Eating (not so) Alone

I had dinner with a little, old Irish man the other day. After a long, rainy day on a tour bus to Connemara and the Kylemore Abbey—which were beautiful even through a curtain of rain—I thought about just walking back to the apartment when my bus returned to town. It had been a long day, and I was tired. But I had no food at the apartment, and I would have had to walk home to get my reusable grocery bags (which are legally mandated here) and then walk back to the grocery store. And it would have been a whole thing. So instead, I walked down Shop Street and toward Quay Street by the harbor.

There was this little café—which I’d heard someone mention before—called the Traditional Irish Café. I walked in to the tiny little place—which must have had a total of four tables—and thought there might be nowhere to sit. There was a big table available, but I wasn’t going to be the person who sits all by herself at a table for six. So the waitress brought me upstairs, where there were eight or so more tables. It was completely empty. I always feel a little bit uncomfortable eating alone in restaurants—though I’m working on that because why not, right? As much as I feel like the waiters and waitresses and patrons are all silently communicating to each other about how pathetic I am, I think they’re probably not doing that. Or, if they are, I can’t hear their thoughts, right? So I can instead pretend they’re all thinking about how pretty I am. Or how fantastic my hair is.

So anyway, I’m sitting upstairs by myself, and the hostess brings up this little old man. He’s by himself as well. He follows his waitress to the table across the room, hangs his coat on the chair, and then turns to me to make some comment about the weather. It was particularly rainy that day. I think he could somehow tell I wasn’t Irish because he said, “Are you enjoying our wonderful Irish weather?” I laugh and say that, yes, it was great—especially since I’d spent much of my day touring Connemara. He says, “Oh no, I hope it didn’t ruin it for you.” I tell him it was beautiful, rain or not, and he asks if he can sit with me. He has the waitress move his silverware and such to the table adjacent to mine.

He asks me what my first impressions of Ireland are. I tell him that I’ve been once before, the previous summer, and that I (still) think that it is beautiful and that the people are kind. He asks me how long I’ll be staying in Ireland and is shocked when I say a month. He says to me that he’d never have the money to travel anywhere for a month. He can barely afford to travel for a few days. He’s never been to America—he can’t afford it. He asks me what I’m studying. I tell him I wanted to be a teacher, and he gets all excited. “I was a teacher for 41 years,” he said. He tells me that he taught primary school for 11 years and secondary for 30. He liked teaching secondary school better. He doesn’t think men should be allowed anywhere near primary school kids, he says, because they can’t relate to them the way women can.

I ask whether he lived in Galway. Turns out he lives with his wife in the middle of Ireland—ensconced in the countryside—on his own little farm. He comes up to Galway once a week to visit his brother who’s sick with cancer. He takes the train up. He has a special pass for elderly people which allows him to use any trains or buses for free. It’s the only benefit to being old that he knows of, he tells me. His wife has seven sisters. And he has four brothers. No one in his family has ever lived to be seventy, so he feels lucky to be alive every day. He’s seventy now. His wife is 67, and she’s been having some issues with forgetfulness lately. His wife’s sister has Alzheimer’s, and he’s scared his wife’s getting it too. He’s worried about her. But he’s thankful for the 40 years they’ve had together. He throws a little advice my way. He tells me that life is full of disappointments but that sometimes those disappointments are actually blessings in disguise. “I fancied certain girls over the years and was disappointed when it didn’t work out,” he says. “But if I hadn’t had those disappointments, I wouldn’t have what I have now, you know?” He tells me that I seem like a good person and that he thinks everything is going to turn out all right for me.

He tells me that he used to go to Temple Bar—in Dublin—just to sit and talk to tourists. Tourists are always dying to talk to a local person, he says. He tells me that, actually, almost all people want to interact with and meet new people. It just takes someone who’s willing to break the ice. He’s usually the one to do so, he tells me. He loves to talk to people on trains. And if they’re not receptive to it, then that’s fine. He tells me that he really needs to go—so that he doesn’t miss his train. He says, “I didn’t expect to meet a beautiful, young girl when I stopped in here. I figured I’d just sit in the corner and eat my scone.” He asks if he can shake my hand. He says, again, “You’re a lovely person. I think things are going to work out just fine for you.” And then he takes off down the stairs. I follow behind a few minutes later. And I smile my whole walk home.

Abigail Stricker is a student at Texas A&M University and an official API Blogger. Abigail is studying abroad with API in Galway, Ireland.

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