Travels With Jim and Rita

Episode 15 - A New Life and a New Perspective on Politics and Patriots

April 26, 2024 Jim Santos, travel writer and host of the International Living Podcast Season 1 Episode 15
Episode 15 - A New Life and a New Perspective on Politics and Patriots
Travels With Jim and Rita
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Travels With Jim and Rita
Episode 15 - A New Life and a New Perspective on Politics and Patriots
Apr 26, 2024 Season 1 Episode 15
Jim Santos, travel writer and host of the International Living Podcast

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Embarking on a nomadic lifestyle isn't just a leap into the unknown; it's a dance with new horizons. Join us, Rita and Jim Santos, as we swap the familiarity of Knoxville for the sun-kissed beaches of Mexico and the rustic charm of mountain villages, all while debunking the myth that living abroad is an escape from American life. Our laughter and candor fill this episode as we unravel the chapters of our journey, from the initial move to confronting the complexities of expatriation amid a global pandemic. With insights from my book "Living Abroad: Challenging the Myths of Expat Life," we offer a fresh perspective on embracing a global community without losing our patriotic spirit.

This episode isn't just about our adventures; it's a tapestry of lessons learned from the rich cultural contrasts between the United States and Ecuador. We muse over the vast differences in consumer attitudes, inspired by our six years in Salinas, where every item has a lifecycle far beyond the one-use mentality often seen back home. Our conversation takes you through the importance of adapting and integrating into local cultures, which can lead to a renaissance of values, including sustainability and community. It's an intimate reflection on how such experiences abroad can heighten our appreciation for what we have and introduce us to practices we might wish to bring back to our American way of life.

As we wrap up this episode, we can barely contain our excitement about the next leg of our voyage. Broadcasting straight from Mexico, we promise stories peppered with the vibrant energy of our surroundings. We're not just inviting you to listen; we're welcoming you into our ever-evolving narrative. So, subscribe, share your stories, and come along for a ride that promises to be as enlightening as it is entertaining. Next stop: Mexico, with its kaleidoscope of colors, flavors, and sounds, ready to be your companion through your headphones.

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http://jimsantos.net
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jim@jimsantosbooks.com

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Embarking on a nomadic lifestyle isn't just a leap into the unknown; it's a dance with new horizons. Join us, Rita and Jim Santos, as we swap the familiarity of Knoxville for the sun-kissed beaches of Mexico and the rustic charm of mountain villages, all while debunking the myth that living abroad is an escape from American life. Our laughter and candor fill this episode as we unravel the chapters of our journey, from the initial move to confronting the complexities of expatriation amid a global pandemic. With insights from my book "Living Abroad: Challenging the Myths of Expat Life," we offer a fresh perspective on embracing a global community without losing our patriotic spirit.

This episode isn't just about our adventures; it's a tapestry of lessons learned from the rich cultural contrasts between the United States and Ecuador. We muse over the vast differences in consumer attitudes, inspired by our six years in Salinas, where every item has a lifecycle far beyond the one-use mentality often seen back home. Our conversation takes you through the importance of adapting and integrating into local cultures, which can lead to a renaissance of values, including sustainability and community. It's an intimate reflection on how such experiences abroad can heighten our appreciation for what we have and introduce us to practices we might wish to bring back to our American way of life.

As we wrap up this episode, we can barely contain our excitement about the next leg of our voyage. Broadcasting straight from Mexico, we promise stories peppered with the vibrant energy of our surroundings. We're not just inviting you to listen; we're welcoming you into our ever-evolving narrative. So, subscribe, share your stories, and come along for a ride that promises to be as enlightening as it is entertaining. Next stop: Mexico, with its kaleidoscope of colors, flavors, and sounds, ready to be your companion through your headphones.

Support the Show.

https://www.buzzsprout.com/2292506/supporters/new
https://www.jimsantosbooks.com
http://jimsantos.net
https://www.youtube.com/@jimsantos508
jim@jimsantosbooks.com

Jim Santos:

Welcome to Travels with Jim and Rita. With Jim and Rita, I'm your host, jim Santos, and in this podcast series you can follow along as my wife Rita and I work out our crazy plan to outfox the real estate market in the US and actually increase our retirement nest egg by spending the next three years or so living abroad and exploring the world. Are we bold, forward-thinking pioneers or just plain nuts? Let's find out together, shall we? Hello everybody, I'm Jim Santos and welcome to Travels with Jim and Rita. Well, we did it.

Jim Santos:

After closing on the sale of our Knoxville Tennessee home last week, rita and I are now officially homeless. Or, as we prefer to think of it, the world is now our home. We're spending a week visiting our daughters and most of our grandkids here before leaving for Mexico. This weekend We'll be enjoying a week at the beach in Playa del Carmen and the island of Cozumel and then on to the mountain village of San Miguel de Allende for a month. That will give us a taste of our new life. But after Mexico we need to come back to Knoxville for some doctor appointments. Then we'll be off to spend some time with our sons and the rest of our grandkids before we leave the US again Not exactly sure where yet, but probably Central or South America, since we need to be in Las Vegas, nevada, at the end of October for an international living conference. Now I won't lie, it was really odd seeing our home of six years completely empty, and it was a bit frightening to take that final step. But there's also a sense of freedom. For example, while we were in Panama this winter, construction down the street from our home caused an overpressure that started a small leak under our kitchen sink. If this had not been spotted by a realtor who was showing the home, we would have returned to a big and expensive mess. Now we don't have to worry about how things are back at home. We can just concentrate on where we are now and where we would like to go next. We're looking forward to a little downtime now after the whirlwind of activity involved in packing, setting up for a mobile lifestyle and moving everything into storage. So five weeks in Mexico sounds really good right now. Now, in a future podcast, I'll have some details about the logistics of our move and the cost involved for storing our household, as several people have asked about that, and we'll get back to some interviews, but for today.

Jim Santos:

I wanted to address another topic that has come up recently and is still pretty relevant. We found that when we told friends and neighbors that we weren't moving anywhere in particular, we were just going to travel for a few years the most common reply we heard was oh, you have an RV. Well, when we explained to them that no, for the most part, we'd be traveling internationally, the reactions were mixed. Most expressed a bit of envy and wished us well. But for some, there was a hint of something we ran into back in 2012 when we announced we were moving to Ecuador this idea that we must hate America or that we were running away from something. This notion seemed so intriguing that in my book Living Abroad Challenging the Myths of Expat Life, I devoted a chapter to the topic, and I'll be playing an excerpt from the audiobook in just a bit.

Jim Santos:

First, I'd like to set the scene a little. When I wrote this chapter, it was in the aftermath of the 2020 election and the March on the Capitol. The political situation in the US was definitely in a state of flux. I thought things were bad then, but now, four years later, things are even more fluxed up, regardless of where you are in the political spectrum. I think everyone can agree that we have not seen a more fractious time in the US since the 1800s. Now, as in 2020, there are many people looking to leave the US out of fear or anger at how they perceive current events. I have to admit that, while our motivations to travel are not political at all, I'm a bit relieved that we will most likely be pet-sitting in a suburb of London when the US election rolls around. So, with the parallel to current events in mind, I now present the chapter.

Jim Santos:

You Must Hate America from Living Abroad Challenging the Myths of Expat Life Chapter number 11,. You Must Hate America from Living Abroad Challenging the Myths of Expat Life Chapter Number 11. You Must Hate America.

Jim Santos:

Something that really surprised me about our decision to move overseas was the attitude of some of our fellow countrymen. We expected our kids to be a little concerned with us moving so far away, but we were prepared for that and eased them into the idea so far away, but we were prepared for that and eased them into the idea. Some friends were happy for us, some a bit envious, and some confessed that they could not imagine doing it themselves, but there were a few who were openly hostile to the whole idea. It seemed somehow un-American to them. We were slapping Lady Liberty in the face and turning our backs on America to go live abroad. One person actually said to me If you hate America so much, why don't you just give up your citizenship?

Jim Santos:

I've seen trolls on the internet ranting that all expats are ripping off the US by taking our retirement or social security out of the economy and suggesting that we should be cut off from all US funds, even bank accounts. The overall sense of these objections was that if you are going to live somewhere else, you must hate your country. You must be running away from something. Now it is true that I have met people running away from domestic situations, one or two even from crimes they committed in the US. It is common to want to start over somewhere and reinvent your life after financial setbacks or relationship problems, but a notable few were just making up new identities and, as I brought up in the expat communities chapter, there are definitely some that left because of political differences.

Jim Santos:

Because of the times we live in, I think it is important to look at the idea of leaving because you hate your country's politics, or at least the party in power. Running away from politics is not a good idea. We've seen in the past few elections the threat slash promise if my candidate doesn't win, I'm leaving the country. It used to be that no one took that too seriously. It was just something you said to show your extreme displeasure with the other candidate. In these last two weird election cycles, however, we heard this a record number of times from both sides of the aisle. It seemed like no matter who won, at least half the country was going to get the hell out. Even worse, it usually looks like the winning side would be thrilled if that happened. It's a really sad time in American politics and society that things have come to this. The only thing Americans seem to be able to agree on is that things would be a lot better if everyone who disagrees with me just left the country.

Jim Santos:

Now that the election is over, the coup attempt failed and the post-coronavirus pandemic, travel may slowly hopefully begin to resume. There has been an uptick in the number of inquiries into organizations that provide information and assistance for wannabe expats. As a writer for International Living and their sister publications, I've also seen more email and questions. Let me offer some simple advice if you are thinking of leaving the country solely to escape a political outcome Don't. In my experience, both as an expat and as someone who talks to expats all over the world, I have found that the people who are most successful at living in a foreign country are happy because they were running towards something, not away from their problems.

Jim Santos:

My wife and I lived on the Pacific Ocean in the resort town of Salinas, ecuador, for over six years. We loved it there and looked forward to living in other countries, but we did not decide to come to Ecuador to flee anything in the US, with the possible exception of freezing weather. Our number one goal was to move someplace that's warm all year. We had found from traveling around the states that if you go far enough south to be warm in the winter, you're going to be broiling in the summer. Then we discovered the Ecuador coast, with weather usually between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit and no chance of major storms or hurricanes. We also had traveled enough outside of the US to understand we would find cultural differences. We were excited by the chance to experience that new culture and to learn a new language. Although we certainly benefited from the lower cost of living, we were not running away from financial problems either. We could afford to live just about anywhere. We chose to try to live in Ecuador.

Jim Santos:

That is not always the case among expats. I've talked to people who left to get away from a bad relationship or marriage, people who left because they cannot afford to live on their retirement in the US and, yes, even people who left because they did not like the political climate, although there are always exceptions to the rule. That is the type of expat who has the most difficulty adjusting to life outside the US, and some never adjust at all. They tend to form attachments solely with other expats and spend as much time as possible in expat enclaves, interacting with their host country as little as possible. They may refuse to learn the local language. Some even evince pride at their refusal to learn. They reject local foods and culture and indeed try to recreate their life in the US in miniature as much as possible. Naturally, they feel isolated and alone and at some point they can start to resent everything around them and feel especially bitter towards the US. This is not good for anyone, let's face it. Emigrating to a foreign country is not for everyone and is not something to be undertaken lightly. It is much easier to be happy as an expat if you feel like you are building a new home and a new life to expand your world, not burning bridges to escape a bad situation.

Jim Santos:

Although I do expect to see an increase in the numbers leaving the US to live abroad, I really do not anticipate a mass migration. The candid fact is that many people are just not in a position to leave the US. They are tied by their jobs or family, or just lack the financial and or emotional resources to make such a move. I do believe that for people who have already done the preliminary work or were considering the move before the election, then, yes, the 2020 election and its rancorous aftermath may be the last straw that pushes them to take the leap. There are many wonderful places around the world where expats can choose to settle. There are many compelling reasons to consider new life in a new country, and I can testify that it can be a rewarding and positive experience. But I encourage you to take a good long look at yourself and your reasons for leaving and ask yourself am I leaving because I want to live there or because I don't want to live here? Appreciating what you have Living in another country and spending time traveling abroad has opened our eyes to a lot of things about America, both good and bad.

Jim Santos:

On the one hand, seeing how much progress other nations have made in infrastructure and healthcare makes you wonder why the US is not doing better. We've seen people who are much more relaxed about their lives and much more comfortable with their body image in themselves. We've seen places where the quality of time spent with family and friends is more important than rushing off to the next appointment on your schedule. On the other hand, when you see how much poverty exists around the world and the sometimes incredibly sharp differences between the haves, the have-nots and the have-nothings, it can make you really appreciate some of the things we take for granted in the States, simple things like basic shelter and potable water. Although we have homeless and hungry people in the US, we also have a large demographic that is poor while also obese. In Ecuador, we saw plenty of women in the markets buying one potato, a small baggie of rice, a handful of greens and two eggs just to feed their families. One meal for one more day. There are many things about our country that should make you feel proud and lucky to be an American. So, while living somewhere does definitely open your eyes to some of our faults. It should also make you profoundly appreciative of what we have. Recognizing problems and wanting to correct them is a sign that you love your country, not that you hate it.

Jim Santos:

See your home from another point of view. As American treasurer Mark Twain once wrote, travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime. It's much like the old can't-see-the-forest-for-the-trees effect. Sometimes you're just too close to something to get the proper perspective. When you travel, you can't help but see things a little differently, and that new point of view is greatly magnified. If you take the further step of living in a different country, even if it's just for a few months, you not only start to look at life in your native land in new ways, but you get a chance to see what others really think about us. Remember many of the people you meet have never visited North America and only know it through TV and movies. They tend to be genuinely curious about what it is like and want to understand why we see the world in a different way too.

Jim Santos:

A big differentiation that I noticed early came about mainly because it can be quite expensive to get American TV overseas. It has become a lot easier in recent years, but in 2013 there were not as many options. We could get local cable or satellite TV, but most of the programs would be in Spanish. Slingbox was an option, but it required piggybacking off of a cable box in the US and required pretty decent bandwidth. We ended up just using Apple TV and a few streaming services no network TV, no news channels, no commercials. This turned out to be very good for us, as we were cut off from the 24-hour news cycle. Sure, we could read the news on the internet, and we did that a lot, but we also found ourselves branching out to read news from other sources in other countries. We began to see how so much American news programming is based on inciting fear while at the same time trying to shelter the viewer from a dangerous world.

Jim Santos:

For example, on May 2, 2011, rita and I were on a three-week vacation in Italy with one of her brothers and his wife. We were spending that particular week based in a two-bedroom apartment in Florence, but we had rented a car for the day to take a drive out to Pisa. We were sitting in a little café outside of the Università di Pisa by the River Orno when we noticed the other diners were suddenly riveted to the TV over the bar. I had learned a little Italian for the trip, but all I could gather from the excited announcer was the word assassinato, which certainly did not sound good. Suddenly the scene shifted and we were looking at a close-up photo of what was clearly Osama bin Laden, with at least two bullet holes in his head. It was only on the screen for a few moments and we disagreed later on the exact details. It seemed to me that one was where his right eye should have been and the other in the forehead. Rita still believes she saw both of his eyes had been shot out. But at any rate, we found out when we got home that the news agencies in the US did not show this photo, fearing people could not take it or that there would be reprisals.

Jim Santos:

Italy, as you might have already guessed, is a predominantly Catholic country. However, it does have a substantial Muslim presence, about 2.3% of the population. Were we in danger? Not really. As it turns out, the restaurant we were in was primarily for schools and locals just the kind of place we look for and we were obviously tourists with our brochures, maps and cameras, but we were completely ignored by the clientele and our waiter gave no indication that anything had changed. Later that day, we were in a street market with plenty of obviously Muslim vendors, and the only overt act of terrorism was one gentleman who insisted I would look great in some tight yellow leather pants. Later, of course, we heard about the censorship on the news in the US and how there were repeated warnings to look out for retaliations stoking fear while, at the same time, protecting citizens from disturbing truths, which, of course, now has backfired, as conspiracy theorists in 2020 have decided bin Laden was never killed, that it was just a body double.

Jim Santos:

Much of the day-to-day life that I have seen outside of the US is much more focused on local events. For the most part, they are concerned with things that directly affect them and their families. What is happening in their village or neighborhood is of greater concern than what is happening in their nation's capital or around the world. The prices in the local markets, not the stock market, are on their minds. Speaking of which, in the US, about 55% of households own stock. However, most of us own very small amounts. It's estimated that in 2016, the wealthiest 10% controlled as much as 84% of all stocks.

Jim Santos:

So why is it so breathlessly reported every day in the media? Why are there tickers running under the screen on cable news? Why are there so many shows dedicated to what is up, what is down and what it all means for the future? Personally, I think it is because of what Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Kr all means for the future. Personally, I think it is because of what Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman says about the stock market it has no relationship to the economy as a whole and it runs purely on greed and fear. In other words, it makes good television. It's easy to cause panics, to drop prices, buy up stock and then announce that the crisis is over and watch the prices go back up, which brings me back to where I started, ranting about the weaning away from television.

Jim Santos:

Believe it or not, tv is not the main focus of life for families in other nations. True telenovelas, the uber-dramatic Hispanic soap operas, are popular in Ecuador, but the TV is most commonly used to watch football games. Much more emphasis is put on spending time with friends and family over meals or drinks than spending it staring at talking heads telling you what you should think or what you should be outraged about. Today, contrast that with our visits to the States, where our family and friends have a TV on almost all day. It is a constant presence for many all across the country. Even if it's just droning on in the background, it's become a convenient babysitter and a substitute for conversation far too much, as I see it. Throwaway Culture.

Jim Santos:

How was your trip to the States? Our friends in Ecuador usually ask, and it's sometimes hard to frame a simple answer. It's always great seeing family and friends. Manicured and landscaped lawns are a treat, and it's almost scary how easy it is to communicate when everyone is speaking English all the time and, as I've written before, I always appreciate what we have when I return. But there are other things, unsettling things, that we notice as well.

Jim Santos:

Rita and I had lived in Ecuador for three years in January of 2017. Over the previous year, we had family members come to visit us, so it had been ten months since our last trip back to the US. We knew it would feel a little odd, but we weren't quite prepared for the full impact. First, after the mañana lifestyle of the Pacific coast and Salinas, it seemed like everyone was in a hurry wherever we went. When we visited restaurants, we knew that the prices would be a shock, but we had forgotten what huge portions are served up, with, most of the plate piled high with fats and carbs and low in nutrition. We also had forgotten that American restaurants are concerned with getting you fed and on your way as quickly as possible. In Ecuador, you can finish your meal and sit and talk for hours without the waiter ever approaching you until you ask for the bill. In the US, they plop the bill down on your table with your entree and clearly expect you to vacate as soon as your meal is over. Down on your table with your entree and clearly expect you to vacate as soon as your meal is over.

Jim Santos:

What made the biggest impression on me that visit, however, was the profusion of goods available in the stores and how easily things are just discarded. Not only trash, although there is plenty of that, but fast food comes in all disposable containers. Products in stores are double or triple wrapped in cardboard and plastic, and so much of the food in the grocery stores is in boxes, cans or bags. But also evident was that people discard things that are still usable or valuable, partly because of the large serving sizes. I routinely saw fries, veggies, soft drinks and more thrown into the trash At the fish counter. In a Harris Teeter I saw them filleting a fish and disposing of everything except the fillet, something that would produce a shocked reaction in an Ecuador market, I assure you.

Jim Santos:

Driving down suburban streets, I saw homes with chairs, couches, lamps and other household items out for trash pickup. This is not the case in Ecuador, where items are typically used, reused, broken down into constituent pieces and used again. You certainly would not toss out that fish carcass. You would use it to make soup or a fish stock. If a leg on a chair breaks, you fix it. If you can't fix it, you use the parts to make something else.

Jim Santos:

I was at an expat's home once helping to translate for workers installing his internet. They needed an extension cord to reach the router, so he rummaged around and pulled one out of a drawer. Unfortunately, it seemed to have a short in it and it would not work. He tossed it into the kitchen trash can and immediately one of the workers pointed to it and said Permiso, asking if he could have it. No doubt he took it home and replaced one of the ends or shortened it until it worked. Have it no doubt. He took it home and replaced one of the ends or shortened it until it worked.

Jim Santos:

Another good example of this throwaway mindset is something that happened when a friend of my wife's came to visit us in Salinas later that same year. She and her significant other were renting a place for two months, so they decided to also bring their dog Along with the dog. They brought a plethora of dog paraphernalia, including a dog stroller. If you are not familiar with the product, and good for you if you are not, this is a stroller made specifically for dogs. You can find it in most pet stores in the US. At any rate, while walking the dog on the Malecon in this stroller, they hit a bump and the front wheel came off. Tragically, the poor doggie had to walk back.

Jim Santos:

When we were told this story, I assured them it was not a problem. I could text our guy Javier who could fix that for them. The couple looked at each other a bit ashamed, I hope anyway and then confessed that they had left the stroller leaning against a trash can. They assumed we could just take them to the mall to buy a new one. I was nonplussed. First I had to explain to them that although you may find this item in the US easily, in Ecuador they don't generally worry about putting their dogs into strollers. We might find one in Guayaquil if we were going to make the 4 hour round trip, spend some time searching the stores and then pay 50% more for it than you would in the States. Our friends tried to go back and get the broken one for a repair, but of course it was long gone. I told them someone probably already had it repaired and was pushing it around the street loaded with mangoes or papayas for sale or possibly welded it to the back of a bicycle for their child to ride in.

Jim Santos:

That's the mindset in Ecuador and many other countries I noticed early on. You do not often see second-hand stores and I don't recall ever seeing any junkyards. Cars are used and repaired until they are falling apart and then the parts are used for something else. We have seen a few vehicles that are so modified you can't tell what make and model they started out, as we call them genera cars. The same thing is true for appliances and really anything else of value. Perhaps the concept of value is the important difference. Ecuadorians see value in almost everything. Workers don't buy a new bucket to mix paint or concrete. They cut an empty 5 liter water bottle in half and use that. We have had plumbing fixtures replaced and the plumber always wants to know if he can keep the old leaky parts. Everything has value.

Jim Santos:

In the States, it seems that the mindset is if it is old or you just can't use it anymore, throw it away and get a new one. There doesn't even have to be anything wrong with it. Is your car more than three years old? Get a new model. Let's get rid of our TV and get a new one that is smarter and does 3D. A new iPhone 12 is coming out. Toss your iPhone 11 and get the latest. Isn't it possible? This leads to a feeling that nothing is of value. Could it be this idea that everything is disposable be part of the problem the US is facing? If your society is broken, do you just throw it away? I hope not. I honestly believe that if more Americans could, like Mark Twain suggests, get out of our own little corner of the earth and see firsthand what life is like in other parts of the world, it would go a long way to help recover the American ideal. How wonderful it would be to see us embrace again the idea that our country is stronger because of its diversity, that we should be celebrating our differences instead of fighting over them, and that, while we have much to share with the world, the world also has important lessons for us to learn.

Jim Santos:

That was an excerpt from my book Living Abroad Challenging the Myths of Expat Life, which is available in audiobook, kindle, paperback and hardcover formats. You can find it and my other books and short stories on my Amazon author page by going simply to jimsantosnet. Before we go, a reminder that Rita and I will be at the 2024 Ultimate Go Overseas Boot Camp coming up in Las Vegas on October 26th through the 28th. We'll both be in the exhibit hall to answer questions about slow travel and the places we visited, and I'll have to conquer my fears and face a huge crowd to give a couple of talks. There'll be expats and experts from around the world and if you're interested in attending, check out intlivingcom slash events that's intlivingcom slash events for more information or to make reservations.

Jim Santos:

So that's it for this week's show. Next week we'll be coming to you from somewhere in Mexico, so keep listening and spreading the word on social media. If you can, please take a moment to leave a rating and review and, of course, subscriptions are always welcome. If you have any questions or you'd like to tell your own story, email me at jim at jimsantosbookscom. Until next time, remember, we travel not to escape life, but so that life does not escape us.

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