Flits, Pennies, and Learning Culture

A big part of moving to a new country is learning to live in a new culture. There are aspects of any culture, that if you are paying attention, you will pick up on and learn. There are aspect of Irish culture that Méabh will come by naturally, but will always be a challenge to […]

by bob

Jun 12, 2017

View of the Dublin Convention Centre across the River Liffey

A big part of moving to a new country is learning to live in a new culture. There are aspects of any culture, that if you are paying attention, you will pick up on and learn. There are aspect of Irish culture that Méabh will come by naturally, but will always be a challenge to me, because I didn’t grow up here. And there are other things that as an outsider I can offer a different perspective on compared to those who have grown up in it. And a large part of our efforts these past five years here in Dublin have been on learning to live well in a very different culture. Trying to, as much as possible become part of the neighbourhood…to be Dubliners rather than Americans who live in Dublin. (Liz and I have both shared our thoughts about this process.)

I’ve also written previously, that while we fully expected to work on that when we arrived in Ireland, what was unexpected…at least for me…was that we would also have to learn a second Irish culture. While we spend the vast majority of our time in Ireland’s capital city, we have over the past 5 years, focused a sizable portion of our time and energy up in County Monaghan because Liz and her family have owned a farm up there.

And, to be completely transparent, Liz has had far more interest in the culture and community in Monaghan than I have. In large part because that area of the country is such an important place for her family. Even now, a number of people remember her dad. So people there matter a lot to her. Where as I have a much more singular focus on Dublin.

Regardless, this has meant to varying degrees we have had to navigate a second Irish culture in the time we have been here. Well, over the past weekend, those connections in Monaghan have helped us learn a couple of new things about Ireland.

Saturday Flit
The first learning lesson had to do with something called the Saturday Flit. The word flit refers to moving…often moving home. Well it turns out there is a phrase, “Saturday flit, short sit.” It is basically the idea that people don’t want to buy property, or move house on a Saturday as it is bad luck…and you won’t end up staying for long if you flit on a Saturday.

The Irish Times did a story in 1997 reporting that 10% of people would refuse to leave the hospital on a Saturday and 40% of doctors would allow patients to stay an extra day, because of this superstition. The idea that if you are released from the hospital on a Saturday, it would be a short period before you were once again in the hospital. According to the story, when it was written 20 years ago, 58% percent of the population were familiar with the saying.

We learned about this idea because Liz had asked for a day to consider an issue. Since it was on a Friday, there was a move later in the day to get her to hurry her decision so that it would not be made on a Saturday. Now one of our family rules has always been “if you need a decision immediately, the answer is no.” (Something I picked up from my dad.) In other words if we can’t have time to think and pray about an important decision we won’t make it.

It was conversations over the next couple of days that we learned how big the “Saturday Flit” still was here.

Luck Penny
The other new thing we learned about this weekend was the Luck Penny (not to be confused with a lucky penny). Say I sell you a piece of property. After the sale is complete I would be expected to give you back up to a couple hundred euro for good luck. Liz was sharing this with a person this weekend and she mentioned that she recently had a person do work on her house and he charged her €1050.00. After the work was done, and he was paid, he gave back €50 as a luck penny.

So here’s a question for you.
If you moved to a place, and there were expectations like this that were held by the locals, and your realtor told you, “the buyer is expecting a luck penny?”, what would you do?

Would you say, “I don’t believe in superstitions and I’m not not giving them any extra pennies…luck or otherwise.”

Would you see paying this luck penny as a way to honor your neighbor? To demonstrate love for your neighbor?

Would your faith enter into the decision?

Or would you see a cash transaction as totally separate from faith issues?

Something else?

Would a question like that even matter to you?

So, that was our weekend.

What about…

I grew up in Western New York and have started and led missional church planting efforts for a little over 30 years. As you might gather, I have opinions about the church, and I share some of them here.

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  1. Kathy

    I would almost certainly honor the local traditions and behave in ways that are consistent with their customs and beliefs. To not do so would be to point out your ‘otherness’ (firstly) and would be to impart, IMO, an air of cultural superiority on your part (secondly). Unless someone is asking me to do something that I find unethical or immoral or outright illegal, I see no reason to refrain from local custom. As you said, you’re attempting to learn and fit in. 😃

    • bob

      great thoughts Kathy…thank you!


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