Now that the friends and family who are planning to visit us have bought their tickets and are committed, we can finally reveal just how expensive Ireland is. The cost of things here really struck home on our Easter weekend visit to London. As we waited to see a play at the National Theatre, we strolled around the lobby looking at the wonderful free photography exhibit and listened to the music from the free concert downstairs. I thought back to the previous night when we had visited the free National Portrait Gallery, and looked forward to our free visit to the British Museum the next day. And then it hit me: I couldn’t even pee in Cork for free. As mentioned before, free public toilets are almost non-existent in Ireland (and in 16 months of living here, we have never seen a public drinking fountain).

The tickets to the play we saw cost £10 apiece, and it was fabulous, with dozens of performers on stage and wonderful production values. The seating was comfortable and the theatre a great space. When we saw a short play with two non-professional actors in Cork last year, sitting on flat stadium seating, the tickets cost €15 apiece.

In our two visits to London, considered one of the most expensive places to live in the world, we never had a meal that was more expensive than its equivalent would be in Cork. More often, we would see the prices for a meal and be in awe of how inexpensive the food was.

The Economist magazine creates a “Big Mac Index” comparing the price of a Big Mac in different countries to measure of the cost of living around the world. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to include Ireland in their list, but I went to a McDonalds in Cork to check and a Big Mac Meal costs €6.60. Prices vary in the States, but I can say it’s not that expensive in Oregon. To top it off, the meal deal here is for a medium size meal, and the mediums here really are medium, so about a child size in the United States. It’s the norm here to pay more and get less.

Last year there was a newspaper article detailing the findings of an Irish government minister who found that the exact same shirt, sold in the same chain of stores, was almost 50% more expensive in Ireland than in Britain. This doesn’t surprise me, since we saw in the window of a Cork clothing store a sign advertising two t-shirts for €100 (see the picture). I can only assume they weren’t thin, white Fruit of the Looms, but the fact that this was their one posted price shows what a great deal they thought they were offering.

It’s much more costly to do anything here. If a particular activity is free in America, it requires a fee here. If it requires a fee in America, it requires a membership here. If there’s a membership in America, the membership costs twice as much here. Seriously. Even joining the library, which is free almost anywhere in the States, costs €22 per person, per year in Cork, and we can still only check out six items at a time.

It’s not just food, entertainment and activities that are more expensive here. The cost of 48 pills of ibuprofen is around €9 at a Boots, but a person can buy 200 pills in America for less than that. For the same size bottle of contact lens solution, I’ll pay anywhere from €15 to €20 here but just $8 in the States.

To be fair, there have always been some exceptions to the rule, such as Guinney’s and Penneys, two stores with inexpensive clothing in Cork. And, as the reality of the recession sinks in day by day, more and more stores are actually dropping prices or having more sales (many stores would have just two sales a year here in Ireland, while most stores in America would have two or three sales going on at once).

There is this one upside to the expense of living in Ireland: no matter where we’ve visited, or what we’ve done, everywhere and everything else we’ve experienced has seemed cheap so travel always seems like a great deal. Then again, a moon landing would seem cheap in comparison to a weekend in Galway.

(We may need to explain the title of this post, “Sticker Shock,” to our Irish readers; we said the term to friends of ours here and they had never heard it. It refers to the surprise a person feels when first seeing the price of something that turns out to be much more expensive than expected).