue to misunderstand, involves walking in malls, sidewalks, and just about anywhere with foot traffic.
I have slowly come to a conclusion that Irish people have no protocol when it comes to which side to walk on almost anywhere. I am speaking about things like stairs, mall hallways, school hallways, and sidewalks. In the U.S., there is a pretty clear understanding that we drive on the right side of the road and walk on the right side of the sidewalk. As an avid runner for years, this protocol is something I have always held near and dear. Seeing someone walking on the left or opening the left door in a set of double doors in the U.S. left me thinking they were either foreign or just plain rude.
When I arrived in Ireland, I was quick to realize that the right side was not the side to walk on. Obviously cars drive on the left here, so it makes sense. It has been a tough habit to break. More than once I have found myself walking in the city centre on the wrong side and veering through a crowd to make myself at least seem a little like a local. I have accidentally held doors for many when realizing I was going out the wrong one. I could not seem more like a foreigner even when wearing my trademark backwards hat, which I was told by my Irish roommates is not something Irish students do at all.
After getting the hang of walking on the left, I realized something. The locals seem to not have come to a full agreement on this matter. I feel the need to hold a large town meeting or referendum (the latter which the country seems to be very fond of) so we can all agree on what side to walk on. In my experiences so far, cars have agreed to stay to the left almost 100% of the time (at least I hope they will). But I have had a decent-sized minority in the city centre, on campus, and in the mall walk to the right. I have developed a pretty good eye for foreigners versus locals, and most appear to be locals. When I considered this notion, I realized even the doors and revolving doors were not set up in a uniform way to address which to exit from. This leads to awkward run-ins and general difficulty.
The most egregious of the run-ins occurred yesterday. I was walking and chatting with my friends on campus on the left side of a walk in the center of campus. A woman came forward going the way that my American friends and I were all used to. She headed directly towards me. Although she was on the right side, I did not think much of it and slid a little to my right to help her pass. At that instance, she moved to her left, leaving us facing one another. I slid left as she instantaneously matched my move. And again. Finally, we figured this pedestrian conundrum out somehow and went about our days. My friends said the painfully awkward exchange looked like we were about to give each other a hug.
Aside from this sidewalk confusion, my only other major complaint is still the lack of pretzels in the grocery stores. So based on these small problems, I am doing just fine. For my friends in America, cherish your continuity in sidewalk etiquette. And send pretzels.