Compare and contrast - Ireland and the United States and Irish and Irish-Americans
Three rather simplistic truisms emerged
Two recent Irish Central columns by Irish-Americans about their experiences of their ancestral homeland – one by a young female exchange student bemoaning the ways of young Irish males and the other a repeated column by an Irish-American venting about the things he found annoying in Ireland on his first trip “home” – were in turns funny and maddening. Some criticisms I found entirely valid and others profoundly misguided. But each author’s words prompted me to reflect on my own experience as someone who’s seen life first through American eyes and, now almost equally, through Irish eyes. Three rather simplistic truisms emerged.
First, Ireland and America are different. Ireland’s relatively tiny size, both in terms of population and geographic area, has myriad consequences. In particular and despite recent improvements, infrastructure here just can’t be compared to what exists in the United States. Of course, the reality that Ireland was never an economically prosperous country until quite recently is also to blame for deficits in infrastructure. Both because of a paucity of funds in the government coffers and because a significant percentage of the population could be counted on to emigrate, what was regarded as sufficient government investment in roads, public transit, health care and school building historically has proven inadequate to meet the needs of Ireland in the twenty-first century.
Moreover, the reality that Ireland is an island country with a limited population means that the cost of goods and services is inevitably going to be higher than in the continental United States. I’ve witnessed the disgust of many Irish-Americans at the prices being charged for food, drink, clothing and other necessities. While this disgust is due as well to some of the well-documented price gouging that emerged during the Celtic Tiger years and to the very high level of VAT (value added tax), there is no doubt that the need to import so much of what is bought and sold in Ireland makes everything more expensive. It’s a bit like Hawaii without the good weather.
On the flip side, Ireland remains more of a social democracy than the United States. Most Irish people accept that they will pay higher rates of taxation and more for goods and services because they expect a great deal more in terms of services from their government. Social welfare, across a number of different categories, is more generous than what is provided in the United States. Though much maligned, there is a public system of healthcare pursuant to which uninsured Irish people can expect much more for a tiny fraction of the price than their American counterparts.
And lastly, perhaps the most pronounced difference is the cost of higher education. It is interesting and entertaining to listen to Irish emigrants with college-aged children in the United States speak to their brothers and sisters at home with children of the same age. Both may complain about costs, but even the most obstinate parent here in Ireland will be forced to concede that €2,000 for Irish university “fees” is nothing compared to the $50,000+ in tuition traditional bastions of higher education for Irish-Americans like Boston College, Notre Dame or Holy Cross now charge!
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