I will be the first to admit that since I moved to Portugal (and, frankly, some time before), I’ve been a little hard on the U.S. at times. In fact, when I told my sister ahead of time what the title of my new blog was going to be, she pretty much fell out of her chair. It isn’t that I hate the country of my birth, I just think there is a tremendous amount of opportunity wasted, and I do think the country is far more wired for the sole pleasure of the top 10% than the country likes to admit.
And because it is chock full of resources with the world’s third largest land mass (the two largest being Russia and Canada, both of which largely consist of a whole lotta nothin’), as well as the third largest population, even if it were led by –and I’m just spit-ballin’ here– a semi-literate psychologically troubled serial-lying bigoted publicity hound, or, for those on the other side of the coin, a man born I think just shortly after the American Civil War, it would still be one of the most influential and formidable countries in the world.
By the way, almost everyone knows China and India are the two largest countries population-wise, but can you name the fourth biggest? Most people can’t.
Okay, okay, quit twisting my arm and stretching my underwear over my head. It’s Indonesia. I don’t know how such a large country is able to run so far under the radar, but it sure seems to be a country few westerners think of very often.
In any case, when we started our life in Portugal, I immediately noticed all the little differences, and since we want to do our best to acclimate and accustom ourselves to this new society, we have generally directed our focus toward looking at those differences in a positive light, rather than spending any time griping about what’s different than back home.
But now that we’ve been here for a handful of years, I think we are comfortable acknowledging the things we’ve noticed that the U.S. does better. This isn’t by any means a comprehensive list, nor is it in any order of importance. Indeed, some of them are pretty trivial. But I like noticing the little differences. Besides, it’s not like you’ll ever read about the hazards of European garden hoses in any ol’ travel guide. Fortunately, baldsasquatch.com isn’t any ol’ travel guide. Actually, I don’t know what it is, frankly, but it is willing to take on the controversial garden hose crisis issue that has plagued Europe since they stopped growing pasta on trees.
Before we begin, I might also add that most of my observations are actually about Portugal, because of course that’s where we live. But I’m saying “Europe” because everyone already expects the United States to do most things better than little ol’ Portugal and its population of not much more than that of New York City. So saying “Europe” makes it look more like two behemoths going at it. In other words, they probably do everything perfect in Germany, but we don’t live there, so nyah.
Okay, so I have to lead with garden hoses since most of you must be wondering what the heck I was even talking about. Here’s the deal: almost every house in America has outdoor spouts with the same simple screw-on hose connection. If you want to string some hoses together, you just screw another hose to the end of the first one. Almost all hoses have that connection built in. And if you want to attach a sprinkler or some such, it’s also built in and you just screw that on too. Easy peasy.
But when it comes to Europe, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some garden supply salesman is currently sailing around the Mediterranean on a 200 foot yacht paid for by the commissions he made by talking an entire continent into a garden hose set-up that would be the envy of a NASA engineer.
To connect a hose or an extension of any kind, you need to manually attach a couple of connections on each end, and in the proper order or you have to start all over. Even that first step isn’t always easy. Or watertight. So not only do you end up with a myriad of parts and pieces, partly due to the fact that there are at least two different hose sizes, even after you finally get everything properly attached, after about five uses they almost always start leaking, and after about ten uses you have to take it all apart and reattach everything because all of a sudden there’s water spewing in every direction except the direction you want it to go.
I really hate European garden hoses.
I’m no electrician, but I am well aware that Europe’s 220v power system has a lot of advantages over America’s 110v system. But when it comes to plugging things in, the American system makes life a lot easier on the consumer. In Europe, the two prong holes might be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal, and you can’t always see which way they go if the outlet is on or near the floor. When you’re over 60, getting down on your hands and knees to plug something in is a fifteen minute ordeal punctuated by lots of old people groans. Also, most wall outlets only feature one receptacle. And we still haven’t quite figured out why some plugs will slip right into the holes, and with others you’ve got to jiggle and wriggle and sometimes stomp on to get it to connect, especially with power strips, even if it’s the only thing you’re plugging into it.
Also, because of electrocution concerns, light switches are on the outside of most bathrooms. We’ve gotten used to that, but I gotta figure if the litigious and safety-obsessed United States can figure out how to have light switches inside the bathroom without electrocuting everyone, Europe can too. Of course, maybe the 220v can turn you into Frankenstein’s bride, I dunno.
Thank God for GPS systems on smart phones. Years ago, when I first visited Italy, I didn’t have a smart phone or a GPS. Which meant that when I drove I got lost approximately 5 times an hour. Street signs were random at best, and featured all sorts of different designs and locations, and weren’t even always accurate. Even worse, when we asked Italians for directions, they would just laugh and blow pasta out their nose at us. Italians don’t always appreciate tourists, especially the lost kind.
Street sign poverty is pretty true of Portugal as well. Since we rarely explore without our iPhone’s GPS letting us know where we are at all times, we really don’t even pay attention to street signs anymore anyway, not that we see them very often. But in America, you’d be hard pressed to find any street corner without the ubiquitous green signs telling you what street you’re on. In fact, I daresay there are probably ten road signs in America for every one in Europe. Of course, most Europeans don’t have any idea what a sasquatch is, so there’s a whole lotta signage right there that wouldn’t make it onto a European road.
Real Estate Sales
Imagine trying to buy a house in the U.S. without the MLS service, or Zillow, or lockboxes, or real estate agents with information on pretty much everything on every house on the market: like when it last sold, what it sold for, the exact square footage, and so on. Well, that’s what buying a house in Portugal is like. There is no central clearinghouse of information or listings, in fact the same house might be listed for different prices in different real estate networks. You also have to call and make an appointment to see any house you’re interested in with the buyer and/or his or her real estate agent needing to meet you there. Indeed, a Portuguese real estate agent has to work ten times as hard to find you houses as an American real estate agent does. I’d say Portugal is a good twenty or thirty years behind the US in terms of real-estate-sale efficiency.
Credit Card Fraud
We unfortunately learned this first hand after we discovered our Portuguese bank account had been cleaned out by someone who somehow obtained our bank card information and proceeded to max it out before I even knew what was happening. In the U.S., we would’ve had our money back in a matter of hours. Here, it took nearly a year.
That said, part of the reason for that is America is, shall we say, slightly credit card and consumerist crazed, so if you want to steal card numbers and defraud people, the U.S. is by far the juiciest target in the world. Because fraud became so rampant, eventually the banks, credit card companies, and the government had to step up and protect the consumer. So in a way, America’s efficiency at restoring stolen credit card purchases was a response to a problem of its own making. It’s not as prevalent a problem in Europe, but that’s just by comparison. It certainly exists, and we are living proof. While we got almost all of our money back, waiting for months on end (with very little communication or support) was a bit ridiculous.
This is a category maybe only Pacific Northwesterners will appreciate, but smoked salmon is one of my very favorite foods. They do offer something they call smoked salmon here (salmao fumado), but it’s really lox, which is what you get after soaking salmon in brine and cold-smoking it (whatever that is… I generally try to avoid colds and I certainly wouldn’t be caught dead smoking one). All I know is it’s mushy and doesn’t have that smokey flavor you get by smoking cured, dried salmon in a hot smoker for hours. Genuine Pacific Northwest smoked salmon may be the first thing I look for on a menu when we get back to the states.
Speaking of smoking, there’s no question America has led the way in terms of forcing smokers out of buildings and away from entrances, relegating them to dark alleys to guiltily suck down their cancer sticks as if they were modern-day lepers. We’re seeing Portugal slowly move toward some of that; in fact while we’ve been here new laws have been passed restricting smoking inside restaurants (which may sound rather quaint to most Americans).
Of course, before America goes patting itself on the back too much, what America takes away in lung disease it puts right back in heart disease, i.e. mostly because of fast food. So while the Portuguese smoke a lot more than Americans (27.9% to 15.1%), their life expectancy is 81.3 years, while it’s only 78.5 years for Americans. In fact, Americans are the fattest large country in the world. By that I mean while it ranks 14th overall, countries 1-13 are all island countries in the Pacific. I heard from a tour guide that when Hawaiians, for instance, were first discovered by westerners, they were the picture of good health. Even people in their 60s and 70s looked like fit 30 year-olds. The main thing that changed the “Pacific Islander look” to that of the sumo? Cattle. They switched from fish to beef, and as a result became a beefy group of people.
Here’s a little more semi-interesting trivia: when I looked up the percentage of smokers, numbers one and two by far were Andorra (Quick! Tell me where Andorra is!) and Luxembourg. Andorra is a tiny country bordering the north of Spain and the south of France, and of course Luxembourg is another tiny landlocked country in Europe, but we’re talking over 6,300 cigarettes per year per person, while number three Belarus clocks in at 2,911. I mean, that’s an enormous difference, well over double! I’m surprised we didn’t notice a haze of smoke over Luxembourg when we visited. Anyway, the U.S. ranks 68th in the world, which is one of the better worldwide comparison rankings I’ve seen for the U.S. as I’ve researched various things over the years. Brunei, by the way, has by far the lowest cigarette consumption in the world. Quick, tell me where Brunei is!
It’s no secret that America is the epicenter of entertainment media. But never is that so apparent to an American than when we travel around the world. The malls play American pop music. The TV is filled with Hollywood movies and American TV shows. Most Portuguese learn English as their second language simply from watching TV. Indeed, even when the young Portuguese swear, they use American swear words, just like in the movies. I know Portugal is a small country, but our favorite TV show comparison is watching “O Preco Certo,” the Portuguese version of “The Price is Right.” One looks like it might have been made for a college class project, the other is full of glam and offers cars and boats as prizes. I think you can guess which is which.
One thing about Americans, they will embrace just about any cuisine in the world and make it their own. Look over any list of restaurants in any city in America, and you’ll find Mexican, Chinese, Brazilian, British, Irish, German, Italian, Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese, Thai, Indian… well hell, I might as well just like every country there is. In Portugal, I would guess that 80-90% of the restaurants are essentially Portuguese. Sure, you can find anything if you look hard enough; and just as in America, Chinese and Italian restaurants are pretty common. But most restaurants here are single location eateries that serve up a delicious assortment of seafood, pork, and/or beef, accompanied by veggies, rice, and potatoes. Ironically, despite our love for that very same food, in ethnic-food-obsessed America, you almost never hear of a Portuguese restaurant. I’m guessing that’s because Portuguese food is so elegantly simple, and often based on the fact that the seafood they’re serving was often swimming in the ocean that very morning. Maybe it just doesn’t have the “cachet” of Italian pasta or French croissants. Whatever it is, Americans are missing out on some very tasty cuisine!
Americans love their conspiracy theories so much that the government even set up a hotline and resource center to help direct people on how to properly protect their Elvis sightings. True story.
I really don’t think there’s any country in the world that has so many people believing so many different stories that have so little basis in truth. I’m not really sure why that is, but it has become a near epidemic.
But I really only added this as a category to emphasize a little piece of trivia I mentioned above: very few Europeans even know what a Sasquatch is. So that’s a little bit of irony in that after I named my blog Bald Sasquatch, I moved to Europe, where no one has any idea what that means. Which is probably a good metaphor for my writing anyway. Ha!