It’s hard to express how much I love living in Belfast! The city is so vibrant and the people are so friendly. Bustling crowds of Christmas shoppers on a Saturday do not crash into you and then push by with a frown like in New York City. Instead, last week a lady with about twenty shopping bags on her arms bowled me over and instead of walking away, she stopped, put her bags down and apologized profusely and said like a typical Irish woman, “I’m so sorry, love!” It was so sweet and melted away the twinge of annoyance I had felt when she first crashed into me. Anytime I’m in town I’m starting to see people I know and am feeling more like a local every day. I’ve even been asked for directions, so I must look like I know where I’m going too!
It’s been strange for me not to be working two days a week, balancing my class and work schedule like I do at home, (and I missed having the extra pocket money) so I applied for a temporary Christmas job working at a high end store called Next. It is right in the city center and is an upscale department type store selling clothes and home goods. I would compare it to Eddie Bauer back in the States. It’s really nice and on the weekends, super busy! Like people queue up outside the front door for a half hour before we even open! Working there is a bit hectic, but I like the fast-paced because it makes the work day fly in.
The first bit of sectarian violence has occurred since I’ve been in Belfast. There was a riot outside city hall on Monday night. The reason was due to a vote by the council to remove the British flag flying over the dome on top of city hall. The dispute over the flag that flies over city hall has been long contested. To outsiders it seems like a non-issue, and to most people in Belfast it results in a rolling of the eyes, but to a small minority it is an important issue (hence the riots). Over fourteen police officers were injured in the violence on Monday night, as up to 1,000 loyalists (Protestants) attacked city hall and damaged many cars. The violence has been condemned by first minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson, as well as both sides (Sinn Fein and unionists) who agree that the violence is not the appropriate way to handle the decision about the removal of the flag, nor will it reflect well on Belfast’s image, especially so close to Christmas. This violence harkens back to the days of the Troubles during the 1960’ through the 80’s. I’ve been seeing loads of Facebook statuses this week from my angry and embarrassed Belfast native friends who do not want Belfast to be shown in a bad light.
It still amazes me that in this day and age, religion can still cause such conflict and be so intertwined with politics. Not only is it frustrating that a flag can cause so much chaos in Belfast, but this kind of thing happens all around the world too. Look at the tension in the Middle East and how quickly the situation in Israel escalated a few weeks ago. By traveling around the world and experiencing other people’s cultures, a person can broaden their perspective, which is why I think it is so important for students to study abroad in college while they are young and have an open mind.
Belfast may occasionally struggle with flair ups between the two groups, but most of the time it is a great city to live in and the Irish will make sure you feel welcome!