Every day, I am struck by some of the differences in lifestyles and cultures between here and the US. Not things that are better, nor worse, just different. In a lot of ways, things are similar to small-town US 50 years ago, but in a good way. Here are some things that I thought noteworthy:
Transportation – Not everyone has a car, nor do they need it. Most people live within walking distance of the places they go everyday, and when a longer trip is required, they ride the bus. This works very well if you live life at a slower pace than we do in the US. If you are in a hurry and time is money, then you need a car and a cell phone to talk on while driving. I remember. But here in the Azores, time seems more plentiful and people don’t mind the time it takes to walk or wait on a bus.
By the way, the busses are air conditioned, immaculate, cheap, and have seat belts. There is no trash, graffiti, or chewing gum on the floor. They are like Japan-Clean. Taxation is different here with (I think) 18% VAT added to everything. (This is why they have no income tax, and I believe the revenue works out about the same.) When you board the bus you tell the driver how far you are going and he looks it up on his table, adds tax, and tells you the fare. Then he MAKES CHANGE for you. This is a great system, and works very well for transporting people around the islands.
On Flores, I needed to get to a marine store for parts. The driver said it was near his last stop at the end of the line and he would take me there. Great, I think. Well, we get there and he parks the bus. He says something like “let’s go” and is off like a shot. I’m walking as fast as I can to keep up with him, and Laura, Cory, and Geoff are strung out behind us. It was a half mile to the store. I could not believe he walked me that far to make sure I got where I was going. This is only one example of the friendliness and courtesy we experience every day here in the Azores.
Metric system – Saki once said “A little inaccuracy sometimes saves tons of explanation”. This is the only reason I can come up with for some of the common misconceptions perpetrated by the media and our educational system. For example, I was taught that the whole world uses the metric system except for those guys in the US who wouldn’t go along with the rest of the world. Well, it just ain’t so.
Throughout the Azores, and, I’m told, Europe, all plumbing fittings are measured in inches, not millimeters. You can go to any hardware store and buy a 1/2″ threaded elbow in galvanized or brass, just like in the US. Now if you want hose or flexible tubing, that is in millimeters. But for whatever reason, plumbing piping is in inches. Even in Europe.
Distances and speed limits are posted in miles and miles per hour (not kilometers) in England. Here in the Azores, they are in kilometers. I will make a note of other exceptions to the metric rule as we travel. But for the moment, just know that the metric system is not as all-pervading as people would like to have you believe.
Stores – There are very few large stores in the Azores. We have seen a couple of Wal-Mart type stores, but only one or two per island. As a result, there are a lot of small stores, particularly for housewares, hardware, and clothing. What I thought was neat was what they did when the store was closed.
Remember, the stores are small, with only one or two shop windows to show their wares and entice people to come in. When the store is closed, they use the window in the door to the store as another shop window. They lay a lot of merchandise on the floor in front of the door as a temporary display for the night. Not on a table, but on the floor. Then, when they open the store the next morning, everything goes back on the shelf.
Foods and Brands – When we go to the grocery store, I am always looking for the food that I know I like. I like plain Triscuits. Laura prefers Great Grains cereal. Etc. Well, a lot of those just don’t make it over here, so you try new things. Two exceptions are Oreos and Chips Ahoy! cookies. Apparently, EVERYBODY likes those no matter where you are. However, we have had some great surprises by trying new things. And of course, the converse…
If you order french fries at a restaurant, they bring you mayonnaise (!) to go with them. You have to ask for ketchup. But, for whatever reason, when you are buying potato chips (which they have in multiple flavors) you need to be careful not to pick up a bag of ketchup-flavored chips. Apparently, ketchup is great on potato chips, but not on fries. Go figure.
Radio and video – Here is one point that seems lacking in the Azores. There are few radio stations, and Pandora does not work in Europe. (For anyone not familiar, Pandora is a way to listen to music over the internet, and allows TONS of choices for listening to music that you like). This was a shock to me, and apparently is some licensing issue with the music companies. The european equivalent is “AUPEO!” (yes, they capitalize it and add an exclamation point in the name). I don’t know what “AUPEO!” means in whatever language it is, but I’m not impressed. The good news is that it is free if you stay with the standard version, and the only advertisements are those telling you how much happier you will be if you upgrade to AUPEO! Prime. The bad news is there are limited stations and no skips allowed. If they play some song you dislike, you can hit a thumbs down button, but you are stuck listening to it until it is over. Presumably, they won’t play it for you again. You cannot go to a station based on an artist (e.g., Beatles radio)n unless you upgrade. There is a station called best rock of the 2000’s, but let’s just say their opinion of the best rock is different from mine. Overall, AUPEO! gets a very generous grade of “C”.
I have not seen a place to rent a DVD since Florida. Okay, I did not expect to see a Red Box on every corner, but I DID expect to see a video rental store. Not here. I asked what the locals do for movies and the answer was that they all have cable, and some people have high-speed internet for streaming. Well, neither of those is a choice here in the marina, so we are out of luck.
Alcohol – Wine and beer are the preferred drinks. Almost everyone has a small beer with lunch, and it’s a given to have a glass of wine with dinner. The beer is light, similar to Coors Light, so you could probably drink a dozen and go back to work. They seem to only have one for lunch. It is served very cold, and in much smaller glasses than in the US. People seem to drink it because they like it, and not as a means to get drunk.
A decent table wine is very inexpensive. Last night Laura and I had pizza on a small cafe overlooking the water. A large deluxe pizza was ten Euro, the wine was half a euro per glass, and the bottled water was the same as the wine. The whole dinner was 12 Euro, or about $13.25 US. But the wine was about 60 cents a glass.
That’s pretty much all I got for now. Yes, we are still having a great time and loving the life we have. I tell people that God blessed us way out of proportion to what we could ever have hoped for.
We miss everyone and hope things are going well!