More or Less?

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.

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