These days, the emigration experience is both alien and familiar at the same time

The effects of growing globalisation make being somewhere else feel a little less of a shock

In some important ways, emigration is a more comfortable experience now than ever before. This is the case for Irish emigrants – myself included – anyway, who electively leave home in search of work or adventure, rather than people around the world who are tragically displaced or forced to leave their homes in order to survive.

Most Irish people’s emigration experience is far more fortunate and the challenges it presents are things such as difficulty making connections in a new culture, figuring out healthcare and tax, as well as the different norms, laws and customs. Having no leg room in economy, and, on arrival, finding alternatives for the little things that comprise the routine of everyday life.

Sometimes, there’s a sense of sadness at feeling the need to leave home due to a lack of opportunity or the knowledge that life will be easier and more comfortable somewhere else, but I’m not suggesting for a moment that this is the same as having no option but to leave or having no reason to stay.

When we got to Australia almost six months ago, it felt alien but also somehow familiar. The combination was unsettling. Our daily routine had to be consciously rebuilt as you don’t have the option of running on autopilot in entirely new surroundings. There’s liberation in this as well as a heightened sense of attentiveness that can sometimes feel a little like mild anxiety for someone like me, who found themselves living on the other side of the world having never really even planned to visit. For someone who finds great comfort in the familiar, as I do.


I’m the sort of person who will order the same thing every time I visit a particular restaurant – when I like something, I stick with it.

When we emigrated, daily life unsurprisingly looked different in almost every detail. We set about finding a new brand of coffee to drink each morning. The Australian reputation for excellent coffee is entirely deserved. I’ll happily risk even the ire of Italy to declare that I’ve never had a better cup than the ones you find in countless cafes here in Canberra. Without Marks & Spencer (notions, I know), I had to part ways with the particular style of reliable white socks I’ve worn almost every day for a decade and find a replacement. I found myself in the supermarket aisle unravelling gently as I tried to choose a fabric softener when there were so many options I’d never encountered before.

These are all tiny things but combined, they are the sensations, flavours and aromas of everyday life. The texture of a day. Only when we emigrate do we change all of them at once. At home, even changing the brand of bread everyone in the house is accustomed to without prior consultation can result in a major incident.

Yet, despite all this, things in Australia are not completely unfamiliar. There’s the technology that allows us to maintain close and regular contact with home, of course, so that it really doesn’t feel days away despite the vast physical distance. I exchange WhatsApp messages and videos with my brother in Limerick most days and am as up to date on his kitchen renovation and his DIY projects as I would be if I weren’t in Australia. I can still read papers from home and keep abreast of what friends are doing through social media. When I ran out of my fancy shampoo from an American brand this week, exhausting the supply I’d brought with me when we moved, I just went to Sephora and bought some more.

Owners of a head of mutinous Irish hair in hot temperatures will understand my reluctance to play “shampoo roulette” and take a chance on a new brand. The results could amount to a diplomatic incident. My favourite white T-shirts that were readily available from Uniqlo before we left London are just as available here. There’s something intensely weird about that, but if you get the chance, try them, and thank me later – there’s no distortion of the neck, no transparent fabric, no bagginess in weird places. You’ll be converted.

If you want a Burger King burger (I’m not sure why anyone would when there’s McDonald’s but you never know), you can get one. It’s called Hungry Jack’s here for some reason, possibly to do with licensing or possibly because Australians exhibit a preference for brands that are – or appear to be – Australian, or possibly for some other mysterious reason. The point is you can get your Chicken Royale if you crave it. I can wander into Zara and see the same pair of shoes I’ll find in a London or a Dublin store, though of course the current season stock will be different.

The effects of growing globalisation change the experience of emigrating. In some respects, it creates the sense that local cultures are denigrated slightly by the fact that, for example, you can get the same burnt-tasting coffee and flaccid salad in a Pret in London as you can in Dublin. It makes being somewhere else feel a little less . . . else. It’s a little weird to think that you can buy a shirt in a high street chain in Cork and meet someone in a Sydney cafe wearing the same one, purchased here in Australia or in some other country altogether.

These things both make us feel comfortable and at home and alienate us from the uniqueness of wherever we happen to find ourselves. When you emigrate, it’s necessary to put the effort in to immerse in the local culture and buy products made in your new country. Yet, I write that in the knowledge that when at home, I don’t run through the streets of Dublin desperately clutching at everyone I pass to ask if they know where I can find good coddle. And, while I’m not doing that, I’m wearing socks from M&S (and probably drinking a burnt-tasting coffee from Pret).