The wrong side of the road

The little differences I have discovered in Dublin


Kelly Seegers is a Life columnist. She can be reached at

Marshall Bronfin and Marshall Bronfin | | The Cavalier Daily

On Monday I arrived in Dublin, Ireland — my home for the next two months. As my flight was landing, I looked out the window to see countless blades of green grass. The Irish woman sitting next to me tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Welcome to Ireland.”

In many ways, Ireland is a lot like the United States. Everyone speaks English — though I sometimes have difficulty understanding their accents. The Irish dress similarly to Americans, and there are plenty of Starbucks scattered around Dublin. Yet there are many small details that cause the wandering foreigner, like myself, to stumble.

Public service announcement: Euros do not equal dollars. Even though I know the exchange rate (one euro for every 1.35 dollars) I find myself thinking everything is cheaper than it really is. Thankfully the list prices already include tax.

Tipping is particularly challenging to navigate — figuring out what is appropriate and what is rude is much more difficult than I would have imagined. You do not have to tip taxi drivers, you only tip a waiter serving your table 10 to 12 percent and if you walk up to a bar and order something to bring back to your table, then you do not tip at all. As an example of this dilemma, yesterday my friend and I ate sitting at the bar. When we finished our fish and chips, we were confronted with the problem of which tipping rule to follow. We either left a very bad tip or a very generous one.

Then of course there is the street sign dilemma — that is, they don’t exist. I learned after a while how the names of the streets are written on the sides of buildings at most intersections, but even that is not a consistent practice. This makes navigating your way around a map very difficult.

One of the largest, though expected, differences is the fact that cars drive on the left side of the road. Sitting on the top of a double decker bus only makes this more disorienting. From this perspective, it constantly looks like the bus is about to run over a mixture of pedestrians, bikers and cars.

It is still unclear whether I am supposed to be walking on the right or the left side of sidewalks, and perhaps everyone else is confused also, because it seems like a free-for-all. I find myself dodging people, passing some on the right and some on the left and dreading the moment I have to cross the street. I have not gotten the hang of which direction to look, and crosswalks don’t really exist — at least not in the same form they do in the United States. Luckily, the curbs of some streets have “look left” or “look right” written in huge letters — probably because one-too-many tourists have hurt themselves.

Lastly, there are signs that say “TO LET” everywhere. Every time I see them, I have to remind myself that no, it is not just a misspelling of “toilet.” “To Let” is synonymous to “For Lease,” not just a well advertised restroom.

Despite being a confused American, I love exploring Dublin and I am looking forward to discovering further cultural differences during my time here. Who knows — by the time I come home, I might have to remind myself to turn onto the right side of the road.

related stories