If you hang around Ireland enough, you're sure to hear someone say something like,
"Very good crack there!"
or "That was great crack!"
First, do not be alarmed. They're not talking about the kind of stuff that's outrageously expensive and a felony to possess in the States. In fact, they're not talking about a physical thing at all. "Crack" is how the Irish Gaelic word craic is pronounced. It's a very common word in Ireland, referring to "a good time," a "good atmosphere," or plain old "fun."
So when an Irishman recommends a pub or restaurant or hostel with the qualifier, "they'e got great craic!" Take his advice. Good times will abound!
I've only been in the British Isles for about 10 days, and though I knew about some of these cultural and language differences beforehand, I thought it might be fun to share a few with you:
1. Craic (crack) is good.
2. There are no free refills. You'll often get a can of soda/pop, if that's what you order. They'll give it to you with a glass. Pour it into the glass and then drink it. Do not drink straight from the can (or bottle). And don't expect ice, either.
[By the way, both of these are actually healthier options than the typical American-style bottomless glass filled to the brim with ice cubes; studies have shown that ice machines are often not cleaned as often as they should be and can produce ice cubes laced with lots of nasty bacteria, and soda is packed with tons of sugar and caffeine and other stuff that's better in small doses anyway.]
3. Chips are crisps and fries are chips. The snack food called "potato chips" in America are called "crisps" in Ireland and the UK, and what we would call "fries," they call "chips." So an order of the classic fish 'n' chips is fried fish (cod, usually) and a pile of thick steak fries.
4. Bacon is not bacon. It's ham - cut into narrower strips than normal. Twice, I've ordered a meal "with bacon" and was disappointed when the dish arrived and instead of those delicious, pan-fried, crispy brown and red strips of delight, there was pink, plain old ham. Both times the food was quite tasty, but just know that in the British Isles, bacon isn't a fancy kind of pig meat, it is just a fancy name for regular pig meat.
5. Shops and restaurants close early. Most stores close by 5 p.m., except for chain-supermarkets and bigger stores like M&S (sort of like an upscale Target that sometimes includes a grocery section) or international chains like American Eagle and H&M, which might stay open until 7 or 8. I was surprised to find this true even in bigger cities like Dublin and London. Restaurants might be open only until 6 or 7, and even the pubs stop serving food at 8. So don't do all your sight seeing during the day, expecting to do some shopping and eating after the museums close, you may end up without dinner.
6. Pubs are a great place to eat, drink, and experience the local culture. And they're actually really clean and safe, too, in general. This is especially true in Ireland, where smoking is now illegal indoors and many pubs serve delicious food. If you want to hear some live music, a pub is probably your best bet, especially if you're on Ireland's West Coast. Most pubs will even welcome children and are a great way to immerse your family in local culture, but they'll want your kids out later on, probably by 8. The best pub atmosphere I've ever experienced was at Dick Mack's in the small coastal town of Dingle, on Ireland's beautiful and wild West Coast. If you want to hear some beautiful live traditional ("trad") Irish music, that's the place to go, any night of the week.
(Originally posted with points 1-4 from Bath, England, on June 25, 2013; updated from Hemse, Gotland, Sweden on July 30, 2013.)