Minor frictions are to be expected in the expat life. Did you really expect or want everything to be the same as it was “back home”?
It is a grey, misty morning here in Santa Luzia, the second day in a row that we’ve had an overcast. The temperature is refreshingly cool without being cold. Everything has that muffled feel that comes with mist and fog.
This is a perfect day to curl up with a cup of tea and a good novel, if I had one. Since I don’t, I’ll work. It’s Wednesday and I’m already a day behind in my self-imposed schedule. I spent all day yesterday waiting for a package to be delivered. In Portuguese, the word for to wait is esparar. It can also mean to hope. I think when it comes to package delivery, the Portuguese have it covered.
Package delivery is one of my few frustrations here. Amazon Prime in the US has spoiled me. (As has cake delivered to my door, aka “door cake” but hey—I have a bakery downstairs!) Deliveries to my apartment here are problematic, as in most don’t reach me.
It is not really the delivery man’s fault. The doorbell/buzzer thing for my apartment doesn’t work (that took me two months to figure out), so when they buzz to deliver a package, I don’t know they are there. Usually I end up picking up the package a couple of days later at the little post office in town. (I have put a little note up in pigeon Portuguese telling them to come in, but so far, my CTT man is reluctant.)
They don’t leave packages at your door here. There are no porch package thieves making a nefarious living in Portugal. The delivery person hands you the package, oftentimes asking for your NIF (tax ID number). Buy enough in Portugal as a resident (and perhaps as a citizen, I don’t know that yet either) and you get a little break on your taxes. Once they left a package with the bakery ladies downstairs. That works, too.
Today I am waiting for an Amazon Spain Prime delivery. The Amazon man knows my buzzer is broken. He calls me to say, “I’ll be at your place in five minutes.” (This should tell you how often I order from Amazon Spain.) I put on some shoes and meet him at the door. My CTT delivery guy does not do that. I’m assuming he doesn’t have my number. So when I am expecting a CTT delivery (they email you, which is nice) I spend the day jumping up to look out the window every time I hear a truck or scooter pull up.
Amazon Spain has been a huge boon to me. I won’t say a lifesaver—that would be overly dramatic—but definitely a life enhancer. I can get books printed in English and delivered within two or three days. I found a supplement I use that I couldn’t find in the farmacias. I have my eye on a robot vacuum that I would probably pay too much for even if I could find it in a local store.
There are very few “big box” stores here. A store called Auchan is much like a Super Target, with the exception that it is mostly groceries, with all the other stuff, where Target US is mostly all the other stuff and “oh yeah, we have groceries.” I think the closest Auchan is a train ride away in Olhão. So far, the mall in Tavira (a $5 Uber ride away) has most of the things I need. I don’t know if the prices are good or bad. I think they are neither. You don’t get the variety of choice that you get in the big stores in the US. You don’t have sheets in every shade or fifty different kinds of cereal or cookies.
As it turns out, I don’t really need fifty different kinds of cereal. I’m good with my two or three. If I need sheets in a custom color, I can order them from Amazon or the Portuguese Linen Store (which I am about to explore right after I finish this!).
And some things aren’t where you would expect them. I’m used to picking up a bottle of 200 Ibuprofen tablets just about everywhere—Walgreens, Target, the supermarket, even gas station quick rips in a pinch. Here it is sold in the pharmacies and at a special check out at the grocery store (I think). I haven’t seen nail polish in the beauty section of the supermarket, but maybe it just hasn’t been on my radar. I’ll ask a friend if there’s a Sally’s Beauty Supply equivalent here.
Some things you just can’t find. Sour cream, for some reason, is not popular here. You can make it if you’re really jonesing. Philadelphia Cream Cheese, on the other hand, is in just about every supermarket. Go figure. When I moved from Massachusetts to Georgia (and later to Florida and California), I could no longer get my favorite brand of packaged cookies. It’s hard to find beignets outside of New Orleans. Different regions stock different stuff. You’re not going to find the same brands here that you do in the States. But you will find some. Pro Tip: When you find something you like, stock up.
All this is to say that there are minor frictions in day-to-day life when you first move to a new country. It’s like the first time you go to a new grocery store anywhere—you have to learn where all your regular stuff is. By the third or fourth visit, you’re a bit more familiar with the layout and you’re not backtracking (as much) to find items.
By necessity, you will try the local version of something and hey—it’s pretty good, sometimes better. You will find a new favorite snack or hangout. You will discover you like something you never thought you would try, much less enjoy. (I’m still never going to try octopus, though. Those things are smart and I like to swim in the ocean. They will KNOW.)
So, no, it’s not like it was in the States. Be prepared to embrace new experiences, try new things. That’s the whole point of moving to a new country. Some days you may need to remind yourself of that. Other days, you just glory in it. Today is a neutral grey with a chance of delivered happiness.