We know people who take trips to fabulous places by air, sea, and land. Some of them have been almost everywhere the world wantons, seeking its seven wonders and exploring places far from the beaten track.
For them, it’s one exciting trip after another, going to places most of us only imagine and dream about, courtesy of TV’s travel channels and the worldwide web.
What wonderful opportunities to be strangers in strange lands, to get away – truly away – for the vacation of a lifetime (or two).
We, however, have chosen another path … towards destinations that many simply cannot fathom: While enjoying periodic cruises, shopping for stuff purchased impulsively on a tourist’s whim, and seeing how other people live (albeit from an American perspective), we prefer to return – year after year – to the same two places: a Spanish town where we’ve spent a month unwinding after nearly a year’s worth of frustrations and, a small village in Portugal where dealing with frustrations occupied much of our time. More recently, we added another small property in Portugal–this one is on the Spanish border by Badajoz.
Sometimes, if we could manage it, we made more than one trip to these places … spending an additional ten days to two weeks there the same year.
I not only got to speak with the natives, I spoke as the natives do … picking up new slang and jargon, along with rapid fluency. Where and when I couldn’t converse, I learned how to communicate.
For a month, we moved around with the locals—either walking a lot or driving cars with clutches that required us (sometimes) to pull up the emergency brake when forced to stop and then start again in the middle of a steep hill, with traffic honking behind us. For a month, we ingested different kinds of foods and “delicacies” (pig jowls, snippets of bull tails, pizza made with unusual ingredients, linings of cow stomachs, etc.). And, for a month, we tried not to eat three meals daily – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – at our “normal” times: morning, noon, and (very) early evening … but, instead, to consume smaller “tapas” portions in the mid-afternoon and evenings (although we preferred to eat at 7:00 PM, not 10:00 PM).
But the biggest difference, we’d found, between being travelers passing through and living as part-time residents was learning to accept that other people and cultures tend to do things differently than we do … which is perfectly all right.
Take patience, for instance—something I am sorely lacking.
In Iberia, we may wait at the bank for an hour or more while those ahead of us receive “personalized service” from customer reps. We had an 11:30 appointment at the Notario (the ultimate “lawyer’s lawyer” in many EU nations), only to be seen an hour later than scheduled because the Notario’s attention had been diverted by other matters. We sat in our attorney’s office for much longer than planned because – like our insurance agent – he takes the time (as much as needed) to be interrupted by telephone calls, other people coming into the office “just to ask a question,” and whatever business our agents can conduct while we’re sitting there with them.
We have come to understand that when contractors tell us they’ll be here at 10:00 but don’t show up until 11:30 – and then take a two-hour lunch – before returning and working until 19:00 or 20:00, it’s not because they’re lazy or taking advantage … it’s because the hands of a clock don’t control them. They move to the beat of different drummers.
Ultimately it’s been good for us, learning to live in another culture that’s different from our norm, and that a “mañana mentality,” once adjusted to and accommodating it, indeed can be healthy.
In 2017, we no longer took month-long “vacations” to our Spanish town and village in Portugal. We stayed. We became residents, if not citizens, of international oases where we’d passed snippets of our lives. For lots of reasons – practical and political – we decided to make Portugal and Spain our home.
We have come to understand that we’re no longer wayfarers or tourists, but rooted residents, part and parcel of places welcoming us to new homelands and communities.
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.