Nathan Overlock was an official CEA CAPA blogger for spring 2017, sharing his story in weekly posts on our blog. A professional writing and information design major at Cedarville University, he studied abroad in Dublin.
In this week's post, Nathan talks about the Irish concept of "Craic" and how to participate in it like a local.
“What’s the Craic?!”
If you’re an easily confused American, like I was my first week in Dublin, you won’t pick up on the tiny difference in meaning between the word “craic” and its American homonym “crack.” And if you’re even more like me, you’ll give whatever enthusiastic Dubliner who shouted this to you a concerned look and a wide berth. But to save you all the confusion and potential for embarrassment, here’s a quick lesson on Irish slang: Craic just means fun. “What’s the Craic?” is a way of asking, “how are you?”, “had any fun?”, or “what’s the news?”
Now, there’s Craic to be had all throughout Ireland, most of which can be found outside the pub in concert, theatre and sporting venues. But it’s impossible to write about Dublin for 4 months without spending some time talking about pubs. They’re an important part of the culture, and not for all the reasons you might think. Instead of just telling you though, this post is your quickstart guide to getting out, blending in, and seeing for yourself. Understanding the lingo is only one step towards having great craic in Ireland! While in global cities like Dublin, you’re bound to be surrounded by people visiting from all over the world, here are 5 steps to help you enjoy the Craic like the Irish!
First a quick review: What actually is a pub? Short for public house, a pub isn’t just a bar. Pubs have bars, but they also offer some of the best food, music, storytelling, and social life in the city.
1. Choose your scene
The first step is deciding what you’re looking for in a pub and choosing accordingly. Do you prefer a fun atmosphere with lots of excitement or a quiet escape from the city? Would you rather be listening to traditional Irish music surrounded by charming, eclectic decor, or do you want the biggest flat screen in town to watch the rugby game on? These are all things to consider!
Unless you want to end up in Captain America’s, I’d ignore Ed Sheeran and save Grafton St. for the shopping. Instead, I search for the best pub-grub, with enough lowkey entertainment to keep things interesting. A personal favorite of mine is Foley’s on Baggot Lane, where you can keep the wings, nachos, and other appetizers coming all night long, with live musicians taking any song requests from the 80s-now on most nights.
2. Pick the right night
You’d probably assume that Friday and Saturday nights, after busy weeks at work and school are when everybody goes out. And you’d be right. Sort of. Those days are when you’ll see the heaviest crowds, but that doesn’t mean a Wednesday night or Sunday afternoon is time to go looking for a quiet place to settle in with a book or some friends. In fact, unless you know exactly what’s on, you should brace yourself for crowds shouting at whatever match is on the TV, people singing along to live music, or any other form of excitement. That’s why, if you’re totally unsure of what you’re getting yourself into, I recommend picking your pub first. Of course, my personal approach is to find a crowded street, and migrate towards the door with the best smelling food or music coming out of it.
3. Watch and learn
Throughout most of the year, you’ll find as many travelers, visitors, and first-time customers as you will regulars at the majority of pubs you visit. That doesn’t stop them from having their own atmosphere, attitudes, expectations, and other individual quirks. If it’s a labyrinth of bars, lounges, patios and dining areas like many of Dublin’s pubs, take a lap around to scout things out and see which area suits your fancy. Once you’ve found your spot, don’t be afraid to watch the people around you to see how they order, what’s available, whether or not there’s table service, and any other questions that might be running through your head. This can all seem so complex and overwhelming that some pubs in touristy areas, like O’Neil’s, even post directions and have signs guiding you. But I promise, as long as you take the time to watch and follow along first, you’ll have the hang of it all in no time.
4. Note the culture
In a city that dates back thousands of years, with more museums and historical sites than you can count, and vibrant arts, literary, and music communities, pubbing probably sounds like the least cultural way to spend a day in Dublin. But culture depends on the people, and for a large part of Dublin’s population, pubs are where the people go to meet and to carry on traditions. While you’re watching and learning, you’ll start to notice behaviors that stretch outside the microcosm you’re in. You might overhear someone ordering something for their table and think they must be an incredibly generous person. But in Irish groups, everyone is expected to buy something for others.
This “get you back” attitude isn’t just for pubs: you’ll notice it in the workplace, when someone brings in food or offers to make tea, and starts a pattern of everyone taking their turn to bring in snack and beverage throughout the rest of the week. You might see it in shops when you don’t have quite the right change, and the salesperson tells you to just bring it back next time.
If you’re there before nine, you might also be surprised at the variety of ages you’ll see. You might be walking back to the table and have to watch for children weaving through the crowd. Often, pubs will schedule music earlier in the day specifically to make it accessible to families. This says a lot about the bigger purpose of pubs in Irish life: a place to unwind, and have fun with friends, families, or total strangers.
5. Meet the people
While you’re probably off to the pub in search of music, sports, pub grub, and other craic, those other reasons are just excuses to socialize, meet people, and hang out with friends. Did you bring company? Great! But don’t stop with that. If it’s an easy-going night, try talking to a server. If you’re like me, and never go anywhere without a book you might end up bonding over your love of Terry Prachett or excitement about the Neil Gaiman TV show. They’ll also know the local area well and can recommend good places to explore. But you never know who you’ll meet, what you’ll learn, or the fun you’ll get yourself into until you take the chance to talk to the people around you. And trust me, in Ireland you won’t have to start the conversations: they’ll all come flooding towards you, and all you’ll have to do is keep up and keep them going.
Nathan's journey continues every Friday so stay tuned.