Tuesday, March 31, 2009

'A' is for...

Remember What an 'A' Was?
Don't know about you, but when I was in school (high school, college, etc), an 'A' was something that I aspired to. Not only did I want it, but I worked my bloody arse off for it. Many people do. In Ireland, it's pretty much the same way. The only problem is they don't grade on a curve here, so getting an 'A' is a real challenge. And when you get one, you want to hold onto it.

Which reminds me of the time:

I do some part-time lecturing over here in screenwriting at a local university. One of the students desperately wanted an A in the class. He would have done almost anything, I think - even polish my shoes - to get one. What he didn't realise was the fact that I was only looking for one thing from him that might justify such an esteemed grade: he needed to work his bloody arse off, and put a bucket of sweat into his final paper. Luckily for him, he did exactly that and I took great pleasure in giving him an 'A' for his final grade. He was overjoyed by it all, and now, for all I know, he has gone on to write speeches for the government, the poor guy. He should have known better because...

'A' Means So Many Things
A is for Achievement; A is for apple; and in Ireland A is also for Arse. Which I can use as a nice segue: 'Achievement', 'Arse' and 'A' as in the grade have some common ground in Ireland. And it takes the form of the present government here. Today, Ireland (as in its economy) lost its AAA rating because of the absolutely lousy manner in which the government is (not) managing the country's finances. Now we have an AA+ rating. Losing that third 'A' doesn't sound like much, but it means that it's going to cost the government lots more to finance the country's debt. Which is particularly vexing when you realise just how much the government is going to have to borrow over the next few years to keep this country afloat. At the rate they're going, we'll be down to a 'B' in no time, and that's bad news for the Irish, let me tell you. We're already looking forward to next week and a government 'Mini-Budget' which is bound to raise taxes on just about everything in order to pay for all the borrowed money.

So next time you see someone get an 'A', turn your thoughts to the Irish. We've lost our 'A', and are now at the mercy of a government that's run by a group of Arse's.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

So you want to drive in Ireland...

Driving in Ireland, particularly for this Yank, and particularly when I first arrived here, was - and still is - a real adventure. If you're an American - or if you're from anywhere else that drives on the right side of the road, you'll be delighted to know that driving over here is just a little different. And here's why:

* Yes, Virginia, they Do Drive on the Left Side of the Road
Which screws up everything, especially if you learned to drive in Chicago at the age of 16, and did so on the right hand side. Note the photo above. This is a pic of the interior of a Land Rover Discovery that I owned (I got rid of it 2 years ago, and really glad I did, in that no one wants to buy SUVs anymore). Note the placement of the steering wheel. IT'S ON THE RIGHT HAND SIDE. The gear shift is on the LEFT HAND SIDE. Which can make life a little tricky, let me tell you.

* What You Don't Want to Do When Driving in Ireland
Do NOT look up and right, expecting to find the rear view mirror. That's up and left. Do NOT look to the left expecting to find the side mirror. That's on the right hand side. Do NOT reach with your right hand, expecting to find the gear lever. Your hand will crash into the door.

* Negotiating Round-a-Bouts
In Ireland (and elsewhere in Europe), they have developed a traffic tool known as a Round A Bout. This large circle in the middle of the road is supposed to help erst-while drivers make it from A to B with as little difficulty as possible. For Americans, negotiating these things can be a nightmare. First, remember that you're turning LEFT into a round a about, not Right. Turning right can result in assorted mishaps and a quick trip to the hospital. When approaching a round a bout, my advice is this: close eyes, put the peddle to the metal, and pray to the traffic gods for assistance. With any luck, you'll scoot right on through oncoming traffic with narry a scratch. That's what I've been doing, at least, and it still works.

* Transitioning Between Countries
If you travel from Ireland and the US (or other countries) and back again, be prepared to suffer from Drivers' Transition Syndrome. This ailment (which has not been recognised by the World Health Organisation) has the following symptoms: when travelling back home from one country to the other (from Ireland back to America for instance) and having grown used to driving in that other 'foreign' country, be prepared to climb into your car, secure your safety belt, look up - and realise that you're sitting in the passenger seat, not the driver's seat. This is due to the fact that you have momentarily lost your mind, and have become dis-oriented (dis-orientated over here, by the way), and are not quite sure within which your body is currently residing and driving. Also be prepared for assorted stares from nearby passerbye's who are wondering what the hell you are doing.

* To Recover
To recover from this position: nonchalantly polish the passenger's dash board, pretending that you were intending to sit there in the first place. Get out of the car (ignoring the now laughter filled stares of passing people), climb into the REAL driver's seat (confirming that fact by ensuring the steering wheel is now in front of you), start car, and drive away.

By practicing the above a bit, and by following local Irish rules of the road, you too will be able to drive and survive in Ireland. Either that, or rent a donkey and cart. Tom

Friday, March 27, 2009

Oh the Beauty of West Cork!

If you ever get to this side of the world, one of the places that you must visit - but that is well off the tourist trail for whatever reason - is West Cork, and the Beara Peninsula in particular. This corner of Ireland has to be one of the country's jewels in its crown, and truly is a little piece of Heaven.

What's There
Some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, as well as some of the most welcoming people. Travel into Bantry, then turn left and toward the sea. Arriving in Castletownbere, a fishing port, you'll have time to take in the beauty of the place. Perhaps stop for a full Irish fry before climbing back into the car for a journey inland. Stop next at the small village of Eyeries. This wonderful village, nestled between mountains and the ocean, sports pastel-painted row houses, welcoming shops, and some of the most entertaining pubs this side of Heaven.

If You're a Writer
You'll want to know about the Anam Cara Writer's and Artist's Retreat. Founded by another American Ex-Pat (Sue), this exceptional hostelry offers a home-away from home where writers and artists can work on their craft. I've had the pleasure of visiting Sue a number of times, and have always left with the uplifted feeling of completeness. For more information on Anam Cara, visit their website by clicking here.
Then Keep Going
From Anam Cara and Eyeries, keep driving Southwest along the Peninsula. Journey along the coast to Allihies, a wonderful village with breathtaking views. It's all part of the Beara Peninsula, one of my favourite places in Ireland.
What to Do
In the Beara Peninsula, enjoy walking along wonderful beaches, whale and dolphin watching, surfing & sailing, snorkling and diving. Or find a local pub, grab a pint, start up a chat, and let the hours pass away with some of the most welcoming people anywhere.
Getting There
From Dublin journey south to Cork. Then turn West toward signs for Bantry. The travel time from Dublin to Cork City is approximately 3 hours. To Eyeries, add another three hours.

For more information
Google West Cork Ireland, the Beara Peninsula, Eyeries Cork for many more details.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why I Believe in America

Flying the Flag and Believing in America
Karen Vogan, a Vice President at USBA, developed what I believe is a timely contest: 'USBA's Why I Believe in America' video competition. I decided to enter, and the video link below is the result.
I really enjoyed doing this: being so far away from home, and for as long as I have, I sometimes forget what it means to be American, and how proud I am of my country. Putting the video together was a definite reminder to me. And I wonder, particularly at stressful times like these, if we all forget how proud we are of our country, and just why we continue to believe in its principles.

If you'd like to join the competition - and perhaps win 1000 bucks - simply go to the USBA Contest Page by clicking here. All you have to do is tell everyone why you Believe in America, then upload your video. The contest closes at the end of May, so as I write this you still have plenty of time. So go ahead and let all of us know why you, too, still believe in America.
That, I think is a wonderful thing to do. Good thinking, Karen Vogan and USBA. It's a terrific idea.

Can't Get a Job? Make One!

The recession is a global phenomenon. It's here in Ireland, there in the US, and throughout Europe and most of the rest of the world. The only place that seems to be keeping its head above water is China. And I don't particularly feel like going to China.

When I came to Ireland in 1982, I was also in the middle of a recession. I didn't have a job, and I couldn't get a job. If you're in the same boat, what do you do about it? The answer, as it turns out, is to create your own job.

Me? An Employer?
That's right. You. You can do this, and it's not that big a deal. I did it, and if I can do it, you can too. Back in 82, it worked like this: here I was, a Yank living in Ireland. I knew no-one. Nada. I wasn't able to get a job for months.

Then luck finally shone its face on yours truly. I got a job. Unfortunately, it paid just enough to keep body and soul together. With a wife, 2 kids, and another on the way, I needed something a little more lucrative. I wasn't hoping to make millions, mind you. But I wanted enough cash to do things: like buy shoes, for instance. So in 1987, I set up a marketing company. I've been at it ever since. And what'cha know? Even now, in the middle of recession, it's profitable.

So How Do You Do It?

Step One: the Idea
It helps, of course, if you have a good idea. A 'Business Proposition'. You don't need to be building a new Space Shuttle to start a company. Instead, look around you: what is it about an existing product or service that you use that really annoys you, or that you think should be done better? Turn that idea around in your head. How could you do it better?

Step Two: Research
Now do a little research. Who else provides what you think you want to provide? How much do they charge? What about their customer service levels? The quality of the product and service? How could you do it even better? Is it an area and product or service that offers future growth?

Step Three: the Business Plan
Now put your ideas down on paper in a Business Plan. A good business plan contains a minimum of: An executive summary; a product description; a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis; target market description; list of competitors; a marketing plan (including the 4 Ps: product, price, promotional/advertising/awareness programme, distribution - which is 'place' or the 4th 'P'); a list of Unique Selling Propositions (e.g. what will make your product/service better than the rest); and finally, a finance plan that includes projected pro forma profit and loss accounts for the next 3 years.

Step Four: Do the Plan
Remember, you don't have to have big money to get into business. When I started my marketing company, I had exactly 1 dollar as the initial seed capital. You can start almost any kind of business with very little money. So don't let money - or the lack of it - prevent you from starting your own business.

Now You're Your Own Boss
I started my own company over 20 years ago, and I've never looked back. If I can do well in Ireland, then you can do well where ever you happen to reside. All it takes is a little courage, a little thinking, and a great deal of energy and commitment.

So if you're trying to fight the recession, and have either lost your job or are worried that you might lose your job, then consider starting your own business. You'll never look back.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Backstory: Why an American Came to Ireland

Every now and then, the wind blows us in a variety of different directions. In 1980, the wind blew me east, big-time. The short version of a fairly long story is this:
  • In 1980, and with a newly minted MBA under my arm, I decided to take a long holiday. After some considerable consideration, I decided to throw my bicycle onto a Freddie Laker flight, and flew onward to London. There, assembling the bike, and with only a couple of paniers, a passport, change of underwear, and some cash for company, made my way southeast. The plan was to journey first west, then north, and eventually to Scotland. Then back to London and a departure back to San Francisco.

  • However, fate had other ideas. Making my way to Wales, and eventually to Holyhead, I decided to take the ferry to Ireland. 'Why not?' I thought to myself. 'I've never been to Ireland. I might as well have a look.' So I did.
  • In Ireland, I disembarked in Dun Laoghrie, then peddled north. Past Dublin. And eventually to Dunleer in County Louth. There, I met a beautiful woman: Bernie.

  • Three days later - and it seems like a dream to me now - I asked her to marry me. Yep, right here on the spot, with the wonder of Ireland surrounding me. Fortunately, she said yes. Little did I know that her simple agreement to my proposal would change my life so fundamentally.

We moved back to the United States. But in 1982, and facing the raging winds of Recession, and with Bernie begging me to take her back to Ireland - her homeland - I did what any husband would do: I agreed. Having sold off most of our belongings, we climbed on a flight and headed to here.

I've been in Ireland ever since. (For more information on why I came here, and why I've stayed for so many years in this terrific company, go to http://ebooks.escapeartist.com/products/country-reports/ireland/guide-to-living-in-ireland/).

The intervening 27 years have been a journey of discovery: of learning to understand a new culture, and a people that are the most welcoming in the world. There have been ups and downs and the occasional heartache. But all in all, I've discovered that this American can live in Ireland, and survive here.

If you'd care to, follow me now as I keep you abreast of the latest in this land that still possesses a certain magic.

(Pictured: the sun sets in West Cork)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Irish Recession: Who is this Man? Why is He Frowning?

No, this is not a Leprechaun. This, my friends, is Brian Cowan, Ireland's Taoiseach. A 'Taoiseach', for those of you not living here, is akin to a Prime Minister. In other words, he's the head of the Irish government. The buck stops on his desk and no where else.

And, this man is principally responsible for the sorry state of Ireland's current economy.

Ireland in Recession
For those of you who don't know it, or think that this God-aweful recession is only localised to you, take heart: it's in Ireland, too. As of this writing, over 10 percent of Ireland is out of work. The housing bubble - and yes, Ireland had a housing bubble too - has imploded, showering the country with trouble. Housing prices have fallen on average about 30 percent from their highs in mid-2007. What's left is chaos: falling home prices, foreclosures, and a construction industry that's on its knees.

The fall-out from this has been spectacular: unemployment has sky-rocketed. Today, Ireland's Celtic Tiger has ceased to roar. Instead, people who don't have jobs struggle with their bills and hope that they can pay their mortgages. People with jobs do their best to count their blessings. In the meantime, business failures continue to rise; Irish banks - still loaded with toxic debt and their share prices on the floor - find that they can no longer borrow money internationally.

In other words, the country is in a mess.

But Why is the Government Responsible?
I saw an article the other day which made heavy reading: in 2000, the total Irish government budget was approx 20 billion euro. In 2008, only 8 years later, that same budget had grown to over 60 billion euro. Bloated with new public employees and average public servant pay that is now higher than any poor slob working in the private sector, the government is now watching its tax take plummet as the result of a disastrous economy.

And who was at the helm of the Department of Finance when the public sector grew into an unmanageable state? Brian Cowan, that's who.

And who is still at the helm of the Irish government, only now its Taoiseach? Brian Cowan.

The people of Ireland deserve better. Unfortunately, we can only hope that the bloated public sector is forced to go on a strict diet. Just like our not-so-illustrious leader.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I've Set Up the Followers' Gadget Widget Thingy

Want to follow Surviving Ireland and learn to be just a little more Irish in the process? Then join my journey - and share your views - by following this Blog. Who knows? You might learn to drink a pint like the Irish do. Slan!

(Why not come along...?)


Welcome to Surviving Ireland

As an American living in Ireland for the past 27 years, I've had the privilege (and occasional hardship) of making a home in this country through the good times, the bad times, and the times in between.

This occasional Blog, Surviving Ireland, hopes to be a compendium of advice, news, and gossip about what's happening in Ireland, why it's happening, and the possible side-effects of those 'happenings'.

It hopes to be a companion piece to a book that I had the fortune to write: A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland. In fact, the new 2009 edition has just now been completed, and is available at http://www.escapeartist.com/ for only a few US bucks.

In point of fact, this Blog will also hope to answer:

* What's happening in Ireland - its changing landscape, economy, and concerns of its people (particularly the concerns of this Ex-Pat)

* Places to go and see - if you are considering visiting - and perhaps living in - this welcoming country, my hope is that this Blog might become a forum for continuing discussions about where to go and what to see when you get here.

* Musings on Ireland - and for those of you who simply enjoy the wonder of this magical, though often damp, country, I'll take delight in offering you some simple thoughts on how this one American has managed to survive in Ireland for over 25 years.

So pour yourself a pint of black, and check back when you can. Cead Mile Failte, and welcome to Surviving Ireland.

Tom Richards