Monday, July 08, 2013

Meeting the locals, the Inis Meain way

Easily one of my favourite things about travelling is meeting local people, which is one of the reasons I particularly loved living in Japan, Slovakia and Germany for a year or more each, because that was really the way to get to know the locals. On our recent trip to Ireland I cheated: I stayed with friends who'd already spent five months on the island of Inis Meain and therefore already knew the locals. The second best way, I think!

Given that Inis Meain (the smallest of the Aran Islands of the west coast of Ireland) has a population under 200, the arrival of our two Australian friends to stay for six months must have been of serious interest. Our friends had quickly got to know numerous local islanders and were able to introduce us to plenty of them during our week there. Apart from our continued confusion about the number of men named Paraic (in double figures, I think), we managed to do quite well and since the island is so small, we even kept bumping into the same people over course of the week.

Meeting the locals on Inis Meain
You can see a page from our album above, with just a few of the locals we met on Inis Meain. Being the book-lover that I am, my biggest thrill was meeting the local librarian, and yes, the library was pretty tiny - although the statistics were probably pretty good with a high number of books per resident. (Interesting side note: Inis Meain is one of the few places where Irish is the first language, and high school kids from the mainland come here on scholarships to study in Irish rather than English.) The lovely librarian Maureen was exceedingly welcoming to our little boy and it was also great to borrow a few of his favourite books to read at bedtime that week.

We met the rubbish collector (you can imagine my rubbish-truck-chasing-son was thrilled about this), the former pub owner, the current pub owner, a restauranteur (one of several, surprisingly), the shopkeeper, a cafe owner, and more. Each one added some new little facts about the place and gave us another new perspective, every single one of which would never have been found in a tourist guide book. (Actually, I'm not sure Inis Meain features in too many tourist guide books!)

It's not always this easy to meet the locals, but it's rarely as hard as we think, either. Whether it's striking up a proper conversation with staff at your hotel or restaurant, or more intentionally meeting locals by using homestays or couchsurfing for your accommodation, there's so much more you can learn than by simply seeing the sights. Something I've long known but that this trip well and truly reminded me of.


4 comments:

  1. I have always loved your blog posts and its so funny - just last month I wrote a pretty similar post on my blog called 'Sleeping with the locals' :)
    Great post as always Amanda!

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    1. Thank you!! And I went to have a look at your Sleeping with the locals post, loved it.

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  2. Haha cute post! I love meeting locals too! I feel like very one has an interesting story!

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    1. Thanks Michelle - I agree - lots of interesting stories to learn from the locals.

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