Yes, they put salt on the roads and the table in Michigan.
Yes, they put salt on the roads and the table in Michigan.

Home not-so-sweet home

When I retired, one of my goals in life was to NEVER see snow again. A lifetime of Michigan winters in the US was enough. I was doing well with that goal in the Algarve.

Sadly, I had to go home to Michigan in March for a funeral. Armed with long underwear and what passes for a winter coat in Portugal, I girded my loins and got on the plane.

It was a lovely day in Lisbon when I left, and the kindly ticket agent checked in my two huge suitcases with a smile. I knew things would be different at the other end of that flight. I was prepared for the change in the weather. I wasn’t prepared for the change in everything else.

It started with the overcharge at the rental car pick-up. The guy at the desk just shrugged and took it off the bill. I hoped he would offer to help with my bags, since the car was pulled up right outside and there were no customers waiting. Ha! Did I think I was in Portugal?

I stopped to run an errand. When I came out, someone had hit the rental car. No note. Fortunately, my wonderful friends were waiting with open arms and their beautiful guest suite.

My days in Michigan were spent helping my newly-widowed friend. Her husband handled their finances. She had never paid a bill or gone to the bank in her life.

No more snow!
No more snow!

Childless, her husband just told her she would be “set for life” if he died. She went ahead and spent a fortune on a funeral and ordered an expensive leased car. But then a bill collector started to call. I found a lot of credit card debt. There wasn’t much cash in their bank.

She said he used to keep money in the ceiling of the basement, so I spent half a day sticking my head up through ceiling tiles. Nothing. We found the key to the safety deposit box at the bank, and I held my breath, hoping for a wad of cash. It was empty. I spent hours on hold with all sorts of creditors, insurance agents, and pension funds.

After a very canned “sorry about your loss”, almost every person was uncaring, rude and slow as a sloth. I am coming to terms with the ‘slow as a sloth’ thing when doing business here in Portugal. At least here, the sloths are really kind and want to help you.

It seemed in the US people truly did not care about my friend or her circumstances. The nice ladies at the bank were an exception. They knew her husband for many years. My friend couldn’t believe it when I told her how everyone was nice in Portugal, even to foreigners they had never met.

I told this story over dinner to friends here and, a couple of days later, the wife told me she asked her husband for details about their bank accounts, the passwords on the computer, and their general financial status. I gave a written summary of my finances and my trust to my son a few years ago.

After this trip, I am working on an update! I left my widowed friend on a budget for the first time in her life. She will indeed be ok, if she learns to live within her new means. No more diamonds and fur coats!

I seized the opportunity while in the States to visit my son in San Diego, California. The plane ride was about four hours, and a very large lady sat partially in the seat next to me and half in my seat. I arrived to gray skies and rain almost every day. I stayed at my son’s place.

My son is a doctor, but he can’t afford to buy a home there. He lives with three other single guys, like he’s still in college. They pay $6,000 a month for a rental home that is falling down around them. $6,000!

I treated him and his friends to dinner one night. I fed about 10 people on Portuguese shrimp stew. I was shocked when the ingredients cost me $160.

Creepy robot moving up and down the grocery aisles checking inventory.
Creepy robot moving up and down the grocery aisles checking inventory.

They camp a lot for fun because it’s cheaper. What is happening? I had read that this is the first generation of Americans who won’t live better than their parents. On this trip, that statistic came to life for me.

Maybe that explains why everyone seems so unhappy. Like the Uber driver who didn’t say one word to me until he asked me to give him a “nice tip”, or the waitress who kept asking if we would pay our bill (and leave).

Meeting a nice person is a surprise. Like Emma at the Federal Express store. I was thinking how rare it was to see a happy person at work in the US when her boss came over and started berating her about something minor. She had tears in her eyes. When he left, I told her not to let miserable people get her down and that her attitude would take her far in life.

Then there was the woman in front of me at my favorite donut drive-through. She was yelling through the speakers at the kid working there. I apologized for her behavior and ordered my single Krispy Krème donut.

When I got to the window, he thanked me for being so nice and insisted I take my donut for free because I was the nicest person he had met on the job. I told my friends the donut story and they one-upped me with the story of going to Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors Ice Cream shop. They heard a nasty woman at the drive-through insist that the guy read her all 31 flavors!

On the flight back, I sat across the aisle from a child who screamed herself hoarse for about five hours straight, while the mom sat two seats over and ignored her psychotic toddler!

As my best friend says about living in the States: “People have lost their minds.” I don’t know if it’s the politics, the prices, the stress, the preservatives in the food, the pollution … Whatever it is, since I’ve been home, I reflect every day on just how grateful I am to live here in the Algarve with sunshine, kind people, a lovely home, a wonderful boyfriend and a beautiful way of life.

By Glenda Cole
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Glenda Cole is a retired American executive loving her storybook life in the Algarve. She’s recently started writing and vlogging for International Living Magazine and she will be speaking at their annual conference in Denver, Colorado this fall. You can sign up for their free email postcards at