USA traffic light overload
USA traffic light overload

The daily differences between the Algarve and the USA

The Good, The Not-So-Good, and The Ugly

One day, you’re driving along, you don’t need your GPS, you know where you’ll park, you have your grocery bags and little red tab for the cart ready. You’ve been living like a local and you smugly think “I got this”.  Then you get home and reach for the light switch inside the bathroom. Oops, not quite there yet.

The Good

  • Roundabouts
    • Roundabouts are rare in the US, and most people don’t know how to drive in them. It’s wonderful not to have to wait for long traffic lights on every block here.
  • Grocery shopping
    • How wonderful to go to a real butcher shop. I remember going to one as a little girl in the US with my grandmother.
  • Recycling
    • How lovely that everyone recycles here – and with so many categories. In the US, most states recycle bottles and cans at the grocery store. But few people put out their recycling bins with paper products.
  • Heating and cooling
    • Here, you can heat or cool one room at a time. In the US, you heat and cool your entire home. It’s nice when you walk into a warm home in the middle of a snowstorm, but it takes a tremendous amount of energy.
  • McDonalds
    • Ok, I admit it. Mickey D’s, as we call it in the US, is a guilty pleasure of mine. And the fries are always fresh here. How do they do that?
  • Sunshine
    • Over 300 days a year! It’s magnificent. I’m from Michigan and the average number of days of full sun in Detroit per year is 75. They don’t record the average number of gray days, it’s too depressing.
  • The metric system
    • It takes some adjustment, but this meter and centimeter thing makes so much more sense than inches.
  • No guns
    • No words for how much safer I feel here than in the USA.
  • Doctors who actually do the work
    • A doctor did my annual ultrasound herself and then showed me the results. In the US, a technician does all your tests, and you wait anxiously many weeks for an impersonal letter in the mail with your results.
  • Affordable health insurance
    • This is a BIG thing for me. I was paying almost $2,000 USD per month for health insurance in the US! Crazy!
  • Affordable car insurance
    • I was astounded by the monthly price of car insurance here. I discovered that people here don’t sue each other for fender benders.
  • The price of home repairs
    • Electricians and plumbers in the US seem to think they are neurosurgeons. The prices they charge are astronomical, whether they fix your problem or not.
  • Smiling faces
    • I’m serious. The last time I visited home, the angry resting faces were scary. I never noticed when I lived there how unhappy most people seem. It was so good to get back to the smiling people here in the Algarve.
This metric thing makes sense

The Not-So-Good

  • No garbage disposals
    • I am still trying to come to terms with putting food scraps in the garbage. In the US, I just pushed it all down the drain and turned on the garbage disposal. Nasty, smelly food never to be seen again.
  • Stick shifts
    • I grew up driving a stick because I was poor. Most young people in the US have never learned to drive a stick shift. It’s fun, but I do miss the days where I could drive, eat, talk on a conference call, and write notes all at the same time.
  • Electricity prices
    • I am still reeling over the cost to heat the pool. Now we take the cover off and let the sun heat the pool. We only use the clothes dryer to fluff the towels. In the US, my US neighbors would have been appalled if I put out a clothesline.
  • Parking by bumping
    • I’ve seen people here who parallel park by bumping the cars in front and back. What?
  • Lights outside the rooms
    • It took me many months of groping around inside a dark bathroom to realize that the light switches are on the outside of the room.
  • Telling time
    • Ok, I’m not a soldier. If I hear someone say “It’s 14:00”, I think I’m watching a military movie. If people invite us over for a drink at 16:00, I think I should wear camouflage.
Fun at work
Is that the phone ringing? No problem!

The Ugly

  • Buying a car
    • Why do I have to pay a car off when my Visa expires, but I can get a 25-year mortgage on a house?
  • The SEF
    • Ok, you choose to work in a place that caters to foreigners. Shouldn’t you want to speak to foreigners? Shouldn’t you have appointments for foreigners? Shouldn’t you occasionally answer the phone? What a nightmare, and it never ends.
  • Deadlines, Schmedlines
    • I have learned the hard way that when I ask for something to be done by next week, I am assured that it will be. And then it isn’t. And it isn’t done the next week. Or the next. And no one understands why I am upset. As I think back over all of the very nice people I have done business with here in Portugal, I realize none of them could have worked for me in the US. As kind as they can be, there is no sense of urgency about getting any job done. Hmmm, maybe that laid-back lifestyle is why I moved here? This is a big adjustment that I hope I make someday. Soon.

Adding it up, that’s 13 Good and three Ugly. Even a retired marketing executive can do that math. Life rocks here in the Algarve.

By Glenda Cole
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Glenda Cole is a retired American executive loving her storybook life in the Algarve. A dancer for many years, Glenda will be teaching hula and twirling poi balls at the June 9 Hawaiian Luau CASA event. Check out the club’s website: