If you’ve ever travelled overseas you probably have noticed that in many places the pace of life is a lot slower than in the USA, sometimes infuriatingly so. When we first moved overseas it took us a few months to adjust to this slower pace. We found that by adjusting our expectations we could slip into life in the slow lane. Our “To Do” list went from 5-10 things per day to 3-4 things per week in the slow lane. On a good day in the slow lane, if I can check off even one item from the ToDo list, I feel productive and successful. We had to adjust our expectations or be frustrated and discouraged. We chose to adjust.
There are several reasons that life is slower overseas. First of all, for our first year overseas we didn’t have a car. This meant planning extra time for walking places. It also meant thinking twice before I bought a second gallon of milk at the grocery store, “Would I rather lug two gallons of milk home now or come back to the store for more milk in 3 days?” Because we had to carry our groceries home without a car, we made many smaller trips to the store throughout the week. Decreased mobility slowed us down.
Another reason for a slower pace of life is that we have to shop in many different stores to get what we need. One-stop-shopping is an American thing. Currently, I shop at 5 different stores each week just to meet our family’s grocery needs. I call it “hunting and gathering” because no single store has all that we need, all the time. Sometimes I find a product one week and the next week the store shelf is empty. (I don’t think inventory is taught in business schools here.) Some days I feel like all I do is drive from store to store searching for one thing.
A wide range of prices also slows me down. Sometimes I can find better prices by shopping at another store. For example, there is a store where I buy our shampoo. It is a crazy catch-all, you-never-know-what-you-will-find kind of store. But they usually carry one American brand of shampoo for just a couple of dollars. It saves me about $8-$10 in shampoo if I buy it there. So in my mind, it’s worth a trip to the shampoo store every couple of weeks. The hunting and gathering method of shopping means that it takes me all week to find all the items on our grocery list. By the time I find everything, it’s a new week and I get to do it all over again! Grocery shopping can be a full time job overseas!
Paying bills can also eat up an enormous chunk of your day in Life’s slow lane. In both Mexico and Costa Rica no one sends bills or money through the mail. In Mexico we would go to the phone company to pay the phone bill, and the electric company to pay the electric bill, and so on. Here in Costa Rica, we can pay our bills at the grocery store, the pharmacy, or the bank. But in both countries, bill paying means going somewhere and standing in line. I remember in Mexico standing in line all morning to pay a bill, then just when we got close to the front, the window closed and the teller went to lunch! We had to come back the next day and do it all over again. I have learned such great patience from standing in line. I can now stand in line for hours without complaining! It’s a wonderful skill to acquire.
We have adjusted pretty well to life in the slow lane, so every time we return to America I marvel at how we used to move so fast for so long! When we first returned after 3 years away, we had to pace ourselves or the American Way would burn us out. We found that in America we could complete an entire week’s worth of chores in a single morning! “Yahoo!” But rather than enjoying our extra time, we felt like we should take on more tasks to fill the rest of the day. Within a few weeks we were feeling stressed and burned out. We made a deliberate attempt to slow it down again. Life in the slow lane was looking really nice to us, at that point.
Slowing down sometimes feels like an impossible dream. I hear it from other people all the time when we go home, “I wish we could slow down and simplify our lives!” You can! Just sell your car. That will require you to say NO to a lot of extra commitments and will reduce your radius of mobility to whatever is between your house and the grocery store. And when you are considerably relaxed in your new slow pace of life, you can send me a thank you card… I’ll pick it up at the post office next time I go.