First of all, I don’t hate America. I just love grabby headlines.
This post is actually in response to a family member who recently berated me for criticizing the US too often on this blog. I was told I should just stick to offering up a travelogue. Why the world needs another one of those, I don’t know, but there it was in the suggestion box.
I’ll admit I’ve offered up many comparisons after moving over here, and they don’t always reflect well on the US. But the truth is the bulk of them have been noted mostly because what I’ve experienced has been something of a surprise. I figured if I’ve been surprised, even after having the good fortune to have traveled the world a little before this move, then other people might be surprised to hear about them as well.
I also have a personal conviction whereby I refuse to believe in default patriotism. The place I was born was an accident of birth, not a choice I made. To me, being proud of something I had absolutely nothing to do with seems a little silly. I also happen to believe that patriotism is neck and neck with religion for being the ideology most responsible for creating worldwide misery. World War II would not have happened without rampant patriotism, because that’s largely what fueled World War I, and the second war was simply the finale of what was actually one long war. The result of it all was that Europe decided to work on ways to avoid such catastrophes in the future, which ultimately resulted in the European Union. The EU has actually done a very good job of making its people feel more attached to humanity in general, not just those who were born in the same country as themselves (the über patriotic politicians who refuse to learn from history notwithstanding).
In addition, you can see anything we have seen anytime you want just by doing a Google search. If you want to see what Sesimbra looks like, just type “Sesimbra” into the search engine. I’m not a good enough photographer to add much of anything to what is already out there. But I do have thoughts and observations, and anyone who knows me can surely attest to the fact that I’m very open and willing to share them. Not out of smugness or look-what-I-can-do-and-you-can’t-edness, I just share, that’s all. And I do think that an American moving to Portugal is uncommon enough, much less done by someone who’s willing to publicly share his or her experiences, to warrant some interest by those who don’t know anyone else who has done the same.
But the main reason I apparently said one thing too many for at least one of my readers is that I’ve truly been surprised at what I see now that I’m looking from the outside in, and surprise begets repetition. “Did you see that? Really, did you see that? Hey, you, did you see that? Wow!” To the extent that I’ve already expressed much of my surprise, I’ve taken the criticism to heart and am endeavoring to tone that down a little. But this will never be just another travelogue, and I will never refrain from criticizing where I see fit, mostly because I believe every bad circumstance that has ever occurred in the world deserves more criticism. As soon as criticism is eliminated, things like Hitler or Nixon happen.
Like most Americans, I had a worldview that was greatly impacted by the continuous stream of propaganda and societal agreements that something is the way it is simply because we all agree that it is.
As a result, when we moved to Portugal, I expected it to be less comfortable. I expected some goods to be cheaper, but that we’d have to make do with not having comforts we were used to having in the US. The first time we went to a medical clinic, I expected to wait eight hours for an appointment with a doctor less capable than the ones in the US. I expected Europeans to be less polite than Americans because I already knew they don’t smile at strangers, they’re rather rude in queues, and they drive like bats out of hell. I also expected the standard of living to be significantly less than that of the average American, especially in a poorer country like Portugal.
I was willing to endure all this, including the agony of beating up my aging brain by learning a new language, just to explore and see the world. Besides, my blood is decidedly Western European, according to a DNA test I took. So this is actually my homeland as it were, so maybe it was also a desire to see where I’m actually from.
I also expected that the populace would be laboring under a system that was less “free” than what America enjoys. After all, America is the Land of the Free, right?
Turns out that recent studies (I’ve read several) show that actually the US is quite a ways down the list of countries in terms of just freedom.
Let that sink in for a second. America no longer leads the world in freedom.
The following will surely be counterintuitive for a lot of people, but the left-leaning governments are the ones that offer the most freedom for their people. I’ll leave it to others to figure out the whys and wherefores of that, but I’ve seriously been shocked to realize I’ve moved from the Land of the Free to the Land of the Freer. I figured all the crime and shootings and lopsided wealth were crosses we had to bear for living in a land focused on freedom. Turns out I was wrong. We’re all wrong about a lot of things we believe, and the only way to find out which ones they are is to have an open mind, listen to people who have done things you haven’t, experience as much as you can yourself, and try to run every piece of information you encounter outside the lenses of your own preconceived notions.
In my opinion, if you haven’t changed your mind about anything remotely significant in a while, you’re not thinking. Because if you think you already know it all and everything you believe is surely correct, then you might as well just kick the bucket now, because living is growing, and growing comes from learning. Besides, you’d be dead wrong. Nobody in the world has a belief set that is 100% correct. It’s simply impossible. That’s what makes us human.
I’ve been continuously surprised, shocked even, at what I’ve learned from this move. I’ve discovered that Europe is in fact significantly ahead of so many things that at times the US looks like a third-world country in comparison. That’s a little stronger than I intend, but the reality is that we’ve been told over and over that America is the greatest country in the world. So when you find out it’s really not, at least in so very many ways, it’s a little startling, and you tend to go on and on about it especially if you’re a sharer.
I was also taken aback at a recent exchange on Facebook after I shared a fellow traveler’s blog who observed many of the same things I had.
The Facebook comment was, “I am fortunate enough to have traveled, but I try not to be smug about it.” So I went back and re-read the original post. For the life of me I can’t see any smugness in it anywhere. Just another person sharing their observations after experiencing something for the first time. I actually became angry, because by throwing the smug word around you’re essentially calling for people who experience something new to shut the hell up. “Don’t give us your observations, we just want to see the pictures. Or nothing at all because we don’t want to hear that where we live might not really be quite as nice in comparison. We’re stuck here, so quit being so smug about traveling around.”
I just think it’s sad when people aren’t interested in hearing about anything someone else has done. I also think it’s tragic when people share their thoughts and feelings and experiences but are slammed for doing so. I’m not traveling for anyone else at all, but I don’t mind sharing what I’ve experienced because that’s simply who I am, not because I have any agenda.
But I also realized that if someone is reading something and expects smugness, for example, then smugness is what they’ll perceive, no matter what was written. A writer can only control a certain percentage of what someone takes in. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written an email only to find out the response to it was completely different than what I thought I wrote. I’ve even read back the exact words out loud, only to hear, “Well, what you meant was…” Um, no, what I meant was exactly what the words said. The undercurrent is what you brought to the table. That and maybe I’m just a shitty writer.
I read an article a long time ago that listed the world’s riskiest professions. I was surprised to see that they included “writers” on the list. After some contemplation on that, I realized why that may be the case. Because when you write something down, you’re exposing the world to your innermost thoughts. You’re opening yourself up for criticism and ridicule. Once they’re in print, you can’t deny having written them. It’s easier, and safer, just to shut up. So most people do.
But adventurers don’t tend to play it safe or easy, and I’d say selling almost everything you own and moving to another country qualifies someone as at least a little bit of a risk taker. So I take the criticisms and any ridicule in stride. Obviously I’d much rather be showered with book contracts or win Pulitzer Prizes for what I write, especially if they have a category for Travel Blogs Read By Less Than Ten People, but you can’t opine about much of anything without being subject to ridicule and criticism. Just ask most of today’s newspeople.
Anyway, I’m just gonna keep doing what I do. Some of it is to memorialize. Some of it is to share what I’ve experienced, just because I’m a sharer, and that’s pretty much the only reason. Read it, or not, I don’t care. Frankly I usually have absolutely no idea if anyone does or not. The only thing I do know is that almost no one on my side of the family does (not counting our kids, even though most of them don’t either). They’re all pretty tired of me I suppose, or simply have no interest in anything beyond the borders of the state they live in. Fine with me. But I’m just gonna keep being me, which means posts with poorly-framed pictures, lame attempts at humor (I’m happy with hearing about one person’s light chuckle once in a while), observations, opinions, comparisons, and a sharing of the ongoing surprises that living in a land like Portugal offers us.
So there you have it. Next up: Poorly-framed pictures and lame attempts at humor from our next trip, which is Rome. For a few hundred euros, we get to fly to The Eternal City and take in all that history, which is one of the main reasons we did this, apparently in addition to alienating my family lol.