Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Spoiled American

Never before have I felt as spoiled as I do now, sitting in my father-in-law's house on Sherkin Island off the coast of West Cork. This small island (population: 100) is a short ferry ride from Baltimore (the original Baltimore, in Ireland) but is a completely different galaxy to Villanova, Pennsylvania.

To be fair, island living is simply different than mainland living. There are no garbage trucks to collect waste. There's no gas station, no Home Depot, no store at all as a matter of fact, unless you count the few necessitites like milk and bread sold out of the pub. So of course certain allowances must be made. But Matty's father takes it to a whole other level.

Take the trash (please!). There's a plate for the birds and a plate for the compost. Paper goes into one bin to be recycled; plastic is washed out carefully and placed in another bin. I've been coming here for 10 years and it's only this visit that I can actually remember what to do with everything; in the past I would simply hand my plate and/or trash to Matty to dispose of.

Matty's father is a recycler, through and through, and not just in the commercial sense. Last night he literally took Declan's Hanukkah present out of his hands so her could carefully remove the wrapping paper to save for another gift. Declan was too flabbergasted to protest. (Granda knew better than to try this with Ronan. He might have lost a finger.)

Everything in the house is turned off and unplugged when not in use. Matt Sr. doesn't even use the dryer, though it's been plugged in for our benefit (his clothes are laid out to freeze, er, dry on the bushes). Hot water doesn't actually come out of any of the faucets; there's a special box heating system for the shower. The oven is tiny and the fridge resembles the one from my dorm room in college.

Don't even get me started on the heat (or lack thereof). I can't tell you how many times we've been visiting some family member for a few hours, shivering in our flimsy American clothes, when our host will suddenly catch herself and say, "Oh, should I turn on the heat?" Turn it on? It's the end of December! Of course you should turn it on!

Worst of all, there's no such thing as Tivo here. Every time I turn on the TV Declan asks me to start the show at the beginning, and whenever there are commercials the boys point and stare as if the box is about to explode.

Okay, that's not really the worst of it. But it does make me realize how spoiled the boys, and I, have become.

Don't get me wrong. I don't actually have a lot of techie toys at home--our DVD player cost about $30, our television is shockingly thick-screened, and I have an Ipod shuffle only because Amy bought me one on the occasion of Molly's birth. But our lives do revolve around the technology we use: we're on and off the computer at home all day, keeping up on news both pressing and frivolous, trying to work, etc. Here the Internet connection is shockinly slow, so surfing the Web becomes more like a rough dog paddle. And at night, there's nothing I like at home more than collapsing into bed and watching the previous night's The Daily Show. Without commercials.

I'd like to say that being here will make me a more careful consumer, will make me appreciate all the luxuries I take for granted in my day to day life. But I'm sure I'll be blithely dumping unsorted trash before I've been home a week. And though Matty swears he'll never complain again about Andy keeping the heat so low in the house, I'm sure we'll start inching it up once Andy heads to NYC for the week.

The truth is, I am a spoiled American. At least for most of the year. For two weeks, I can be a careful-living islander.

But just for two weeks.

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