How to adjust to life as an Irish expat in the U.S.

TransferWise content team
25.10.16
3 minute read

There are some 33 million Americans of Irish-descent, seven times the population of present-day Ireland.

To add to that, an estimated 144,000 Irish-born people live in the U.S., according to 2013 statistics.

There are many traits that the Irish and Americans share in common, from being friendly and laid-back to loving beer.

Yet adapting to life in America can be quite different too, with both subtle and strong differences found in day-to-day life. We chatted with Irish TransferWise customers and colleagues in the States about their surviving -- and thriving -- in the good ‘ol USA.


The Irish directive

people

Irish are known for being direct and open, even among strangers or colleagues. Expect to find the opposite in many of your American colleagues, who may give a more flowery explanation when trying to be as polite as possible.

Meet them halfway and please don’t forget a “please” when making requests.


The 24/7 Economy

open

In Ireland, you may be used to rushing to the supermarket by 5 or 6 pm to fill up your grocery bags. Or stocking up before the weekend approaches.

Yet unless you’re stationed in the smallest of towns in the States or the Apocalypse is underway, there will always be a supermarket, store or restaurant at your convenience.


Not as geographically close family ties

map

In the U.S., it’s common to move across the country for school or work, and only visit family over the holidays -- not every weekend as many in Ireland are accustomed to doing.

Both countries tend to be good at keeping in touch with family members from afar though, especially with cross-country roaming plans that would be the equivalent of making free call from Dublin to Moscow.


Differing education styles

class

Studying or taking taking classes in the States? Expect to be assigned more “homework” or busywork than in Ireland, where usually one paper or exam in a class will account for over 50 percent of the final grade.

Expect some structural differences, too. As Jennifer, an Irish expat who studied in Boston, explains:

“I had to stay alert and raise my hand frequently in class, as ‘participation points’ also counted in the class.”


Feckin’ tone it down

swear jar

Save for some exceptions, it’s not as common among Americans to swear as it is between Irish, especially with strangers and colleagues.

Americans tend to save the f-bomb for more heated moments -- or after a pint or two.


The tipping point

tips

The price of a restaurant item may look like a good deal, but don’t make the classic U.S. expat rookie mistake: forgetting that there is an additional 15-20 percent tip on top of the meal.

‘When I first arrived in New York, I was chased out of the restaurant by the waiter after ‘only’ leaving a $2 tip -- which seemed perfectly reasonable to me at the time.”

Iain, now an expat of two years, hasn’t made that mistake again.


Put Your knives away

meal

Unless a piece of food is difficult to cut, such as a steak, Americans will rely purely on their forks to eat a meal. A butter knife is usually just used to spread butter, not break apart your salads or pasta.

And thinking of exercising a knife on that giant burrito? Calmly put it down, and eat it with your hands like your fellow diners.


Public Transit Varies Widely

bus

From the the "circulator" in Washington, D.C. that stops operating after 9pm to great public transport in the Bay Area (if you’re lucky to live close to a BART station), transit in the U.S. varies widely and is not always very reliable.

In many cities, however, Americans will be just as polite as the Irish and bid their drivers a “thank you” when exiting the bus.


Opening a bank account

banks

The U.S. is strict about many aspects of life for foreigners, but generally opening a basic bank account is not one of them.

Many banks will allow you to open an account, even remotely, without a social security number, or just with a U.S. tax ID number.

Just don’t be surprised if you’re asked to fork out upwards of $20 on that shiny new, state-of-the-art cheque book…


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