Talking to Strangers: Bushmills, Northern Ireland

September 3, 2013

Derrick and Gabrielle were entwined as they walked into the hotel bar a little after 11 pm. Gabrielle was lovely in that way I imagine all French women are, confident and sophisticated, even in a black t-shirt that reminded me of something Chrissie Hynde would wear. They were celebrating Derrick’s 32nd birthday, although he looked years older to me. The former footballer turned contractor was a motorcycle enthusiast and operated a pub out of his parents’ garage just south of Dublin. Like us, they were here on holiday.

We bought the next round and toasted to Derrick, who was in the middle of another madcap story.

“Can you understand what he’s saying?” Gabrielle asked me quietly.

“Yes,” I leaned in to answer. “But it’s hard, and I have to see his lips.”

Gabrielle had only been in the country a couple of months and was still having trouble with the accent. She confessed she only half understood what Derrick said, but it didn’t seem to bother her. She was from Brittany and worked in international development. She traveled quite a bit and wanted to swap stories. I told her about our trips to England and Spain and, of course, Ireland.

“Sometimes I’m reluctant to travel if I don’t know the language.” Now it was my turn for confession. “I think sometimes I’m uncomfortable about being American and traveling, and I worry about what people will think.”

“What do you think people think of me?” She shrugged. That Gabrielle would feel any insecurity about her own nationality and identity was a revelation. But she also told me, if you travel you will always be a foreigner, and for her that was natural. As a Breton she often felt like an outsider in her own country. “Even if you don’t know the language, people find a way to reach out to you. They will find a want to communicate.”

Derrick ordered the next round and invited us to his garage bar the next time we were in Dublin. The conversation waned. He pulled Gabrielle close, nuzzling her. She smiled as they kissed.

People find a way.

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