An Irish expat reflects on her first year in San Francisco

Photos: Niamh Donoghue

For new resident Niamh (pronounced "neeve") Donoghue, moving to a city far from her hometown in Donegal, Ireland was always part of the plan.

After her first year living and working in San Francisco, we reached out to learn about some of her favorite things -- and the cultural shocks that took getting used to.

Via telephone, Donoghue said she specifically sought a job transfer to San Francisco. "Career-wise, it's a city that breathes innovated business and people that are always eager to start something new," she said. "I wanted to put myself into that situation."

"There's pretty wild stuff that happens in San Francisco, you never get bored hearing about it," she said.
Photo: Roshan Vyas/Flickr

Culturally, she said her adopted city is markedly different from Ireland. "Everyone is so open and welcoming here," she said. "They're eager to welcome you into their friends group, to invite you out for the weekend or to do something together after work."

In Ireland, people "keep their work friends and personal friends really separate. Everything about work and personal life is separated, not just friendships," she added.

In Ireland, "when you clock out at 5:30, that's it. Here, you can still get calls until seven or later, and there're no qualms about contacting you during vacation, said Donoghue. "People work a lot harder here and faster. It was something to get used to."

Despite the differences, she said her new home is more in line with her personal values. "San Francisco is almost European in its thinking, with the openness of the city. In Ireland, it's still illegal to have abortions, and gay marriage only recently became legal."

From her perspective, most San Franciscans "fully believe in and are leading the rest of the world in most of these areas," she said. "That's what excited me. I want to be part of that."
Photo: matt/Flickr

Adjusting to every aspect of our local culture hasn't been an easy transition.

"If you smoke cigarettes here, people are offended by it," she said. "It's strange, you all are so open about everything, but if you smoke a cig, they scowl at you. It's the one thing that I was confused by. If you go outside and try to have a cig, you are the worst person in the world."

San Francisco's dating culture has also been frustrating, she said. "People get all of the dating apps first, something that I've never been into but tried it when I first moved here," she said.

"And it's so awful. What it makes is this whole culture where they go on one date and then move onto the next. It's sad, because they aren't making relationships organically. People don't put in the same effort to get to know someone that way."

"If you're number-one priority is career, then everything else is secondary, and so is the dating culture."

Donoghue said she became even more connected to San Francisco after reading David Talbot's Season of the Witch, which records the city's cultural history. "Everyone who lives here needs to read this," she said. "Especially newcomers. I have a new perspective of San Francisco because of it."

"There are some really sad things about the city like its homelessness and it's so devastating to see. But reading Talbot's book helped me to understand why that problem is there, to see the history of the city."


Donoghue, who shares a flat with roommates in Lower Pac Heights, said discovering the city's food culture has become a favorite pastime. Some of her go-to spots are Dosa on Fillmore, Uma Casa in Noe Valley, and NoPa's Barvale for Spanish tapas.

As for libations, she favors Charmaine's rooftop bar at the Proper Hotel, Tonga Room at the Fairmont and Polk Street's Harper and Rye.

"San Francisco is so complex and has gone through so many stages. You want to be a part of it and really understand it," she said. "I don't want to leave until I get it."
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