Moving is about more than selling one house and buying another, booking your move and deciding where to put your furniture in the new place. It’s challenge enough to move from one State to another, processing changes of address, telephone, utilities, medical care and all related paperwork, deciding what to give away or dump, misplacing things in the process, but an international move rocks your entire center of gravity. I recently wrote in Like the Dew about my house-hunting trip to Ireland in “This Is Moving,” and recorded a few wrinkles in “Stranded in Philadelphia.” Now I’m here, staying with my son and family in the old market town of Nenagh, Tipperary, while my goods will be eight weeks in transit and my new home, a fixer-upper, has gotten a lot worse before it will get better.
It’s more than a case of fixed abode. One has to take a driving test for an Irish licence and establish a physical presence before receiving a social security number. One can’t open a bank account in Ireland until resident here with one’s own address (staying with relatives doesn’t count). I jumped through similar but different hoops when I moved to America, so I came prepared to prove who I am, in the process of establishing who I want to be. I stepped confidently into the Irish bank to which I’d weeks ago wired sufficient funds, care of my son’s account, to buy the house and renovate. ‘Good morning,’ I said, ‘I’d like to open a bank account with you.’
‘Have you any ID?’ I produced my British passport, original birth certificate, marriage license from 1962, American driving license and green card, American credit cards and a letter from my British bank delivered by post to my new address, confirming that I had contacted them about the move (I’d banked with them since I was seven). Their letter was addressed to Mrs. E.M. Dight. British formality routinely entails ‘Mrs. Dight,’ never ‘Dear Eileen’.
The bank official was unconvinced. They said the British bank didn’t count as it was London based, not Irish, and anyway it didn’t name me as ‘Eileen’ (although every other document did). ‘You need a letter from a Utility account addressed to your new home, or a letter from an Irish bank establishing your identity. That’s regulation.’ I explained that utilities had been set up by telephone, email and credit card deposits while I was in America, no printed bills as yet. (I’d arrived on Saturday and this was Monday). I pointed out that unless they would sign me up I didn’t have an Irish bank; that was the object of my visit. I pointed out that ‘You have quite a lot of my money in my son’s account, if you will check, and more to come. I can even tell you roughly how much. He will make the transfer of funds from his account to mine.’ They wouldn’t even check. They were in Jobsworth mode, blocking me at every step. I left, defeated.
Down the road was a different Irish bank. My grandson Luke (16) was with me. I said ‘I’m going to try another tack,’ as we walked into the second bank. I went straight to Customer Services. ‘Good morning,’ I said, ‘I’d like to open an account at your bank.’ The official was pleasant and offered to make me an appointment next day as they were rather busy. ‘Could I sit down a moment?’ I asked, prompted by my 79 year old legs. ‘I’m afraid there’s no chair in this office,’ she said, so I walked just outside and sat in the waiting area within earshot. She asked me ‘How much would you like to deposit?’ I said ‘About a quarter of a million Euros.’ (It sounds more that way.) She ushered me into her office, gave me her chair, asked me to wait while she sought a senior banker, and was back in a trice with the manager. Daphne was an attractive, friendly woman with authority and a firm handshake, both of us immediately on first name terms, as I was welcomed into her domain.
Within twenty minutes I had a new account, depositing 50 Euros I’d extracted from the ATM at the first bank. Check book, debit card and PIN were promised for the following week. We briefly discussed broad ideas about investment and she mentioned an area on the outskirts of town where a developer is building rental properties in landscaped surroundings. Later that afternoon I received an email and website, inviting me to view, from said developer’s agent whom Daphne had alerted.
Turning to my grandson, Daphne asked ‘Are you local?’ My son had warned me, ‘Be aware that everyone you meet will know somebody in your extended family.’ My connections were thus discretely checked. ‘You look as if you should be in school,’ she said to Luke. ‘I’m supposed to be on work experience,’ he explained. ‘Well you’re certainly getting work experience here today,’ she smiled. Later he told me it had been a revelation.
I tried to buy an iPhone. I couldn’t, without a bank account until next week. I won’t have a house phone for at least two months while my house is being renovated and my belongings are on the high seas. Other steps were thwarted for lack of a social security number (PPS). I’d scanned and emailed all the relevant documents (passport, bank statements, etc.) to my Irish solicitor back in February, who had applied on my behalf for a PPS in early March. Only now did we discover that she’d posted this to a defunct Dublin office that had moved to Shannon, losing my documentation in the process. It may be weeks before I receive my PPS and meanwhile here are some of the things that I can’t achieve without it:
I can’t apply for an Irish driving license. I can’t register for health insurance or medical care of any kind, or a Travel Card (all over 65s in Ireland travel free nationwide on buses and trains). I can’t get the Deeds of my house from the authority collecting the Stamp Duty. Think of all the times you need the last four digits of your Social Security and fill in the gaps.
As soon as I have my PPS I will sign up for private health insurance. The quotation states it will cost 77 Euros a month, 90% cheaper than Medicare in America, where I hadn’t paid into the system. Property tax will also be about ten per cent of the charge on my American house. Wi-fi, satellite TV and Telephone are cheaper and I have to say the British and Irish television programs are generally better. Gasoline is a whole lot dearer at 2 Euros a litre; two thirds duty goes to the state. University tuition fees are about 2,000 Euros a year.
Besides many good friends and the best social outlets in any country I know, I’ll miss the expansiveness of America, the level of comfort everyone takes for granted, the bigger supermarket aisles, larger parking spaces and wider roads. But there’s a good choice of wines (I’ve discovered an acceptable New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and plenty of Chilean wines in the local supermarket). The cost of ceramic bathroom fittings is much lower here. The weather so far has been good, not as sunny as Virginia but not as hot either, which suits my northern thermostat. The people in Virginia and in Ireland are both friendly. I love the landscape of the Shenandoah Valley; as I left in early April it was more beautiful than ever with spring bulbs and trees in full blossom. But there are hills and vales and daffodils here too, with small fields and fat cattle. In America lamb was hard to find; here it’s ubiquitous. I bought out of season green beans from Kenya, tomatoes and peppers from Spain, but a lot of fresh produce is locally grown. I’ve seen many varieties of locally baked cakes in two weeks, and not a cake-mix packet in sight.
I enjoy shopping in the small town where everywhere is walk-able and mostly on the flat. Small shops , usually one-off family owned, sell shoes, newspapers, vegetables, meat, fish, beauty products and so on, which is pleasant in contrast to shopping malls and duplicate stores in every city. Instead of Kohl’s and J C Penney there are clothes boutiques, although they can’t compete in price. Irish women are generally more fashion conscious than casual. In the shoe shop I found a wealth of styles for ‘problem’ feet, and bought pretty dress shoes for an upcoming wedding. There were shoes from Poland, Portugal, Spain and Italy… ‘Now they are all imported, cheaper to make elsewhere,’ explained the shop owner. ‘ We used to have five shoe factories in Ireland, and we have hides from a million Irish cows.’ ‘What happens to them?’ I asked. ‘They are all exported.’
I find fresh fish, mussels and smoked mackerel, distinctive cheeses like runny Brie and Camembert, all made in Ireland with milk from lush green farms, locally baked wheat and soda bread and pork pate. The butcher’s shop has fresh lamb, beef and pork on show, all locally raised, and sausages, liver and whole oxtail. In the newsagent’s a slew of good daily newspapers with quality reporting, spoil one for choice. The restaurants are excellent, although more expensive than in America, probably because the same economies of scale don’t apply. There is no comparison between Red Lobster and an Irish fish restaurant with fish fresh from the boat.
Aside from the hoop jumping, I’m having a good time. The pace of life in Ireland suits me. The absence of scaremongering that passes for CNN news, to say nothing of unwatchable Fox, is conducive to peace of mind and relaxation. I don’t miss Donald Trump, although I watch him out of the corner of my eye, like living with a crocodile in one’s pool. He wouldn’t just affect America. I’m still rooting for Bernie Sanders; I’d vote for Hillary too if I had a vote. Ireland is a tiny country with less than five million inhabitants in the south and local news is just as important as international. Nobody in Ireland has ever been bankrupted by the cost of health care. Nobody is on death row. There was an isolated shooting in Belfast last week, a case of mistaken identity and the perpetrator escaped on a bicycle; they caught him later.
On Sundays Kate cooks a traditional Sunday roast, just as I did for twenty years when my family was young. Meals are convivial around this table, sharing the minutiae of our days. The children are all in school and Kate is a hospital nurse. Kate and Patrick are consummate cooks and encourage their children. Sam (12), the youngest, and Harry spontaneously make puddings, cookies, cupcakes, and a variety of goodies. Sam made a dozen chocolate covered cookies for his school bake sale. Harry makes me hot chocolate drinks and coffee and insists I learn how to make tea. Uncharacteristically for an English woman, tea is the only drink I abhor.
I bought an iPhone yesterday and Luke (16) showed me how to work it properly. I wondered why there was no instruction book with it. ‘There’s no need, everybody knows how to work an iPhone,’ said Luke. As an iPad user, I do find it more intuitive than my previous mobile phone. Kicking and screaming, I’m emerging into the 21st century.
The frustrations have caused me to reflect on the difficulties faced worldwide by migrants seeking to establish themselves in unfamiliar countries, with no help, no transportation, in competition, frightened, unsure where they will end up, afraid to go back to where they came from, short of money, with dependants and without jobs, in a foreign language and often unwelcome. In contrast I’m in the bosom of my family, given three good meals a day with my own room in a comfortable house, backed up at every turn by people who love me.
Jumping through hoops makes one increasingly limber. So many people worldwide are engaged in this process. Perhaps it could become a new Olympic sport.