Many people I meet in our local area have never heard of Ireland. Today we were chatting with an elderly couple who run a shop from their home, selling plants (flowers and vegetable seedlings). The conversation went like:
– Where are you from?
– Ireland? Ireland? You mean Iceland?
– No, Ireland. It’s a different country.
– Does it have a lot of volcanoes? Is it very cold?
– No, that’s Iceland. Ireland is a small country near England.
– What is famous in Ireland?
– Guinness beer. Irish whiskey. Sheep. Potatoes.
– Guinness beer? Is it a drink? Never heard of it. Is it near Australia? What’s the name of that country near Australia? Ah, New Zealand.
Later, as we were walking along the river, Yuko thought she could have mentioned the song “Danny Boy”, or maybe the film “The Quiet Man” with John Wayne. Certainly younger people would know about U2.
Passing by the shop again on our way home, we stopped to buy some plants for the garden. Two cucumber plants, sweet peas and a colourful African daisy. It seems the man had done some research in the meantime, because he took a pen and deftly drew a sketch map of the British Isles on a guard rail, correctly pointed out Ireland, and said “it looks like a bean”. Well it did, a bit, the way he drew it.
I have similar conversations very often with people who have never heard of Ireland, but for some reason all of them have heard of Iceland. The abbreviated version, that I have in the park at least every second morning, goes: “What country?” “Ireland.” “Iceland?” “No, Ireland.” “Ireland?? Is it very cold there?” Other Irish people living in different parts of Japan report similar experiences (always with the Ireland/Iceland confusion).
It is interesting and a bit humbling to discover that your country is so insignificant that all these people go through their lives never knowing it exists. It gives a perspective of distance to all the concerns that seem so important in the life of our country. Still, having said that, I do think that most Irish people would be better informed about the world and would have at least heard of, say, El Salvador, Nepal, or Papua New Guinea.
Note on the word of the day:
アイルランド airurando is the Japanese word for Ireland, and is written in katakana. Most countries’ names are written in katakana. However there also exist kanji for lots of countries outside of East Asia, dating back to the Meiji era (or in some cases earlier) and some are still widely used. Most commonly written in kanji are 英 for England, 米 for America. At work last week I saw 独 for Germany on a PowerPoint slide. So, what’s the kanji for Ireland? Bearing in mind that nobody uses it anymore, it is: 愛蘭 Ai Ran—love orchid.