We’ll take two fillings with a side of root canal. To go, please.

Aside from dropping off your kids with an ex who just sued you for everything you’ve got, there are few destinations that cause more angst than going to the dentist or DMV.

We decided to do the latter two in the same week (neither of us have the first problem). figuring, if you’re gonna get tortured, you might as well get it all over with at the same time.

Our new dentist’s office is a small house that, like many Portuguese businesses, can be kinda hard to find if you don’t know where it is.

So we began with the dentist.

Most services here are best obtained by asking a local friend where they go. Businesses don’t do so much with websites here, and as far as I know they have no “paginas amarelas” (yellow pages), or any other colored pages for that matter.


Fortunately, we received the identical recommendation from two local friends, and so made our appointments.

Now, our experience with the private health care system in Portugal has been nothing short of amazing, plus very illuminating. Carolyn has received better care and more thorough diagnoses than she ever received in the United States, and at a cost that’s less than the insurance premiums we were paying. All without any insurance or government assistance at all.

We’re used to never knowing what anything will cost aside from our insurance co-pay (until we see the three page bill listing a $1,000 charge for a $1 bag of saline), which has resulted in medical costs skyrocketing to absurdity in the US. For example, the average cost in the U.S. for an MRI scan is $1,119, compared to $181 in Spain. Plus I think the system in the U.S. also uses the MRI to scan your wallet.

IMG_9130So it was of little surprise, although still unexpected, when we spotted a real live Dental Services Price List proudly mounted on the wall. That’s about $70 for a filling, which seems plenty fair to me.

On top of that, our new dentist is a young woman (which seems like it should be more common than not- I’d rather smaller hands stuffed themselves in my mouth instead of Doctor Shrek prying it open large enough to insert a basketball), and is an excellent dentist at that. Like our other medical experiences, we are absolutely delighted with the service we received.

So having turned that trepidation into delight, we set our sights on the Portuguese equivalent of the DMV, which is called the IMT. We had put off getting our licenses, even considering never exchanging them, mostly because we have a residence card which serves the same purpose as a driver’s license in the states, and otherwise the dearth of traffic cops means we have never had to show our current license. Plus, you know, our history of wanting to avoid the DMV whenever possible.

DMV goalBut we decided that we better get with the program because the law in fact says we must, but also because someone told us if we got in an accident we might not be covered because we didn’t have a lawful license as it were. I don’t think that’s true (more on that later), but regardless, it seemed like we might as well remain law-abiding wanna-be citizens.

In fact, I had already tried to get one many months prior, but came up empty-handed. The reason for this is that I did a Google search on what I’d need to get the licenses exchanged before I went in. The first website Google provided dutifully listed four documents I’d need. So I rounded them up and drove out to the IMT.

I left in the morning with expectations to be back sometime after dinner, since the IMT is essentially the same as the DMV, and the wait times at a DMV fall somewhere between an hour and “Oh my God I didn’t realize he was dead… no wonder the waiting room smells so bad!”

DyingIt turns out even the Portuguese equivalent of the DMV is generally less torturous than the American version. After only about 20 minutes (and no encounters with corpses), my number was called, and I plopped in front of a nice woman who spoke no English whatsoever. Now, this was a number of months ago, which means I had at least four less Portuguese words in my vocabulary, so we struggled a bit. Eventually she called over a gentleman who spoke English well, and we sorted it out.

It turns out the website Google used to answer my question had it all wrong. I didn’t need two of the documents at all, and as to the third she had no idea what it even was. At least I got one right though!

One of things she told me I needed was an apostille of my driver’s license in order to certify its authenticity. An apostille is sort of like a notary, except it’s recognized internationally. (I have to explain that because even my word processor program thinks “apostille” is wrong every time I type it, so it’s not even an American English word I guess. Plus the little red lines showing up all over my editable copy of this is driving me a little crazy. I hayte misspeling things.)

strikhedoniaSo I bagged the whole project for a while, although we did get the apostille done while we were in the states.

Months later, I was looking through what is otherwise a very helpful Facebook group, where it stated that we needed to have an apostille of our driving records, not our licenses. When I read that, I despaired a bit, and figured the hell with all of it. That’s something of a pain in the butt to get, especially when you’re overseas. So I thought I’d just keep driving with a US license until it becomes a problem. But then I remembered that the IMT lady had told me I just needed it of the license. I remembered it clearly because we had a conversation around the fact that it was simply a fraud prevention issue. Since I already had that in hand, I decided to ignore the new advice and try it again.

We’re not quite sure what to make of this door knob that’s only a foot off the ground at the IMT office.

After braving the Door For Midgets and bringing Carolyn with me this time so we could experience the torture together, we sat before two separate ladies, side-by-side. We’ve learned that they don’t like you to take only one ticket even if you want to be helped as a couple. Everyone gets a ticket (no idea what they do with conjoined twins). But at least we were side by side.


There are four things you do need, just not the ones Google told me I needed. One of the requirements is a doctor’s exam, the results of which are placed in a computer system that can be accessed by the IMT. (After seeing little old ladies’ heads barely visible above the steering wheel driving 40 miles an hour on American freeways, it seems to me this is actually a very good idea.) And we had already gotten that done.

They also required an apostille on… wait for it… our U.S. driver’s license, not our record. I heaved a sigh of relief at that one.

Otherwise, all you need is your actual U.S. driver’s license (which they take away if you’re successful at bringing the right paperwork), our “NIF,” which is a fiscal number every resident needs to have (especially to buy things like cars and houses), and our residence card. Oh, and 30 euros.

But, Portugal being Portugal, it wasn’t quite as easy as all that. Because, the apostille was from the state of Washington, which is where we’re registered as residents in the U.S. But they’d never seen one from Washington before. The state had photocopied the license and attached the page into one three-page document that was stapled together with a piece of cardboard on the corner that essentially said: “Do not remove or this whole thing is frickin’ invalid! Plus we’ll come confiscate your mattress too, because we know you must have torn that notice off as well!”

FireworksBut because it was a photocopy and a foreign document they’d never seen before, the ladies in the IMT were inclined to refuse it, telling us to go to the American consulate where they should be able to, somehow, do their own verification on… well… the same pieces of paper. One of the ladies spoke no English so we typed to her through Google Translate. We kept telling her there is nothing better or more accurate than what we already gave her, and that we doubted the consulate would have any more way of telling that it was an accurate document than they could.

The other lady helping us did speak English, and after paging through the three pages over and over, finally got up and disappeared behind a door. She eventually returned about twenty minutes later (while our spirited typing discussion was getting us nowhere with Bureaucrat Number One), and said that she thought they could accept them, but if the powers-that-be determined we needed something else, they’d be in touch.

Both ladies were very pleasant and friendly. It’s simply clear that if they don’t have exactly what they expect, all bets are off, and you’re beholden to that particular bureaucrat. We’ve seen this happen over and over here. The result is that if you don’t get the answer you want from one, you go to another. If the English-speaking gal hadn’t been there to help, chances are we would have had to have contacted the American consulate, and who knows what would have happened after that. My guess is we would have come back to the IMT with nothing more than we had the last time, hoping for another employee.

But we got our licenses.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t be shocked if we receive a letter in the mail telling us we still need to go to the consulate. If that happens, oh well, we’re just glad we’re retired!

Funny car wreckAs to not having our insurance covered because I have a US license, I seriously doubt that opinion as well. We were talking to a Portuguese resident who told me that car insurance here insures the car. So if you’re driving someone else’s car, you better hope they have insurance, and you’re sure as hell not covered in a rental. Which may be one of the reasons why the auto insurance company never bothered to wonder what our driving records were, I guess. Maybe they figure it’s always the car’s fault? In any case, the insurance was significantly less expensive than in the U.S., even though I could’ve wrecked 365 cars in the last year in the U.S. and it wouldn’t have mattered. In fact, with the low cost of all insurances and just about everything else here, I’ve begun thinking that American insurance companies are the main organizations to blame for the high cost of living in the US. And maybe for Trump as well.

As for Portugal, if someone here ever tells you they’re an expert on some government policy and you absolutely have to do X, Y, and Z, they’re either delusional or full of dodo caca. You can’t possibly be an expert, because you never have any idea what’s going to go down once you start down the bureaucratic road with the Portuguese. On the plus side, almost everyone we interact with in the government is friendly, well-meaning, and polite.

I just need to work on my Obi-Wan Kenobi mind control skills a little more: “You don’t need to see his identification… these aren’t the Americans you’re looking for!”

At least the IMT gives you a comfy couch in which to wait and a fireplace to keep it cozy! Actually, that was taken in the waiting room in the dentist’s office. A great dentist with comfortable surroundings, plus magazines in Portuguese so we can pretend to look like we’re understanding what we’re reading. Where are the Highlights magazines in Portuguese?

Why we’ve fallen so much in love with Portugal and the Portuguese

Honeymoon phaseI felt a sudden urge to revisit my affection for this land we now call home, especially now that you might say the “honeymoon phase” is over. We’ll have been here two years come January, which is long enough to either fall more in love or start noticing more of the warts.

(As an aside, I’m delighted to report that our own personal honeymoon phase is continuing: despite living together 24/7 and almost 365, Carolyn and I are more in love than ever, and I’m so KChappy to be sharing this experience with her. My wife is always my number one priority, so this opportunity to live in a new country and “show her the world” makes me feel as if my life is really worth living. We’re having a ball, and are so happy we took this risk and made the sacrifices it has taken to be here.)

But back to Portugal:

The more we learn about these people and this country’s culture, the more I fall in love with them. The other day, we had something of a history lesson from a well-educated Portuguese professor, who pointed out the following:

Christopher Columbus Funny 41. Christopher Columbus first approached the Portuguese royalty to fund his voyage to find India. Portugal turned him down, because they knew damn well that India was in the other direction. So he approached the Spanish instead, who were not as well-informed as the Portuguese. It worked out for Columbus, but only because the Spanish were not as adept at the whole sailing thing. I guess it is sometimes better to be lucky than smart.

2. Portugal did in fact figure out how to get back and forth to India (which brought them tea, which they introduced to the English, and we all know what happened from there). Eventually a Portuguese princess married an English king and as part of her dowry they gave the English the city of Bombay, which ultimately helped England gain a foothold for conquering India and beyond. So you could say that Portugal had a lot to do with the discovery of America and starting England’s rise to world dominance. Hell, let’s throw in an iconic part of America’s history: tossing tea into Boston harbor. That would never have happened without Portugal. It might have been toasters instead, and Boston Toaster Party just doesn’t have the same resonance as Boston Tea Party.

Quotrape+the+fields+pillage+the+womenquot+_69296e398ec966b3fa6bc37c4e75888c3. Portugal was never that interested in conquering lands, they simply wanted to open up trade, especially since the Spanish were blocking their trade routes over land. Gotta love a people who didn’t set out to kill and dominate the natives just to be macho. Perhaps they’ve always been ahead of their time. In fact, they even had a law whereby if you had sexual relations with a native, you had to marry her. So none of that raping and pillaging stuff. Indeed, they were able to leave Portuguese surnames all over the world without killing people to do it. In fact it was because of lovin’ em!

4. mom-when-is-dad-coming-back-he-just-left-to-33229804Portugal takes a lot of pride in the fact that Spain, despite their larger size, was never able to conquer Portugal. At one point they did have a Spanish monarch in Portugal, but that was due to marriage, and it only happened because their young Portuguese king went off to war and was never heard from again. The Spanish king was next in line for the throne, and so he sat upon it. The Portuguese waited about 80 years before they finally decided their guy was never coming back and so overthrew the Spanish king. That’s a lot of patience!

5. When Portugal overthrew their dictator in the 1970’s, it was without bloodshed. They simply exiled the bad actors to Brazil (I wonder if that has anything to do with the mess Brazil is now in?). Apparently, it takes a lot for them to get fed up, but when they do get fed up, they don’t go shooting off their mouths… or guns, they just make it happen.

I think these historical facts are important and relevant even today, especially in light of America’s current political dramas. For instance, in Steven Pinker’s latest book, Enlightenment Now, he states that Portugal is one of only three Western nations that haven’t recently been poisoned by “populist” political movements (the other two are Canada and Spain).

Personally, I think much of this is due to the same cultural attitude as demonstrated in the way they handled their missing king hundreds of years ago. I really don’t think any strident right wing politics can make much of a mark in Portugal.7X5Yy5g They seem to be uninterested in outside political influences, and they definitely don’t scream at each other for whatever political differences they may have with each other. It’s so strange to look at everything going on in the United States from the outside while living in a country that is 100 times more peaceful and calm. The Portuguese have always been this way, apparently, and there ain’t anyone shouting political slogans from a rooftop who’s going to change it.

Eeyore messThey also have a sort of a negative “Eeyore-ish” approach to life, embracing the melancholic fado as their national music and having a word in their vocabulary, saudade, which is considered more or less untranslatable, but refers to melancholic longing or yearning. Personally, I think this serves to keep them grounded and humble. Since I believe humility is the cornerstone to good human behavior, I would blame the lack of humility as one of the key reasons politics is tearing America apart.

I’m also of the opinion that while the Portuguese are considered poor in comparison with other EU countries, they are an example of why “just enough money” is really more than enough money. Everyone dresses well, albeit casually. There are plenty of cars on the road, and if you don’t have one, there’s plenty of mass transit. There are few homeless. Their basic needs of health care and education through college are covered. Most people are on the same stratus financially. LebowskiBecause their culture doesn’t revolve around money, they’re not stepping on each other’s heads competing for it. You also can watch an entire American TV show without one commercial interrupting it, largely for the same reason. They take their time eating, and talking, and just being with each other. In other words, they have their priorities straight.

If I were still Catholic, I would view all of this as confirmation that Mother Mary did in fact appear to three Portuguese children in Fatima. If history, attitude, and culture were the defining traits of “God’s people,” I’d pick the Portuguese too.

Actually, I guess I already have.