Northern Ireland: Life and Culture

Northern Ireland Tourism

Living in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Culture

Practical Life

Language... don't you think I speak great English as it's my second language? Just kidding, but when I was a little kid we only had holidays locally and I always assumed that I'd been speaking Irish! Actually we get the odd Irish language programme on TV now and there's a whole channel devoted to broadcasting in it in the Republic. Since Northern Ireland is so small that it's possible to pick up their TV stations too if your aerial is pointed in the right direction so you can get their three channels (one being in Irish is totally useless to me) and our two BBC channels and the three commercial ones. We've cable in Belfast and there's the satellite so you can get another 50 or so if you really want them.

Housing... Houses are pretty affordable here so generally speaking it is only the 'working class' (for want of a better word) who live in the terrace houses or flats (apartment blocks). Everyone else lives in semi-detached (duplex) or detached houses or bungalows. We're in a semi so it's only the left hand side of the house in the photo that's mine. Something like 60% of people own their houses, though they're generally paying a mortgage (which usually runs for 25 years). Due to the tax system here it's cheaper to buy a house by borrowing money than it would be using cash which is pretty fortunate as most people wouldn't be able to fork out the full amount in cash anyway.

Banking... We've really only the four proper banks in Northern Ireland (you don't get the local banks like you do in the US anywhere in the UK) along with maybe a dozen building societies (similar to the savings and loans in the US). It is unbelievably difficult to open a new bank account these days thanks to anti-money laundering legislation brought in several years ago. Once you've passed that hurdle you can have cheque books, savings accounts, credit cards, cash cards, etc. Shops that accept credit cards accept both Visa and Mastercard so either one does when you're here (that's not the case in the rest of Europe though). Similarly most of the cash machines will accept most of the cash cards. Courtesy of the American influence (well, more likely the Anglo-Saxon influence) you generally only get instructions in English although foreign cards are sometimes offered a choice of English, French, Spanish and German. All the shops accept cheques as long as you have a 'cheque card' as these actually guarantee your cheques up to the limit on the card (usually 100). You can usually (always?) use your cheque card to get cash in the machines. Exchange controls... we don't have any, so if anybody is inclined to carry out a suitcase stuffed with cash (or bring one in) then they can. We've a limit like the $10,000 one in the US where the banks have to report deposits to somebody but I don't know what it is.

Shopping... The 'corner shop' has basically bitten the dust and apart from the city centres people mainly shop in shopping centres (malls). Generally people would just shop once a week but my Mum likes going to the shops so she's in them a lot more often than that, even more so since Dad retired. We don't get the same chains here as you'll have seen in the US though we do have rough equivalents for most of them. We've food shops (like Tesco, Sainsbury, etc.) and all sorts of clothes shops as well as department stores. I think the only one that you may have seen is Brookes Brothers (which is actually a British shop!). We don't have the likes of Harrods and Tiffany in Northern Ireland but London is full of shops like that. I guess we get at least some of the designer labels here but I've never been looking out for them.



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