Among our daily devotions to a lifestyle we’d all but forgotten back in the USA are a number of people-oriented practices in Portugal and Spain that underscore our different orientations and lifestyles, as well as how we pack and parcel our time.
Here are a few observations based on life in our Portuguese village and small Spanish town:
Food isn’t fast or full of preservatives, but enjoyed slowly, sans extra embellishments or a plethora of added attractions. If and when a bit more richness is desired, mayonnaise – yes, even on hamburgers and fries! – or lemon juice are among the condiments of choice, although ketchup and mustard are always available. And, in Portugal, Piri Piri!
Fish and seafood (like shrimp!) are served intact with their shells, heads, eyes, and legs … to be removed by us at the table. Bones, fat, and gristle aren’t surgically extracted for eating convenience or epicurean pleasure. We deal with them.
“Juice” often comes in little cardboard containers found on the store’s shelves, not refrigerated sections. After opening, it’s then kept cold in the fridge.
Coffee is much bolder here … “half-and-half” doesn’t flavor or temper it … café con leche may be translated as “coffee with milk,” but not the way we Americans think of coffee with cream or half+half… and black coffee is “café sólo” (coffee only), not “café negro” (coffee colored black).
Beer or wine can be cheaper than water, while so-called “soft drinks” (colas, etc.) are the most expensive beverages.
Before Covid-19, “take-out” was an attribute few Portuguese and Spanish could fathom. Either one enjoys a meal out somewhere … or you stay at home, cooking and eating. Sometimes, with friends!
We walk more than drive, deriving the benefits of exercise while scoping our surroundings.
Traffic signals (lights) in towns and villages are few and far between–roundabouts determine our directions and destinations. But when entering a town on its main thoroughfare, respect the “Velocidad Controlada” signs: Go just a smidgen faster than the speed limit and you’ll trigger the traffic light to turn from green to red. You’d best stop!
Plumbing, though effective and efficient, is rather wimpy by American standards.
Water “softeners” and such contrivances are foreign extravagances. Similarly, there’s hardly any HVAC – central heating and air conditioning – here in the villages and small towns. Space heaters and room air conditioners (inverters) do the job when and where needed.
Windows without screens remain wide open—despite the flies, bees, and other flying insects that invade our sanctuaries … beaded curtains allow air to flow in through the doorways.
Currency, the electric kind, comes in just one potency (220 v), regardless of what it’s powering.
Corner grocery stores and food “stands” still do exist … and are essential. They’re where many people shop daily for their comestibles, rather than trekking to the big box stores in industrial malls and shopping centers.
People, not machines, do the work and heavy lifting.
For some, these observations may seem silly and semantic; others, however, will see how our own lives, perhaps, can be a bit sterile and antiseptic. Even a week spent in a sedate Spanish town or pure Portuguese village reminds us that it’s not just about a slower and more sedate approach to life, but sometimes a simpler yet more sensible one as well.
Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.