Contrary to what some were wondering, no, we did not get hit by a
So where have we been and why has this blog been so quiet? Well, as with most things, there’s no one reason. The truth is, I think about writing posts all the time, but somehow, I always get sidetracked.
Like, I’ll see something strange – for example a giant panda taking pictures with tourists in the tourist district:
and I’ll wonder what a giant panda has to do with Portugal – which will send me to Google to see if there’s some connection between pandas and Portugal, but the first entry will be a youtube video, so off I’ll go to youtube where I’ll spend the next 7 hours watching videos of pandas being hilarious, but also otters, puppies, and penguins because youtube’s algorithm knows how to manipulate me like a box of clay and it will actually – and this is true – feed me videos titled “Some Penguins Turn to a Life of Crime” which I will definitely watch because how could I not watch that?
In the meantime, I will have completely forgotten about the whole pandas in Portugal thing until I look out the window, realize it’s dark, and wonder where the entire day disappeared to.
Other times, I will just BE the panda. Perplexed and confused, standing in the middle of a busy plaza in Lisbon surrounded by strangers speaking a foreign language, wondering what the hell I’m even doing living in this place.
Anyway, recently, while visiting the U.S. for the first time in almost a year, we had several friends and family members ask what’s been going on, so I figured it was time to post an update. Maybe a little FAQ to keep things moving…
FAQ #1: “Sooooo? How is it? Do you like it? Are you happy? Any regrets?”
As a general rule, we’re happy and have no regrets about moving. Look, nowhere is perfect. From San Diego’s prices to Boston’s weather, to DC’s traffic, there’s always something. Is Portugal perfect? No. If someone tells you Portugal is perfect, they’re probably trying to sell you their $500 online course entitled: “How to move to Portugal.” But, generally, for us, Portugal is a good fit and we’re happy to be here.
FAQ #2: What’s been the best thing about living there?
2 things jump to mind: the weather and the sense of safety.
The weather is self-explanatory. If you like sunshine, blue skies, and low humidity, Lisbon is pretty much perfection for a good chunk of the year. Last winter was pretty rainy which got a bit depressing after a while, but spring and summer more than made up for it.
As for safety, according to the Global Peace Index, which measures things like violent crime, political instability, access to weapons, and terrorist activity, Portugal ranks 7th in the world for peacefulness. By way of comparison, the U.S. comes in at 131st (of 163 total).
And you can feel it – everywhere you go and with everything you do.
The only time I am even remotely concerned about crime is when we’re in the tourist district, and that’s only because there are pickpockets.
I no longer worry about being in big crowds, I no longer worry about walking around by myself at night (other neighborhoods may have more issues, but ours feels very safe), and I no longer worry about being in the wrong place at the wrong time while bullets are flying.
And you can feel the differences in other ways.
While police may be visible at bigger events, they seem to be present more for traffic and crowd control rather than to head off another mass shooting/terrorist event. Visible security measures in and around public buildings and businesses are scant, and no one has a doorbell camera watching you as you walk down the street.
It is refreshingly relaxed.
FAQ #3: What’s been the worst thing about living there?
The thing that drives me crazy on a daily basis is the number of people in Lisbon who walk their dogs off leash. I don’t know why people do this here, but it’s a thing and it makes me nuts. (And yes, there are leash laws, posted signs, and fenced-in dog parks, but in Lisbon, a good percentage of dog owners ignore all of these things, and, unfortunately, the police are too “refreshingly relaxed” to care.)
Honestly, if people actually have their dogs under voice control, it’s not that much of an issue, but given the number of times we’ve been approached by dogs and realized the owner was nowhere to be found, or was standing across the way loudly-but-worthlessly calling their dog (or dogs), it is clear many do not. It’s just unnecessary and inconsiderate and if you ever want to listen to me rant about something for 7 hours straight just walk up to me and say: “Dogs off leash in Lisbon.”
FAQ #4: Have you experienced culture shock?
I used to think “culture shock” meant being weirded out by how things were done differently in a new place. Like the time we noticed our neighbors at a restaurant looking at us and realized it was because we were eating our cheeseburgers with our hands rather than cutting them up with a knife and fork the way a lot of Europeans do because they are actually socialists.
But that’s not what culture shock is.
Culture shock means being exhausted by change.
When you’re in a new country, you don’t know how anything works and you can’t effectively communicate, so there’s this low level stress that weighs on you every day. Here’s someone’s Facebook post absolutely nailing it:
None of it is “big stuff.” It’s little stuff that should be simple but never is. It’s the illness you’re not sure how to handle – “I think this might be strep throat, but there’s no such thing as a walk in medical care center here. Where do I go to get a quick culture taken?” It’s the problem with your bank account you can’t seem to solve because although the English speaking customer service representative promised someone from tech support would call you back, no one has and you don’t have the direct number to tech support and even if you did, you don’t have the vocabulary to explain the problem to a non-English speaker. It’s having to translate not just words, but heights and weights and distances and temperatures and currencies every single day – “How many kilos of sliced turkey do I want from the deli? Wait…what? You’re saying I don’t want ANY kilos because that’s FAR too much? Good to know.”
Dealing with this stuff day in and day out – otherwise easily-solved problems which are now exceedingly complicated to deal with, constant confusion as to how things work, persistent anxiety over daily living and tasks, all while starting over with building friendships – wears people down and sends many, many of them back to their home countries.
While we are more comfortable with some of these things because of our past nomadic lifestyle, it is still tough at times.
FAQ #5: How is your apartment/neighborhood?
We really like our apartment.
After living in less than 300 square feet for 6 years, 1,000 square feet (Sorry. 92 square meters) feels cavernous. Our place has everything we need to be comfortable, plenty of storage, lots of light, and provides easy accessibility to several fun neighborhoods.
As for the space itself, our apartment answers the question, “what would happen if someone furnished their entire place using only products from Ikea?”
I’m not kidding.
Between price considerations and convenience, we bought everything (every thing!) at Ikea.
Additionally, we had two requirements for our furnishings. First, everything had to be Thor-proof, and second, after 12 years in a beige/brown/cream house and 6 years in a beige/brown/cream RV, I refused to buy anything that was beige, brown, or cream.
We ended up settling on a lot of blues and grays along with dark furniture.
Does our living room have a certain “the waiting room at the psychiatrist’s office” vibe?
Yes, it does.
Was that what we were going for? No, it was not.
But!! It’s not beige/brown or cream!
FAQ #6: Do you miss the RV? Do you miss traveling around?
No. That was a fun chapter in our lives, but we’re happy to have moved on. You really can’t put a price on the joy that comes from flushing a toilet knowing you’ll never have to think about it again.
FAQ #7: How is Thor doing?
He’s doing great! He’s highly adaptable and is happy as long as we’re all together. He likes being a city dog in terms of exploring and checking out all the new smells and we have a small dog park near us that we can use to throw him his ball.
We do, however, miss having access to big fields and dog parks, and we’ve found it challenging to get him socialization. Related to what I mentioned above, very few people use the dog parks near us, opting instead to let their dogs play with other dogs in unfenced areas of human parks. Because we’re not willing to let him off leash in the middle of a busy city, we’re limited in how we can get him consistent social time with other dogs. Fortunately, we found a very affordable local doggie daycare that’s been great. We drop him off 2 or 3 times a week and he gets his butt-sniffin fix in a safe environment.
FAQ #8: How has the medical care been?
Fortunately, we haven’t had a need for anything major yet, but what we have used has been good. We have private insurance and use the private medical system so as to not overburden the public system. Even within the private system, everything costs a tiny fraction of what we paid in the U.S. and the care, at least so far, has been comparable.
FAQ #9: How is language learning coming along?
In some regards, I feel like I’ve made a ton of progress. For example, my tutor will speak to me completely in Portuguese and I understand the vast majority of what he’s saying. But he’s a tutor. He speaks slowly, enunciates every word, and keeps things on my level.
If I go into a grocery store, on the other hand, I will have absolutely no idea what the cashier is saying. I won’t even be able to tell you what words she’s using, much less what they mean.
And I find it incredibly difficult to actually put a sentence together.
If you’ve never studied one of these romance languages, what you need to understand is they are nuts.
Every noun has a gender, and multiple words in a sentence will change form depending on the gender of the noun you’re talking about.
So, not only do you need to learn the vocabulary word for the noun you’re talking about, but you need to learn its gender designation.
And to be clear, that gender designation is completely and utterly random. Worse, sometimes it’s the exact opposite of what you’d think.
Examples? The words for dress and bra are masculine while the words for suit and necktie are feminine.
So you have to know the word, you have to know the (random) gender of the word, and then you have to change the rest of the words in the sentence to match the gender of the object you’re talking about. Then you have to figure out where to put all the words (it’s “the book red” not “the red book”), and THEN you have to figure out the verb’s conjugation.
Example: here are all the possible ways you could use the verb “to walk”
The one you choose is dependent on who is walking and when
I walk, you walked, we will walk, they used to walk, he would walk (to work), I would walk (if I could…) and on and on…
Notice how, in English, the word “walk” usually doesn’t change? Well in Portuguese, the word “walk” changes every time depending on the person and the tense – which is what this chart shows.
And every single verb has a chart just like this.
So, forming a proper Portuguese sentence is a 14 step process and the person you’re talking to will, invariably, switch to English while you’re still struggling through step 3 because you can’t remember whether a toaster is a boy or a girl.
(It’s a girl, but a microwave is a boy, so…there ya go.)
Anyway, while I’ve been bashing my head against the desk trying to learn on my own, Kevin has been waiting for a spot in a formal high intensity language class. He just got a spot, so he will be on his own head-bashing journey soon.
FAQ #10: Does Portugal feel like “home?”
No. Not yet, and honestly, I’m not sure we’ll have that feeling again. “Home” is wherever the three of us are for as long as we’re there. In some ways, that feels a bit sad. In others, it feels incredibly freeing.
FAQ #11: Was coming back to the U.S. weird?
Not really. I had read a lot of accounts of people experiencing “reverse culture shock,” so I had a good idea of things that might feel odd but it just wasn’t that big a deal. Everything is definitely bigger – the stores, the roads, the cars, the people…but the only thing I found somewhat jarring – but welcome – was how chatty and friendly American workers are.
In Portugal, there’s not a lot of small talk, not a lot of “the customer is always right” mentality, and no tipping culture. People just ring up your purchases and send you on your way. And apparently, that’s the case in many European countries.
In the U.S., there’s a lot more friendly small talk. Honestly, it’s nice. Except for when it’s annoying. But it was something I missed and enjoyed experiencing again while we were in the States.
FAQ #12: Why haven’t you been blogging?
When I started this blog, we had just made the decision to buy a motorhome and spend a couple years traveling around the U.S. While researching everything about RV travel, I ran into several blogs and quickly realized there was a nice community of people who made friends with one another through their travel blogs. Once I became part of that community, it fueled our entire social life while on the road.
But there is no equivalent community here in Portugal. I have run into just a handful of expat blogs and I don’t see the same real-life connections being made in the comments sections. Here, it’s more about Facebook groups, InterNations, and Meetup. So, given everything else we’ve been dealing with, blogging has fallen pretty far down on my priority list.
Additionally, there’s a lot going on in Portugal right now – in terms of housing shortages, a cost of living crisis, and a rather out-of-touch government. While we haven’t had any direct problems, there is clearly some resentment brewing among the local population about all of the foreigners coming here. So writing a blog like this – in the way I write – has the potential to cause offense. Not everyone gets my sense of humor,1 and I don’t want to create unnecessary problems for myself and other immigrants because of what I say on here. Nor do I want to walk on eggshells or limit what subjects I talk about because I’m afraid someone will be offended.
Simply put, sometimes it’s just easier to shut the ole piehole.
So, I don’t know if I’ll post any more articles on this site, but either way, we are happy to report that, one year in, we are alive and well in Lisbon, and we hope you all are doing well too!
- Because you just know that right now, someone, somewhere, is wondering “was she actually making fun of how socialists eat hamburgers???” ↩︎