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Cultural Differences

Recently I was reading comments in one of the expats groups I am in. My heart really went out to someone who said "Is it wrong to say I miss the California? I know everyone says all of these wonderful things about Portugal, but I miss California." The person proceeded to list the things that she missed there and struggled to adapt to in Portugal, including the bureaucracy. I read her list and could relate to most of them. It's not the first time I read a post like this.

Immigrating to another country is not a small feat. It took me about 5 years to adjust to the cultural differences in Canada. I grew up in Trinidad and Tobago where people greet one another on the street with a "Good morning, good afternoon or good evening." When entering an elevator, it's the same. When I immigrated to Canada, people thought I was strange when I greeted them as I passed them on the streets and particularly in the elevator. No one would reply. I didn't understand why they didn't say anything. Eventually my boss told me that's not the norm in Canada, especially in the elevators. That was a big culture shock and I learned to stay silent. I would eventually learn to mind my own business especially on public transit and to look away from people.

Immigrating to Portugal also presented endless learning opportunities. Many expats complain about the bureaucy here, but they love living in this country and put up with going through the learning curve of different processes. It took us 3 days to open a bank account. The banking system is very different and not always straightforward. Completing a simple address change is very very different. It's not like North America, where it's generally just a quick online address update. I once read to do an address change, bring your lunch because you might be waiting for awhile. I'm actually in the process of doing one right now. I brought all of the documents I was asked to bring and more and was very early for my appointment. When I got to the counter, I was informed that I was not told the correct process. I have to visit my local municipal office and get a letter signed by the president of the municipality to state that I live where I do. This requires a second appointment to complete the process I was going through. I will be honest, I wanted to blow a gasket because of the amount of time this took from my day. What is that saying? Patience is a virtue? I remind myself this is a different country and I am learning the way things are done. Yes, it is different.

I wrote some words of enouragement to the person in the expat group and also told her I can understand her sentiments that home is home. Immigrating to Canada, I found there was less bureaucracy. Returning to a country where procedures are not so straightforward makes us question why to many things. But, as the other saying goes, when in Rome, fall in line.

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