I just completed a three week whirlwind tour of the Pacific Northwest, where I used to to call home. After visiting, I’m more clear than ever that our home is in Portugal. I just want to pinch Portugal’s cute little cheeks! It’s such a cute country. The U.S. is big, bad, loud, crowded, and expensive, with bullets flying everywhere. It turns out I didn’t need the flak jacket: the mass shootings for the week all happened elsewhere. But it did help keep me warm, so it wasn’t a completely wasted purchase.
Before leaving Portugal, I was emailing with another expat couple in Portgual who moved from Washington state to Porto. They challenged me to compare impressions after being out of the country for nearly a year. So I thought about it a lot while in the US.
These are the Top Three I came away with:
• Smiles and excuse me’s. While I love the Portuguese and their culture, smiling at strangers and saying “excuse me” after ramming your shopping cart into someone’s heel seems to be a purely American affectation. Especially in the retail stores. American store personnel are taught to be as friendly as possible to all customers. Portuguese store personnel act the same way as they do everywhere else. I rarely get asked if I need some help in Portugal, and catching the eye of a stranger rarely results in a smile. I think Europeans feel it’s weird to smile at a complete stranger. Almost every time I went into a store in the US, I was asked if I needed any assistance, was smiled at often (I don’t think they were doing so because I looked so odd, looking all Portuguese and everything. After all, this a time when anyone living outside the US is suspect.) and heard “excuse me” more times in one day than in the last ten months in Portugal. Of course, they would say “desculpa,” but they don’t.
Despite that, the difference between the US and Portugal reminds me of the difference between Las Vegas and any small town. Vegas is loud, brash, noisy, and every single thing that goes on there is designed to pry money out of your wallet, while making you think you’d be so much happier just because you did so. After returning from the US, I feel like all this ambient noise suddenly went away. The hustle and bustle and rush and hurry and the pervasive advertising that YOU WON’T BE HAPPY UNLESS YOU BY THIS! or LOOK HOW SEXY YOU WILL LOOK IF YOU JUST BOUGHT THIS! assaulting you everywhere you go created a thrumming in my brain. The thrumming stopped as soon as I landed in Lisbon. Coincidentally, that’s when I shut off my iPod, but I’m sure that had nothing to do with it.
• Sticker shock. Holy moley America is expensive! It felt like we were in London! One quick trip to Fred Meyer for a few start-up groceries netted us a bigger grocery bill than I think we’ve ever had in Portugal. It’s gonna take a few months of our cheaper living here just to recover from the monetary outflow from a visit to the states. I wonder if banks offer “expat travel to the US” loans.
• I like driving in Europe better than the US. Once upon a time, America was called the Land of the Free. Its Constitution was unique and ground-breaking, and truly established freedoms most of the world hadn’t yet seen.
However, today, it might be more accurate to call it The Land of the Lawsuit or the Land of Hyper-Safety (besides all the guns, which many Americans believe actually keep them safer, despite all the data proving otherwise). Between the fear of lawsuits and the desire to protect every single citizen from any harm, the roads in the US are chockfull of signs and rules and cops ready to ruin your day. Theoretically that’s all supposed to make you safer, but as I mentioned in a previous blog, a little research into car accident rates in Portugal vs. the US shows fewer accidents per person in Portugal. On the freeway, their speed signs and minimums, not maximums. Nary a cop is in sight to give you speeding tickets. And the freeway flows with efficiency, while in the US it’s a hodgepodge of cars and semis going different speeds in every lane. Plus the traffic. Oh meu Deus. Seattle and Portland’s freeways have become slow-moving parking lots, nearly 24 hours a day. Sure, there’s traffic in Lisbon, but it’s not everywhere all the time. I could barely handle another day of driving there.
We were treated to two separate Thanksgiving meals with both our respective families. It was great seeing all the kids and the grandkids. That’s the hardest thing about living across the ocean. However, I used to see my grandparents –who were a couple of my favorite people– every couple of years or so, and loved them all the same. Or maybe all the more precisely because I didn’t see them all the time, when their old-people-ness might start to get annoying.
Ahhh… so I am back home. I love it here. Except for the fact the Carolyn had to stay in the states because of fingerprinting problems with the FBI, meaning she has to either stay out of the country for 90 days or get her visa in the meantime, the latter of which is the plan, the FBI willing. We had to change our flights at the last minute because of all this, and elected to keep mine the same so our poor little house wasn’t sitting all alone for so long. Now I’m the one sitting here all alone for so long. But I can deal with it better than a house because a house, you know, doesn’t actually have a brain or anything. Although it sure seemed to look happy upon my return.
The landing in Lisbon was spectacular with clear blue skies. Our house is on that upper left peninsula there somewhere. And that’s the bridge modeled after the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. And the beautiful hodgepodge of Lisbon; our short-term rental apartment is off in the distance near the top somewhere.