If you are going to move to another country, please understand that at first, every day is a navigation. It’s a new world and things work differently. Some better, some worse, almost all are different. There’s a phrase in product development called Least Viable Product (LVP). It’s when a new product is released with very basic features and the final product is later released in new and improved form after getting feedback from users. I operate at the LVP level. Just enough knowledge to get by and new features are added every day. Teeny, tiny, sometimes barely perceptible features.
What I Can Do
I am very good at getting money out of the ATM these days. The first few times were a crapshoot. I know which button to press to get money out. You are also able to pay bills with the machines and do all sorts of magical things. I do not do that yet. I will eventually learn how to do magical things at the ATM, like get my balance, but right now I am happy that I can get money out. It works for me.
I have learned to fake my way through various situations. On my walks, a simple Bom Dia gets me past most people. But there’s a friendly lady who always adds something. Sometimes it’s “How are you?” One day it was something about her legs not working well. Today, she made a comment about the lady in front of me wearing earphones, who couldn’t hear her friendly greeting. I think. She laughed and I went along with it.
At the grocery stores, I have learned that the cashier greets you and almost immediately asks if you need a sack. I have no idea what the words are but I show them my sack when they say something and it’s all good. They tell me the amount, I pay with my debit card and I have no idea how much I paid until I look at the receipt. Since I can only buy as much as I can carry, I figure it can’t be too bad and I’m going to pay it anyway.
Eventually, I will understand what the clerk asks and tells me. I will get a better grasp of my numbers and won’t have to stare at the sign that tells you which cashier to go to instead of just hearing it announced. In the meantime, I navigate.
Twice I have gotten stuck in Tavira because I couldn’t call an Uber. I had no trouble with the app at home, but somehow I was in an area with no signal or… Oh hey! I hadn’t topped off my phone minutes. The phone used my home wifi to connect with the Uber app. Out in the world, where I needed to rely on the actual phone, I was out of juice. I am proud to say it only took getting stuck twice to figure it out. Now I top off my minutes once a month. Eventually I will figure out how to see how much time I have left on my phone. I found it once and will find it again. But for now, I top off and it works. Next week I may figure out how to set up my voice mail. Or not.
What I Will Navigate
Today, I am going to go to my bank to see about private health insurance. I need to get rates and then decide if I should shop around or just go with the path of least resistance. The person who handles insurance may or may not be there. Or maybe there are several people who do that in each branch. I’ll find out.
After that, I am going to the local health department to see if I can get on some sort of list for the vaccine. I registered on a website but have not heard anything (nor did I expect to). I have heard conflicting reports from people about how well the local Saude is accommodating expats without utente (health care user) numbers. I’ll review what people have said and go in with low expectations and a friendly attitude. It’s a navigation.
A Life in Progress
I tell you this so you won’t be discouraged if you hit a few brick walls in your expat adventure. It all works out and every day things get a bit easier, whether it’s the package actually making it to my door (Yay Amazon Spain!) or finally ordering something in Portuguese and being understood. (Okay, it was a five word sentence, but she understood me.)
Last night, as I was (shamelessly) eavesdropping on a group of women, I understood that they were talking about buying and selling…something and I understood some of the numbers they were throwing around. That’s progress. For some reason, maybe they were speaking slowly or they had a particular accent, I could actually understand individual words. I usually catch every 20th word in a conversation. I was catching a couple of words at a time. I may listen in on another conversation today and not understand a word. I am prepared for that. I take my wins where I can.
There are so many things that I love about living here. There are also some days that are harder than others. If you understand that going in—and know that the good days increase as you go along—it makes the not-as-easy days easier. I have had only one day that I could call frustrating and even then, it wasn’t the whole day.
Just as I had good days and bad days back in the States, I have them here. As I learn more of the language, I will navigate this new life more easily. In the meantime, people are amazingly patient and helpful. I love where I am—the location, the pace, the scale.
Right now, every day is a navigation, but I spent five years on ships. I can navigate.