For many American expats, the Thanksgiving holiday at the end of November is a particular time when we miss our family and friends the most. My regular reader may have noticed that I’ve been writing a series of columns on what we miss from our respective points of origination and being with loved ones over the holidays is a big part of that. Now it’s time to get to what we don’t miss.
However, before I do that, Ol’Pat would like to take a moment and reflect on this North American holiday (Canada’s Thanksgiving is in October.) and just how important it is to the vast majority. Especially from college age on, people can often get away with going to Cancun or Aspen over the Christmas holidays. Not so for Thanksgiving, when you’re expected, might I say even required, to go home and have a massive feast cooked by Mom with the family. That’s why the Wednesday before the traditional last Thursday of the month is the busiest travel day of the year.
President Abraham Lincoln first made Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. In some ways, it is an odd holiday since it commemorates a mythical event in 1621, when some Indians (actually native Americans) took pity on a group of English refugees known as the Pilgrims, who were having a hard time making a go of it in the wilderness of New England at the time.
Members of the Wampanoag tribe brought turkeys and other wild game as well as pumpkins and other crops to supplement the colony’s meager harvest feast and possibly saved the lives of some settlers. The ungrateful irony of this is that this early example of humane generosity didn’t end up working out at all well for future indigenous populations.
Instead, by forgetting a history of genocide, the tradition has become a time when those gathered around the table for turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce take note of what it is in their life for which they are most thankful. Goodness knows that this year, with a pandemic raging and gatherings limited, the thankful list might be shorter than usual. At least in the Algarve, we’ll be able to have five people around a table until 11pm because it is a weekday.
Getting back to what we don’t miss is actually something many of us are thankful for – that is the eventual end of the Trump presidency. It was the number one element mentioned by the most people as to what they don’t miss about living in the States. Admittedly, I put off writing this third in a series of discussions of what we miss or don’t miss until after the US election, because I didn’t want to get into a heighted state of negativity. One of the aspects of American life that most respondents to my informal poll mentioned was that they didn’t appreciate the Trump reign of misinformation, racism and just plain meanness. Now we’ll at least be able to toast the possibility of fairer, safer, saner times in the relatively near future.
By definition, an expatriate is someone who resides outside her or his native country for a variety of reasons. Most of us don’t hate our homeland – we’re not ex-patriots – but there are aspects of living back “home” that we have gladly left behind.
No matter who you voted for, the endless political television ads and ropocalls that seem to go on for months or even years as part of the campaign, were something many US respondents were glad to live without.
More than one weary voter said that they hoped to never again hear the phrase “I approve this message”.
This is one concept that the other English-speaking population in the Algarve, the English, might have a better handle on – length of elections. General elections in Great Britain run no more than roughly five weeks, which my Brit buddies at the pub suggest is plenty long enough.
General political discord and polarization with plenty of hate speech thrown around is not missed by many, nor is bigotry in its many forms. If you’re going to move to a different part of the world, with a different language and customs, you ought to be a bit more open and welcoming and hope the native population is at least tolerant of our attempts to fit in.
The weather was mentioned often as something not missed particularly by those who emigrated from England, Wales or particularly Scotland. Apparently, it rains quite often in those locales, though expats from Germany also complained about precipitation.
Shoveling snow and breaking up ice on sidewalks and driveways are activities that were not popular with our new Canadian neighbours as well as those from Midwestern States and, of course, New England. It seems most folks enjoy 300 days of sunshine a year here in the Algarve and those who used to live in big cities aren’t sentimental about smog either.
Traffic patterns are something we all have to get used to in a new area, but traffic jams are not a big problem in these parts. I consider a jam more than three cars waiting at a roundabout, while on American highways and byways like in LA or the Washington Beltway or Long Island Expressway, it is often bumper-to-bumper for miles or hours, however you figure it. So too for many London thoroughfares like around Heathrow, with eight lanes of backed-up lorries and double-decker buses.
Especially, in the offseason from approximately now through March, I’ve often been riding along the A22 and my lovely wife have noticed that we’re the only car on the road. We’ve sometimes wondered if we missed an important warning announcement on the radio because it was in Portuguese.
Of course there is some crime everywhere including along the southern coast of Portugal, but a country doesn’t get cited as the fourth safest in the world if it’s not better than most places. One person who answered said that they “did not miss the sound of police cars at night”. Another said that they “did not miss flying bullets”.
Gun safety is a particular consideration for many Americans who have moved here. They just don’t miss the threat of school shootings and mass murders at malls and road rage and, yes, even drunk hunters.
I lived and taught in Frederick County, Maryland, where the boys liked to call themselves “Frednecks” and they all (yes, I mean all) had gun racks in the back window of their pickup trucks, with shotguns and rifles on display. There are just too many guns in the States and I haven’t met an American here who misses that.
A large proportion of the expat community is made up of people who are retired in an area noted internationally as a good place to spend one’s golden years. So it’s quite natural that a number of us “don’t miss the daily grind of 40-plus hours a week any more”.
One guy, who is probably wearing Crocks, reported he “did not miss business suits, ties, dress shirts and tie shoes”. I wonder how often he wears socks. I know I don’t miss ‘em.
On a fixed income, most of us “do not miss the high cost of living” that we had become accustomed to where we lived before. Yes, gasoline prices are much higher than in the States and real estate can seem high especially when there’s no insulation or central heating, but day-to-day costs seem lower. Particularly food at the grocery store or going out to eat is a consistent bargain.
Sometimes it seems that the service staff doesn’t even expect a tip and certainly not 25% (but please tip them something). I know that I’m not alone in the fact that I don’t miss paying $10 for a “cheap” bottle of wine, while in Portugal very drinkable wine is half the price. Okay, I admit I have a couple of favourites that are under €3.
There were plenty of individual reactions to what one or another person didn’t miss from back in the USSR or wherever. Somebody didn’t miss poison ivy. Who would? Another didn’t miss fireworks (which we do have at New Year’s along the Algarve coast) because the booms scare their dog. So, fewer fireworks is good. Another respondent missed “real vibrant autumn colours” and I know I do. A few trees seem to go to yellow, but nothing even approaching the Berkshires that look aflame in October.
Then there was one guy who did not miss runaway shopping carts in the parking lots of malls and food markets in the States. It seems he was sick and tired of having his car scraped by carts that were simply released by inconsiderate people who were too lazy to push them into a stall provided.
I paused for a moment but then realized that I could recall this sometimes happening in a Walmart lot in our hometown. I can picture a cart randomly swerving downhill until it stopped against the car door of some unsuspecting shopper.
More than once, I was disappointed when I thought I found a parking spot only to discover it was occupied by an unattended cart. So yeah, that’s another thing I don’t miss from the States; people being passive-aggressive and just showing contempt for other people they don’t even know. I wonder how many of those folks are Trump supporters.
Okay, we’re done with what we miss and don’t miss from “home”. Thanks for all your input.
Ol’Pat enjoys hearing from his reader and lately I’ve been wondering if there are any (or many) expats living in the Faro area. Please let me know. Also if you have an idea for a future column, I would appreciate hearing from you. As my loyal reader already knows, I’m interested in unusual angles on life in the Algarve but I’m not going to do pieces on basic info like how to get your NIF number or where we can find fresh cranberries.
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By Pat, The Expat
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For the previous 10 years, Pat lived in Panama which used to be rated above Portugal as a top retirement destination (but not any more), where he wrote a column for a tourist publication.