I had no idea what to expect. Ron and I have been living in Portugal now for a year-and-a-half and we spent the last 2 weeks of February visiting Florida. Florida is where we used to live – the state of sunshine and where you can carry a concealed weapon without a permit if you’re over 21. But they’re trying to lower it to 18 because you know, 18-year-olds have such a firm handle on their temper.

Anyway, I have more to tell you about the differences between my new normal, in my newly adopted country of Portugal and my old “normal” having lived in Florida.

When we got back to Portugal, I had a friend here text me to say, “Nice to be home right? Back to just a simple Portuguese life.” And, you know, “simple” is the right word here.

Simple in that Portugal promotes a laid-back lifestyle and feels more peaceful… quite a contrast off the bat – given the divisions and acrimony going on in the United States. Of course, what I’m going to share is my recent experience in Florida, where we used to live before we moved. So, Florida – can be far different than other states we might have visited. But having said that, there were many little things that add up.

Credits: Supplied Image; Author: Becca Williams;

Traffic: a world apart

For instance, we spent a lot of time in traffic… often taking 40 or so minutes to get from one place to another for a restaurant or a shop “nearby.” In Portugal, 40 minutes gets us nearly a third of the way across the Algarve (where we live).

In that Florida traffic, menacing bumper stickers and disturbing images – mostly about guns – were never far. Among a sea of gun images, one heckled the trend of self-identifying as something other than a male or female applying it to the classification of firearms, and yet another counted guns as family.

Credits: Supplied Image; Author: Becca Williams;

In Portugal, no bumper stickers … in 18 months and driving all over, we haven’t seen one, outside parking decals and the like. Apparently, no one feels a need to make their preferences known in Portugal.

Speaking of driving, we were surprised to see a roundabout or two on the roads where we were in Florida. It’s a new thing there and we were pleasantly surprised. In Portugal, nearly all intersections are roundabouts; it’s a rarity to find a 4-way intersection with stop signs. Roundabouts are not unusual in Europe but really rare in the U.S. Roundabouts do take some getting used to, but once you understand them, they’re so much safer and more efficient than coming to a complete stop or trusting that somebody is going to come to a full stop at a 4-way intersection. If there’s an accident in a roundabout, it’s usually a side hit at a very low speed.

And if you’re crossing the road as a pedestrian in Portugal, even on the busiest of streets you simply look for the marked walkway and stroll across – with the traffic coming to a complete halt (ok with some rare ignorant driver exceptions). In Florida – you live and breathe by a quick calculated dash across the road or push the flashing lights button and wait until speeding drivers decide to stop.

Credits: Supplied Image; Author: Becca Williams;

What’s on the table?

Anyone who lives or even visits Portugal knows that olive oil is a staple here. It’s the main agricultural product in the country where olives and olive oil are everywhere. In restaurants, olive oil is usually on the table, and you use it with everything … it’s a big part of the Mediterranean diet. But in the U.S., nobody’s going to serve it without you asking for it (and some places actually charge extra for a dollop of it).

And let’s talk about the crazy prices of wine in the U.S.! A glass of nice wine in Portugal will run you about €3 - 5 (in $US that’s a few cents more). In the states, anywhere from $8 to 12 upwards to $20 for a glass of wine. There was some sticker shock.

And speaking of sticker shock, we did eat out a lot during our visit to Florida, and we were jaw-dropped at the prices. Seriously, we couldn’t get out of a fairly nice restaurant for less than $100 - $120 for the two of us. In Portugal, it’d cost about €60 and that includes a glass of wine or two.

Also, as an aside, almost every restaurant and business in Portugal has wi-fi. And they invite you to use it! I sure could have used that in the States because I needed wifi as I hadn’t made arrangements to use data on my Portugal cellphone in the States. But, other than coffee shops, most waiters looked at me crossed-eyed when I asked for their wifi password.

So there’s my little limited overview of what my new “normal” looks like here in Portugal. It's remarkable how, after just 18 months away from the U.S., these experiences stand out so vividly.

Have you gone back to the States recently and have some observations? I invite you to drop down to the comments section and let me know.


Becca Williams is originally from America but is now settling into small town living in Lagos, a seaside town on Portugal’s southern coast. Contact her at AlgarveBecca@gmail.com

Becca Williams