“It's the little differences. A lotta the same s**t we got here,they got there, but there they're a little different.” Vincent Vega (John Travolta), Pulp Fiction
There are the things you know you are going to miss. The big things, your friends and family, the sense of place you have at home, being able to communicate without having to put so much effort into it. Because you know you are going to miss those things, and expect to miss those things, it is not a shock to you when you actually miss them.
There are also the not-so-big things that you suspect you are going to miss, such as your favorite restaurant around the corner, beautiful Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains, or the Daily Show. But then you find Gafanoto, a lovely restaurant around your new corner, and you are busy exploring the lovely seaside and countryside surrounding Aveiro, and then you find John Stewart’s smiling facing coming to you undubbed, 4 days a week (though 2 weeks behind), and you don’t have time to miss some of those not-so-big things you expected you would.
Then there are the little things. Things that you never even considered twice while at home, but now discover that they are different. And for some reason, it is these things that get under your skin. So while we haven’t been to the local McDonalds (actually, there are 3 local McDonalds), here are a few of the differences we have noticed so far:
The fact that I can only but yogurt in little tiny 125 gram containers, and I go through a lot of yogurt, so in the US I buy big tubs of it so I don't go through so many small plastic containers. Why does this bother me so much? I have no idea.
Another thing that’s different here is renting a home is not common and when you do rent it’s typically for about ten years. As such, the houses come empty. That means no appliances, no lights, no plants in the yard, and so on. And when I say no appliances I mean not just washer/dryer, but also no refrigerator or stove or water heater, or even kitchen cabinets for that matter. We got lucky because the previous tenant was a German colleague of mine who left a lot of stuff behind. So we had a refrigerator, for instance, which are very small here and are built into the kitchen cabinetry.
The highways don’t have merge lanes and people travel at all rates of speed. So you’d better be ready to hit the accelerator when you get on. There are speed limits (120kph), but nobody cares. The cops are concerned about talking on your cell phone while driving, but not about speeding. However, the drivers follow the rules here, meaning they use their blinkers, they only use the left lane for passing, they’re not terribly aggressive, etc. But that doesn’t mean you should assume they’ll stop for you in the crosswalk and they don’t’ see anything wrong with driving just a couple of feet off your bumper.
Another different thing at work is punctuality, or lack thereof. It’s not unusual for someone to show up to a meeting 15 minutes late or so. Especially if the meeting is scheduled anywhere near the espresso break(s). Also, during meetings people regularly have side conversations and answer their cell phones (cell phones are how everyone communicates, even within the office). But I do like my job a lot, the people are very nice, and we do some interesting work. And on top of that, I get to do some traveling. Milan and Paris seem to be the first destinations on the agenda, but hopefully there will be many other great places to travel to.
Door handles only go in one direction. You try to turn them the other way, they just don’t go anywhere.
Light switches always seem to be on the outside of the bathroom.
Ethnic foods. While Portuguese cuisine is quite good, the variety of non-portuguese restaruants and food in the grocery stores is rather limited.
Girls (and women) don't play sports, especially not football. And by football, of course I mean soccer.