Traveling and expating means that we have to/get to learn new ways to do things. We, however, like to think of it as a fun exercise in “mental stimulation” that AARP recommends to stem the onslaught of dementia. Each country we visit has a unique twist on how certain things are done and, despite how Urban Dictionary defines different as a “pseudo-polite way of saying something is unpleasantly weird or unacceptable,” we like to think that differences just are. And in Portugal, our list of “Not the Same As” keeps growing. Here are some basics.
Language In Portugal, the official language is Portuguese. As we’ve looked through various books and online teaching classes we’ve learned that there are two variants: Brazilian Portuguese and the correct choice, European Portuguese. Here in our part of the country, the Algarve, most people speak English, a fact that has made us very lazy but here’s hoping that (someday) we’ll magically acquire the ability to twist our mouths and tongues into the acceptable shapes and pronounce suitable sentences in the correct tense. So far we’ve evolved from English to Spanglish to Portuglish.
Money In the US the dollar ($) is king but in Portugal the euro (€) reigns. What we like are the bills which are different sizes and colors depending on the denomination and, rather than one euro notes, there are one and two euro coins. The downside is that your wallet can get very heavy, very fast. Right now, since the dollar is strong, the conversion rate is almost at parity with a euro approximately equal to $1.06 dollar. This means, with nineteen countries in Europe using the euro, travel is a pretty good deal right now.
Plugs, sockets and adapters Like all of continental Europe, Portugal uses the Europlug, a two round pin plug for 220 – 240 voltage that fits into a recessed socket. Since most of our electronics are from the US, we have a variety of adapters that we’ve picked up here and there and, because our wall sockets are never quite enough or conveniently placed, we use extension cords. With our adapters, and especially with the surge protector on top, it makes for an inelegant and precarious tower. Measurements Growing up, we both remember hearing our teachers say that the United States was going to change over to the Metric System “any year now.” Decades later, that still hasn’t happened but we’re getting pretty darn familiar with the concept. Our weather forecast and oven setting are in Celsius versus Fahrenheit, our mileage is in kilometers versus miles, our drinks are in liters and our weight is in kilograms (so getting on that scale isn’t quite the shock it could be).
Our home Forgive us for a sweeping generalization, but it seems that in Portugal and the parts of Europe that we’ve seen, everything is smaller, including the houses and apartments. The refrigerators are narrow and it’s common to have the refrigerated section on top and the freezer below. Washing machines are half the size of their American counterparts. There are no garbage disposals – or none that we’ve encountered. Dishwashers are rarely installed in older homes but are more common in newer, higher-end apartments or refurbished homes. And clothes dryers are even rarer – maybe because they’re expensive or because utility costs are high. We have a fold-up rack for drying our clothes, a few lines on our rooftop terrace and a good supply of clothes pins . And speaking of clothing care, ironing boards and irons appear to be in every hotel room and rental. In the stores, there’s a whole offering to the mighty iron. Instead of central heating, homes have heaters of many varieties and various efficiencies in selected rooms and doors to close off the warm areas from the cold. On-demand hot water heaters are the norm as opposed to up-right tank water heaters. Upright vacuums are rare and much more expensive than the canister types and we have yet to see a wall-to-wall carpet. It’s more common than not to see bidets in the bathrooms and let us tell you, we’re getting spoiled with our heated towel racks too. (Okay, heated towel racks probably aren’t common but it hasn’t taken long for us to get used to them.) And the beds … all we can say is, “Where are the box springs and pillow-top mattresses?” Beds are low, usually a mattress on a platform, which might be good for the back but less-so for the soul.
Cars Cars are smaller too. Perhaps so they can wend their way through cobblestone roads designed for a donkey and cart without knocking off the side mirrors? (Of course, there’s no need to ask how we know that those side mirrors pop right back on when you do that, right?) And another thing. There’s a whole generation or two in the US who have no idea how to drive a car with a manual transmission but here’s a heads-up – get some practice. We’re not quite sure why but it costs more to rent or buy a vehicle with an automatic transmission – or it would if you could find one. Lucky for us, we hail from the generation that needed those shifting skills occasionally. But, speaking of skills, we’ve discovered that parallel parking is something we could both use a good refresher course on.
Which bring us to – Gasoline. Portugal has both the self-serve stations and attendants who’ll help you feed the hungry beast or pick you up after you faint at the price. Because, in Portugal, gas prices are a whopping €5.60/4 liters which is roughly a gallon. And with OPEC back in the gas boycott business, prices may escalate soon.
Garbage Yes, we have recycling! Instead of a trash and recycling bin for every home however, the garbage cans are grouped together every few blocks for common use. It’s a sort-as-you-go system and the bins are clearly marked with the refuse that goes in them. They sit on a concrete pad that is cleverly lifted so that the containers below can be emptied. Our bins are three blocks away which gives us a good reason to take a stroll every day
Garbage seems like a good place to end the first part of our “Not the Same As” list. Next post we’ll continue and talk more about our daily life in Lagos, Portugal, including driving, shopping and entertainment (some say they’re the same thing 🙂 ) and small courtesies. To quote a couple of lines from singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett, “It’s those changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes, nothing remains quite the same…” Here’s to the differences!
By Anita Oliver and Richard Nash