Charting a couple's move from London to Portugal, tales, adventures and moving advice

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Reverse Culture Shock – In Reverse 6

Posted on June 23, 2015 by Ben Algarve

Much is said about “reverse culture shock” when expats move back to their former countries.

As I said in my last post, my wife and I have spent plenty of time missing Portugal after our return to England, sometimes to the point of feeling truly homesick.

So, with this is mind, it was perhaps a little foolhardy for me to book a trip back to Portugal as soon as we had really started to feel settled back in the UK.

The trip back was all rather sudden and unplanned. A good friend had a birthday coming up and my wife unexpectedly asked if I fancied going. I headed for my laptop and booked some flights before she had a chance to change her mind!

I travelled to Portugal alone on this occasion. A recent train trip to London with our now extremely mobile and inquisitive toddler has put us right off attempting to drag him onto a plane until such time as we can reason with him about social norms! While I felt a tad guilty about my wife missing out, we both agreed it was actually quite a good plan, as we didn’t want to find ourselves back in Portugal all together, desperately wishing we’d never moved back to England.

Reverse culture shock - it is not sand but it is home

Reverse culture shock – it is not sand but it is home

Onwards then, to the reverse culture shock. Well, to be frank I’m not sure whether I experienced it back in Portugal or whether I’m still experiencing it here in the UK!

The biggest surprise was how…unsurprising everything was. A friend picked me up from the airport, and heading back to my old stomping ground didn’t feel strange, it just felt…normal. Things don’t change very fast in small Portuguese towns and I was up to speed on the local goings on by the time I’d checked into my apartment and hurriedly changed into some shorts. (One thing I had forgotten after a few sunny English days is that there is actually a very distinct difference between warm and HOT!)

While I was in the Algarve, I wasn’t entirely on holiday; Us freelancers don’t truly get those, so I was having to do some work each day. This contributed a little to the headspin factor, as I essentially just walked straight back into my old life, albeit looking rather more pale, as all my local friends took great pleasure in telling me…

Reverse Culture Shock: So how did it feel?

One way to sum it all up is that it all fell dead centre between “familiarity breeds contempt” and “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Trips to the beach and on a boat along the Ria Formosa were enjoyable and memorable, and served to make me really rather mad at myself for not taking more advantage of what was on my doorstep for all those years.

Rediscovering my old stomping ground

Rediscovering my old stomping ground

On the flipside, traipsing around three different supermarkets in the heat to find an edible potato to bake one evening didn’t feel quaint and quirky, it just felt really bloody irritating like it did when I lived there. I’ve compared (somewhat controversially) the food options between Portugal and the UK before on this blog, but I stand by the fact that in terms of variety, the UK wins hands down, and not just for convenience food. I should follow this up by saying that this situation is both manageable and enjoyable if you have the time to shop around in Portugal, but for a busy working family, it’s easier to fill the cupboards and remain inspired in the kitchen when you live in the UK. I shall await the backlash on that once again.

Anyway, once I’d relaxed back to the Portuguese pace, I was sad to leave, but not as sad as I’d been missing my wife and son while I was there. On my last evening, one of my UK friends asked me online how the trip had felt. With some consideration, my answer was “transformative.”

The fact was, I felt homesick. Just the way I’d felt homesick for Portugal a couple of weeks previously. Now I know this was exacerbated by the fact I didn’t have my family with me, but somehow it felt like affirmation – and in a good way. However, at the same time I felt like I was finally mourning a closed chapter.

Ironically, I felt homesick for Portugal again today, and seeing my friends there again has definitely made me miss them afresh. I’ll be back to that town very frequently, all being well, with the confidence that it seems to remain reassuringly frozen in time.

But, all in all, I’m happy where I live now. The day after I got back was gloriously sunny, and I visited Whitstable on the Kent coast. I ate lobster and chips, and the best oysters I’ve ever tasted. I paddled in the chilly sea with my son, and I took more pictures during that afternoon than I did during five days in The Algarve.

Shellfish back in the UK

Shellfish back in the UK

Sometimes, to avoid that “reverse culture shock” you have to convince yourself you’ve done the right thing – just in order to stay sane. My trip to Portugal was a lot of fun, and I look forward to going again, but most of all it reassured me that I’m not telling myself any lies. For now, this is where I want to be – but feel free to ask me again once winter sets in 😉

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Some More Random “Moving Home” Observations 3

Posted on April 21, 2015 by Ben Algarve

We’ve been back in the UK a couple of months now, but everything still seems rather alien!

In my last post I was perhaps a little negative about the Portugal we’d left behind, so I’m going for some more balance this week.

Life in the UK has been good, but with an undulating backdrop of homesickness. It doesn’t help that I still do a lot of writing work about Portugal, and having to write about beaches I am no longer just down the road from isn’t the most fun way to begin a working week!  Suffice to say I really don’t think it will be that long until we pop back to the Algarve for a visit.

That visit would probably feel more urgent if it weren’t for the glorious weather we’ve had in England, and that’s where I’ll begin my list of random observations:

1. The weather here isn’t that bad at all.

I know we’ve been lucky with a dry April, but we’ve just spent a long weekend visiting family and we’ve been happily outside for rather a lot of it. Yesterday we had a pub lunch in a beer garden and I woke up today with a tanned face. That was NOT something I was expecting!

Delightful weather in England

Delightful weather in England

The other pleasant surprise is that even when the headline temperature looks low, it’s actually perfectly warm in sheltered spots. Of course I miss the Algarve weather, but what we’ve had since we’ve been back is more than acceptable, and actually far more practical for our baby son.

2. The UK mobile network is APPALLING!

I said that these would be random observations, so now we go from weather to phone signals!

Last weekend on our big family trip, there wasn’t a single house we arrived at where we could get decent data reception. This includes an area covering Kent, Outer London, Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. 3G reception on motorways was rubbish too.

I don’t know if it’s just that the UK’s network struggles with the number of people, but by comparison Portugal’s mobile infrastructure is fantastic.

Lots of Traffic and no Phone Signal

Lots of Traffic and no Phone Signal

3. We still have Portuguese “muscle-memory”

I don’t know how long this is going to last, but we are both still often convinced we are going the wrong way around roundabouts, and occasionally find it hard to remember the English word for something (my wife struggles particularly with “coentros,” which is coriander).

Worst of all, we’ve yet to shrug off the continental “hug and kiss on both cheeks” greeting, which in the UK results in either a near-head-butt or the recipient thinking you’re going in for a snog, neither of which comes across as particularly dignified…

4. England is expensive

This is a complicated point, but overall it’s a very good job there are more earning opportunities in the UK, because it’s far harder to live on a budget.

It’s not that all day-to-day things are more expensive. Groceries, for example, are probably cheaper than in Portugal, and as I’ve said before there is far more variety. Our utility bills are less too, but that’s completely cancelled out by a council tax bill of nearly £200 per month.

Where the budgeting unravels is in entertainment. Back in the Algarve, ten Euros could mean a good long trip to the bar and a bite to eat to take home. Here, that ten Euros won’t come close to buying the first round.

At the moment we’re spending every weekend catching up with friends and family, so our spending pattern isn’t typical, but suffice to say we keep having to top up our entertainment budget, and the credit cards are coming out far more than they did in Portugal!

Seafood - Available in the UK as well as Portugal - for a price

Seafood – Available in the UK as well as Portugal – for a price

In addition, working longer days and commuting means being more tired, and that’s when the lure of the takeaway menus becomes strong.

Finally, there’s just so much in the UK that you CAN do! After years of missing the theatre, and the easy access to gigs and festivals, we feel like we want to do it ALL. To do so we must work hard to earn it – and on that basis it’s easy to identify the start of that slippery slope back to the rat race. We must proceed with caution!

5. We’ll probably visit Portugal sooner than we thought

One thing that did come up during our manic weekend was the rather sad realisation that once we’d done everything we had to do, we’d be going “home” to elsewhere in England, rather than “home” to Portugal.

This was actually quite a good thing to realise, because it reminded us that we still have plenty waiting for us in Portugal: somewhere to stay; all of our friends, and all the places and things we miss. I even still have my two most beloved Portugal purchases – my moped and my Weber barbecue! There’s absolutely nothing stopping us going and working from there for a few weeks whenever the “homesickness” gets too strong.

Well, there is one thing stopping us, which is that while we continue to socialise “UK style” every weekend, we’ll never have the time nor the money. So, on that note, I shall sign off and get some more work done :-)

Please take a look at our book!

Moving to Portugal: How a young couple started a new life in the sun – and how you could do the same

Or find it here on Amazon.COM, for US readers:

Moving to Portugal: How a young couple started a new life in the sun – and how you could do the same

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