Back in the Land of Too Much: Round Pegs in Square Holes

We returned to the US with a mission: Obtain approval from the Portuguese government for a long-term visa.  In addition to amassing the documents and jumping through the bureaucratic hoops we looked forward to visiting with friends and fam.  However, our return to “The Homeland” seemed to be a slow downhill slide from simplicity to unanticipated complications.

Now don’t get us wrong; we are true-blue, passport-carrying Americans.  We like to think of ourselves as a contented mix of sunny, southern California and mountainous, western Montana (the hot and the cold, the yin and the yang) who willing relocated in 2002 to North Padre Island in South Texas. Having experienced the phenomenon of reverse culture shock previously we prepared ourselves again for the symptoms and looked forward to our return with great expectations and anticipation. That was until things began to go decidedly south.

It began just before we left Portugal for a return to the States, three days before our departure, with a scramble for alternative accommodations after we received news that the place we were going to stay was no longer available due to a family emergency.  Summer in Corpus Christi is high season and, as beachgoers pour into the city to visit the seashore and island, availability goes down as prices go up.  We reached out to our former property manager/realtor who scoured her listings and found us an efficiency apartment – overpriced but within our budget and on the island for our stay.

Miles of beach and open sky - Padre Island

Miles of beach and open sky – Padre Island

Our second indication of the deep do-do which awaited us was found at the car rental counter of the airport in our adopted city. We had reserved a rental car for a couple of days with the idea that we’d find a cheaper rental offsite later. It was during this transaction that we discovered if you did not own an automobile, which was of necessity insured, you could not cover a rental with your car insurance. Well duh! So, (and here’s the rub) if the car was X dollars per day to rent the insurance was a whopping 2X dollars per day. Somehow $111.95 per day was a bit steep for a sub-compact auto which barely held us and our luggage.  We tried another car rental agency the next day with a representative who oozed charm (but no ethics) and tried to finagle the insurance issue.  Luckily for us, our insurance agent called him on the slight-of-hand, the distinction between renting and leasing a car.  If we’d had an accident it could have been ugly. And so we accepted that a rental car was not an option.

Plan B, suggested by our insurance agent – with rhyming first and last names, a wide and very white smile, brightly colored talons, who called us “Sugar” and blessed our day – was to lease a car. We grasped the lifeline and decided upon a $1300/month car from the only short-term lease agency in town.  We’d gotten our insurance down to a manageable rate but the 2000 a month mileage cap, which we’d been assured was something we could negotiate, was chiseled from granite.  A short time later, wiser and poorer, we finally shed ourselves of the lease vehicle and settled on Plan C:  We bought a car.  The deed was accomplished in less than three hours with the assistance from a friend who was also manager of one of a multi-sited, new/used dealership; we were the grudging but proud owners of a 2014 Toyota.  From dedicated minimalists to All-American automobile owners … again! We were going in reverse!!

But now, back to our temporary abode at the “resort.”  (Caution! Whining involved!) We’d always thought resort sounded a bit posh but found the name to be only a hopeful aspiration. Since our apartment was on the third floor we’d asked, and been assured that there was an elevator which we (kind of ) assumed worked reliably.  We did our grocery shopping during our stay with the idea in the back of our minds that one of us might have to lug that 10 pound watermelon up three flights of stairs.  We hung bags of Damp Rid around as festive decorations  to combat the atmosphere of cold clamminess resulting from a temperamental air conditioner. And, after a couple of years traveling in Central and South America where our lips touched only bottled water, we came home to a boil water order. However, we were still begrudgingly pleased to have a place in which to spread out, cook a few meals and call home as we visited with friends and family and worked on gathering the necessary documents for the long-term visas for Portugal. Never mind that we had to buy our own Wi-Fi hotspot for the apartment rather than trek to the common area, sans air conditioning, sweltering and seemingly dedicated to the idea of defining “humid.”  All in all our home-sweet-home was a place to flop and infinitely preferable to a motel on the sleazy side of the city.

And so it was that we chipped away at the tasks of daily living, with the attendant aggravations of all of the above mentioned, and worked on jumping through hoops and the issues of starting the process towards obtaining residency visas in Portugal. And slowly the tide turned.  We were fortunate to have been given an opportunity to housesit for very dear friends for three weeks and we gratefully escaped the 3rd floor apartment. We flew to Washington D.C. to present our long-term visa request to the Consulate’s Section of the Portuguese Embassy and visit family.  We spent a lot of time at the beach and catching up with friends. We made arrangements to store our car with other family members near Atlanta, a boon over storing it in a secured lot with no attention in south Texas. And we whiled away the remainder of our waiting period by taking off on what we called “Our Epic Road Trip” which encompassed crisscrossing the country a couple of times.

image available atbwww.jokesandhumor.com

image available atbwww.jokesandhumor.com

In the end the salient points were driven home amid the strangeness and the familiarity.  America is the land where what you need is available and what you want is within tantalizing reach.  It’s the land of too much, the land where things are expected to work. In return, each must play their role. Deviating from the act of acquiring is not an admired trait – it is met with incredulity, intransigence and roadblocks. Without a home, a car, a cell phone, internet connection, insurance, ad finitum, ad nauseum you are at the mercy of the marketeers. We felt but a smidgen of this disfavor and it was uncomfortably frustrating.  We were, in a real sense, strangers in a strange land.

By Richard and Anita

57 comments

  • Your story is a wonderful novel to me but real life to you. I am married to my culture and not ready for a divorce.i have had six visits to CENTRAL AMERICA and have a,ways appreciated the simplicity, called vacation. I have visited 29 countries, again called vacation. Your journey is filled with courage, fortitude and a marvelous spirit of discovery. Again, I never realized how challenging it is to be an American in America until I read about your obstacles. Your financial discipline is enviable. Please keep me posted about Portugal.
    My best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.
    Maida

    Liked by 1 person

    • We’ve learned so much about ourselves by choosing to live with less and it felt kind of like a defeat when we finally realized that we needed to buy a car just to get around. What was really a wake up call for us was realizing how difficult it must be for people to live in a consumer society who don;t have the resources we’re lucky enough to have…

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  • Think of the US as another foreign country to explore. After a little more than two years living overseas, it was a shock to return home in many ways. The Peace Corps administrators told us, ” No one will understand what you did over here. The only people you’ll be able to talk to for awhile are other Peace Corps friends. Keep in touch with them.” And, it was true for the first year. You have Portugal to look forward to, and I’m looking forward to reading more posts about that country that I wanted to visit. You will be my eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We took your advice, Patricia and spent several weeks as tourists in our own country. How fun it was to return to places we’d lived, revive old friendships and appreciate what an amazing country the US. And you’ve described the response of those who remain at home so well to a traveler (or Peace Corps volunteer as you were) returning with stories – polite disinterest might sum it up best. However, there are plenty of travelers with whom we have a bond and can share our experiences. As for Portugal, we’re back and ready to write many more posts to share with you.

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      • Yes, “polite disinterest” does sum up the response. Even my family more or less tolerated my stories. Only people who have experienced that service or lived overseas for years can appreciate them. I have an ex-student who entered the Marines after graduation and spent several years in the service who said to me, “We think of ourselves as The Peace Corps with guns.”
        Now, THAT put a whole new perspective on it! Your Portugal life will be dear to my heart.

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  • I was sorry to hear about the epic struggles you had to do a few simple things that should, you would imagine, be rather straightforward. I’ll bet you’re looking forward to getting back to Portugal for a rest.

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  • I am catching up on unread posts now that I am back in Nicaragua. I read this post when I was in Guatemala. All I can say is everyone deserves a day of whining. What a mess. Keep us informed on your progress. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If nothing else, whining has a bit of therapeutic relief going for it! We knew our stay in the US was going to be about 3 months which is much too long to camp out in someone’s guest bedroom or borrow their car but hadn’t anticipated how difficult it would to insert ourselves back in to the mainstream again. Next visit we’ll be prepared. And pursuing the Portuguese residency visa has been worth the aggravation!

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  • What an epic story, Richard and Anita! We faced the same dilemmas when we temporarily moved back to Dallas from Sudan. Insurance was the big bugaboo – car, medical, etc. Nobody wanted to insure someone who wasn’t living a traditional life. And like you, we’re minimalists, so the thought of acquiring unwanted (or needed) stuff was like the Sword of Damocles. Here’s hoping that everything goes smoothly with your visas for Portugal. Can’t wait to hear. ~Terri

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    • So many things that we took for granted in our former lives (transportation, housing, insurance, etc.) have seemed like huge hurdles to jump over as we try to temporarily insert ourselves back into American life. And of course there’s the problem that we thought we’d solved back in 2012 when we first set off: What to do with the stuff we acquire when we don’t need it … ? Living overseas seems to be so much simpler!

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  • We aren’t full-time travelers, but still feel a bit of reverse culture shock whenever we come home. While away, we do fine with much less space and fewer possessions, and though we’re happy to be home, it still feels strange for a while. Looking forward to hearing about your Portugal experiences!

    Liked by 1 person

    • While traveling we always expect to feel some degree of culture shock as we adjust to unfamiliar surroundings and different languages but it’s disconcerting to return “home” and find that the location is just as challenging and strange. It’s difficult to explain the feeling of unfamiliarity and, many times, the impossibility to make a decision when faced with the seemingly unlimited choices available in the US. Life seems much simpler when we’re out of the country!

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  • Not sure where to begin, but I am grateful that you were able to vent a little and impressed at your tenaciousness and resilience! In our Modern age of technology and rules, if you don’t quite fit the profile it doesn’t seem to accommodate you! By writing and sharing you help the rest of us… BTW – We just returned from Maui where the valet attendant parked our rental car near the golf course… the back window was shattered! It caused major delays, but will ultimately be resolved. Glad you are here in the USA!

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    • We’re good at venting and excel at practicing the virtue of sheer stubbornness! Life has taught us that there are usually several solutions to a problem – some just require a little more persistence. And, like your experience shows, it’s very necessary to have good insurance while traveling in and around the US – definitely not something you want to take a chance with!

      Liked by 1 person

  • Hard going back to a place in the US especially in peak season, I’ve never been to that part of the country but I’m sure it has some wonderful coastline.

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    • When we lived on North Padre Island in our former lives we used to hate Spring Break and the summer invasion of the tourists. However, we were so focused on pursuing our long term visas for Portugal we really didn’t think about planning around the hordes – our next visit will be different for sure! You really should think about a trip to North Padre Island (the longest undeveloped barrier island in the world) which is home to the Padre Island National Seashore with 65 miles of beach. There are some great photos to be taken there!

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  • Hi Anita. Good luck with the Visas. I am eager to hear how that goes. It’s been a while since I’ve been back to Canada, but thankfully I don’t have to buy a car in order to drive! I thought the outrageous prices for the privilege of having a cell phone while I was in country were bad. After reading your adventure, I will not complain 🙂

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  • Interesting how you can feel out of place in you old home country, but we know the feeling too. Nomads just don’t fit in sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We’re looking forward to our paths crossing someday so that we can compare experiences! We’ve grown to love and value our lifestyle of pick up and go and really don’t want to get caught in the consumer vortex again. This may seem like a pipe-dream but we’re thinking that as more boomers and empty nesters opt for travel versus a home in one place there might be more and better choices for those of us who choose a less traditional lifestyle.

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  • Oh, I am so sorry you experienced all that! South can be a very bad direction. We never get the high-priced collision insurance for our rental cars because our VISA credit card is supposed to cover that. I wonder if that applies to you, too.
    I look forward to the rest of the epic road trip that compensated for this fiasco. And, anyway, the rewards of getting all that you need for the Portugal adventure should be the best incentive for the surprises of Murphy’s Law!

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    • We’re afraid that Insurance will be the bane of our US existence! Your comment about credit cards is appreciated and it was, in fact, one of the first things we checked. Our cards cover liability but, because our medical insurance is covered by a travel policy versus a traditional medical policy, we wanted full coverage in the event of (the fear that insurance companies count on!) a serious accident. And, partly inspired by your adventures, we have definitely enjoyed our travels about and across the US!

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  • “Deviating from the act of acquiring is not an admired trait.”

    Lovely (if fraught with ack for the two of you) post, Anita. But yes, g-knows we “deviants” are a lost cause in our native land. Good luck w/ your Portuguese residency. Though I continue to be thrilled to live here in this World Heritage site (Cuenca, Ecuador), I’m considering an extended spin to check out Portugal and Croatia for possible relocation some day. Where in Portugal are you planning on settling?

    P.S. HUGE ***WOO-HOOO!*** on the new Portugal resident visas – no doubt BOATLOADS of adventures ahead!

    Liked by 1 person

    • So glad you liked our minimalist statement, Dyanne. As a seasoned traveler with many more years and countries behind you than us you undoubtedly know how much easier it is to acquire versus rid yourself of accumulations! It will be interesting to see what we amass now that we’ll have a base again. Looking forward to our paths crossing in Portugal!

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      • Yes Anita – it seems that once settled, old (acquisition) habits are hard to break. But I must say, I’ve been so thrilled with the freedom of my minimalist footprint these past 4 years (moved to Asia w/ but a backpack and a rollie) that – even after near 2 years settled here in Cuenca, I think loooong and hard before buying anything bigger than a scarf or a pair of earrings. Indeed, it about KILLED me to recently buy a POTATO MASHER for my (otherwise fully furnished) apartment. 😉

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        • It’s amazing what accumulates when you’re not looking! Now that we’ve acquired the habit of minimalism we watch what we purchase as well as record our daily spending. We’re very mindful of what we buy and the constant tug-of-war between want and necessity. Many times we’ve left things behind in our rented apartments for the next person to enjoy after we’ve decided that comfort and/or utility is worth the price!

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  • What a beautifully-written lament! Yes, life in the US does seem to be predicated on owning things, especially a car. Your transient stay is something that people there just don’t see much, so they don’t know how to deal with it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • We’re so glad you used the word “lament” instead of WHINE ! After being in mainstream America for all of our lives it’s very strange to have to find solutions to avoid NOT acquiring the goods or contracts that accompany living in a western country. And you’re right – we definitely got some jaw drops when we tried to describe our circumstances and that we specifically did not want what they were selling!

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  • What a great blog. Everything from the almost working elevator to the boil water order could be anywhere in the world though least expected in the land of so much. Your post made us glad we kept an older model car stored at a friend’s house for use when we go back. We keep the insurance on “travel hold” when we are not there but it sure seems like that small premium each month is likely worth keeping us from going through what you went through!! We are happy to know your visas went through and you will head back to Portugal follow your dream for as long as it works there. As you recently wrote to me, it is very nice being able to zag instead of zig as planned. And, oh, last note… we prefer home-free to homeless. Better description of it being a choice!!! Have safe travels back to Portugal. I’m sure nesting for a while will feel good and feed your soul.
    Suzi

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good point about home free versus homeless, Suzi! Or, as I can hear an unnamed relative intone, “You brought this upon yourselves…!” Ha ha! We recently described our car experience to old friends who live on a sailboat and sold their car last year. He had the same frustrating experience recently and opted to rent anyway with some unprintable comments! This might be a great reason for you guys to hang on to your classic car!

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  • It’s interesting how travel and time away changes the lens through which we see our home country.Having no home, no car, no cell phone certainly made things “stranger” for you. Good luck with the arrangements to get back to Portugal.

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    • You’re right about the lens change Donna! Since our time here this visit has been much longer than our two previous visits we encountered more problems including the need to get a local sim card for our unlocked phone which we’ve used rarely. We’re so out of the habit of using a phone (email, FB and Skype are our usual methods) that it’s taken us several rings before we realize someone’s calling us! A car and phone are integral parts of American life but it will take a bit before they seem familiar to us again!

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  • Thanks for sharing your time-warp experience, aka return-to-the-homeland. Having lived outside the Land of Too Much for nearly 20 years, I cannot imagine the extent of reverse culture shock that awaits me on my (eventual) return. Best wishes for Portugal!

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  • What a great post! So sorry you encountered all these problems but I think that being such experienced travelers gave you the resilience to move forward!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Irene. I think that being experienced as well as older travelers has given us more patience in approaching life as well as problems unique to travelers with a (grudging!) “can do” attitude. Many times the solution to a problem is not in our original plan but works out to be acceptable. And we definitely have the advantage of years of experience in knowing that things usually work out!

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  • Reverse culture shock can be a drag…..are people even interested in finding out where you’ve been and what it’s like elsewhere beyond a one or two-question inquiry? Hope you’ll be able to return to Portugal soon and live as you please….

    Liked by 1 person

    • It truly is amazing to us that our passion for travel doesn’t generate more questions from our friends/family but we’re firm believers that the old saying “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” is not always true. Interestingly, this seems to be a common observation by many travelers … Sometimes it seems that we have to expend considerable effort to keep those old ties strong but we’ve also built a strong community of new friends with similar interests!

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  • We have romantic memories of Portugal (we visited while on our honeymoon) and would love to visit again. Good luck with the Visa, and can’t wait to hear about your adventures there. – Ginette

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Ginette! We’re hoping to return within the next few weeks and pick up our lives where we left off. Applying for and waiting for the long term visas has been a test of our patience but returning to this fascinating country will be worth it. I can’t imagine too many better places than Portugal to visit during your honeymoon. It definitely is a place for romance with its spectacular scenery, wonderful food and wines and the opportunity to sit back, relax and enjoy the moment.

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  • Hey, Dick. Too bad I missed you in Missoula. I understand we were both there for a couple of days. I would’ve loved to have gotten together. Speaking of perspectives, the last time I flew home from Central America and walked through the Houston (or was it Dallas?) airport on a layover and was re-exposed to the glitz and noise of Americana, I just wanted to turn around and head back out. Good luck with your visa. I loved Nazare. The rest of Portugal wasn’t bad either.

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    • Really sorry we missed connecting with you in Missoula. It would have been great to meet up face to face but we had a terrific time visiting our old stomping grounds. Will FB you with a catch up on our travels. As for the reverse culture shock – it’s such a bizarre feeling, isn’t it? You don’t realize how much energy it takes to continually process all the advertising and temptations or how difficult it can be to find the one thing you need out of all the choices presented … Less really is best! We’ll have to check out Nazare when we return along with finding some other favorite places. Feel free to come on over and visit.

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  • I identify greatly with your title, it applies to Canada also. As I was reading I was thinking that as “homeless” people by choice (albeit in not the same category of income etc.) of the “true homeless” you were truly experiencing the bureaucratic nightmare that many people experience every day. I also thought how truly fortunate I’ve been when that when I’ve returned (small “h”) home that my mother has willingly awaited to be driven around and basically given her car for me to use for the time I’ve been home.

    Looking forward to hearing about your adventures in Portugal. SU and I have been talking recently about how we’ve got itchy feet again. 🙂

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    • This visit was really an eye opener as we stayed with family previously, and like you, were able to borrow a car or find a willing chauffeur. We try to remind ourselves often how fortunate we are to have the option to choose our own lifestyle as travelers without a permanent home and few possessions rather than the dire circumstances that so many less fortunate experience daily. It was easy for us to solve life’s frustrations by throwing money at the problem which is not an answer available to so many … As for your itchy feet – we’ll be interested to see where they take you!

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  • I can empathize with you regarding your US return experience. I live in Ireland for 12 years (many years ago) and when I returned to the US it and the people had changed so much. And our society continues to change. On a sad note, so many have become “me me me” and feel the world owes them much, but on the happy note I am seeing many people changing to simpler, more caring for others live style 🙂

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    • For us returning to the US is almost like stepping through a time warp. Our REAL lives, travels and experiences seem to fade away as we step back into familiar places we once called home. All of our friends and families have continued on with their lives and it’s difficult to reinsert ourselves into the setting. And I’m not sure if home and the people have changed so much as we have changed. We definitely value a simpler lifestyle and our interactions with others have assumed a much greater importance.

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  • I was wondering what was up with you two! Good luck with the Portugal visa. I assume it was that great an experience that you wanted to extend. And I sympathize with the everything-is-bigger-and-better attitude in the US (well, you were in Texas, right??)

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