War Cry

According to Webster’s, war is “a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations … a state of hostility, conflict, or antagonism … a struggle or competition between opposing forces or for a particular end.”

For its part, Oxford’s simply says that it’s “a situation in which two or more countries or groups of people fight against each other over a period of time.”

When the 1,728-page Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary appeared in 2001, Linton Weeks in The Washington Post reported Encarta’s top American editor as saying, “it will start the Third World War of Dictionaries.” Added Michael Agnes, editor in chief of Webster’s New World dictionaries, “It will shake things up.”

Encarta lasted until 2009.

RIP.

The “legal” definition of war can be found in the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which identify two categories of armed conflicts (or wars) – international and non-international.

Which begs the question: When does war before a world war?

Declares Webster: A world war is “a war engaged in by all or most of the principal nations of the world.”

Some examples the dictionary cited:

• The situation defused after initial investigation suggested the missile came from the Ukrainian side in accident during missile defense – but highlighted the potential for a miscalculation to spark a world war.—Simone Mccarthy, CNN, 18 Nov. 2022

• That money supplies the Russian army, which is still invading Ukraine, killing Ukrainians unmercifully, bombing Ukraine’s cities and infrastructure into oblivion, risking a potential world war, and threatening the world’s food supply.—Daniel Markind, Forbes, 21 June 2022

• Former officials at the Departments of Defense and State were skeptical that Russia would intentionally target Poland, knowing a provocative attack could spark a world war.—Francesca Chambers, USA TODAY, 16 Nov. 2022

NATO – the North American Treaty Organization –comprises 30 nations today. Two more, Sweden and Finland, are hoping to join the pact when it meets officially later this year. Still, like the European Union by and large, most “Western” NATO nations are defending Ukraine and supplying it with increasingly sophisticated arms, tanks, drones, aircraft, and weapons of war.

Are we already in a world war? If so, is it “cold” or “hot?”

Marshall McLuhan infamously stated that “the media is the message”; i.e., we tend to believe what see and hear via our preferred media. So, maybe the matter is mine: I’m watching too much TV, reading too many newspapers, spending too much time online distilling the “social” media.

I am sick of hearing about China continuing to threaten Hong Kong and Taiwan. Of North Korea testing nukes and guided missiles while saber-rattling at its southern step-brother. Of Brazil copy-catting the USA in terms of insurrections. Of revolutions in Venezuela, Peru, Haiti. Of conflict in Syria, insanity and instability in Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian crusade, El Salvador’s never-ending gang wars, cartels and drug lord crises in Mexico. Of London Bridge falling down while leavers and stayers, pro- and anti-monarch loyalists, Tories and Labour, duke it out daily as people try to go about their business worrying about how they’ll pay their bills.

And America?

If referring to the USA, the country is a gun, a powder keg, where mass shootings and massacres occur continuously. Where the divided states and absurd politicians annihilate each other as the three branches of government are caught up in turf-minding and guessing which officials will be the next ones to be found with smoking guns – aka classified documents – in their homes or their hands. Where law and order are quaint concepts defined today by who’s doing the policing. And dearly beloved Canada, that place where Americans wanted to escape to as far back as I can remember (Vietnam), now finds its population at odds over Hollywood handsome Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Inflation and strikes are everywhere, along with territorial disputes and civil wars. Snipers lurk and attack total strangers unmercifully online. When countries and peoples are so polarized that they no longer can talk civilly to others, we’re at war.

According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Global Protest Tracker, since 2017 over 400 significant antigovernment protests have erupted worldwide; more than 132 countries experienced significant protests; 23% of these significant protests have lasted three months or longer; 135 significant economic antigovernment protests occurred worldwide.

From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, we have blood on our hands.

And the bottom line, I believe – whether measured by militant politicians or organized crime, billionaires and oligarchs, oil and energy blackmail, drugs and even domestic disputes – is money.

Blood money.

So far, so good in Portugal and Spain … although we’re told that grift and corruption do occur here, too. We’ve learned enough Portuguese to get the gist of the news broadcast on the TVs prominent in every bar, café, and restaurant. And there’s always CNN “breaking news” to inform us of the latest catastrophes–man-made and “natural.” But at least our streets here are quiet. Portugal and Spain are accessories, not accomplices, to the wars. We’re paying more, but we can still sleep soundly and eat regularly. We’ve bought some time until drawn into the brawl.

Comfort: Maybe that’s the real problem? Like safety and security, we crave and will do everything possible to defend it.

Have we become too comfortable?

I don’t know. But I do know that I got an email and postal letter from our Internet provider today, informing me that prices are going up.

“Life will only change when you become more committed to your dreams than to your comfort zone,” noted Jimi Hendrix’s sidekick, bass guitarist Billy Cox.

Perhaps it’s time to pull the plug and escape the ravages of modern media into the illusory pages of a good book. To tilt at windmills or venture down the rabbit hole again.

Like Don Quijote and Alice in Wonderland.

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine.

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Selling Portugal

First and foremost, let me say that we love Portugal … despite its quirks and eccentricities. There is nowhere else we would want to live, except for our periodic vacations at our pied a terre in Olvera, Spain.

It’s been five years now that we’ve been living in Portugal. Though Portugal hadn’t been on our radar — we´d had a vacation bolt in Spain for 15 years — friends who lived near us in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, urged us to consider the little country between Spain and the Atlantic Ocean where they had bought some property in Alpedrinha, a charming village between Castelo Branco and Fundão.

Why Portugal and not Spain?

As non-EU nationals, the bottom line for us was this: Portugal wanted us and did everything possible to make our residency there easier; Spain didn’t.

Over these years, we’ve seen a lot of hype and disinformation spread about Portugal. For us and many others, it’s a great place to live. But too many people get caught up in all the hype and the hoopla: How many different media and magazines have decreed that Portugal is the top place to be … to visit … to live … to retire?

Do you have any idea how many Americans from the USA (alone) are moving to Portugal in increasing numbers?

Enough to command cover and feature stories from Condé Nast TravelerPolíticoThe Los Angeles TimesCNN, and many others.

Why all the hype and hoopla about this tiny, westernmost European nation?

Lots of reasons … including the selling of Portugal.

“Portugal is a good country to live in,” reports the Goa Spotlight newspaper. “Security, the friendliness of the people, the open and tolerant culture, education, among many other aspects, are factors that lead Brazilians to seek out the country. However, promises of an El Dourado, designed by youtubers from Brazil, are bringing people from the other side of the Atlantic in search of a reality that does not exist.”

The reality of Portugal is framed by what happens on the planet. The war continues to leave its marks on post-pandemic growth, and the economic recession threatens, above all, those who cannot extend what they earn at the end of the month.

In addition, with rents rising – last year they rose by an average of 37%, with the energy bill rising, gas, water, food and transport at more expensive prices, it’s complicated for anyone looking for a better life easier, or at least with surmountable challenges, in Portugal.

Truth be told, Portugal is being oversold.

I suspect that many professionals who can’t find appropriate work (and pay) in the country are pumping up the rhetoric and joining the bandwagon of those selling Portugal. Grocers specializing in food products generally hard to find are shipping them to your doorstep in Portugal. Therapists are dealing with post-expatric syndrome and a host of other unsettling behaviors. Lawyers are catering to the big slice of business that comprises the market of people needing NIFs, bank accounts, and houses. Property agencies are a dime a dozen. Relocation experts promise to facilitate the transition. Packed tighter than sardines in a tin are webinars, blogs, vlogs, and YouTube channels catering to expats, immigrants, and foreigners. We have countless scores of people and groups teaching Portuguese in a variety of formats. Others are arranging round-trip scouting trips to the destination(s) of client interest(s), as well as charter flights bringing people and their pets to Portugal. Customized trips and tours are at your disposal, as are money lenders and currency brokers. Portugal itself is subsidizing numerous public relations undertakings that lure people — as tourists, travelers, and residents — to its land of the fado and saudade.

And, yes, some of them advertise in Portugal Living Magazine. (Think of us as a Portuguese Robin Hood–charging advertisers so we can provide free subscriptions to readers!)

Still, there’s a point to be realistic and not conjure up expectations of cobble stone streets with porto flowing freely. It just doesn’t work that way.

“The sales gimmick of Portugal having the best beaches in Europe, the warm weather, low cost of living, and hospitable people was charming and very appealing. However, as reality set in, I discovered a different picture–more of a western country being operated as a third world country, or an eastern bloc bureaucratic central system,” one critic said.

This particular person itemized his disappointments with and complaints about Portugal:

Regarding responsibility: The irresponsible behavior of the Portuguese citizens exacerbated the (Covid lock-down) problem. For example, the Portuguese government imposed a travel restriction over the 2021 Easter Weekend, so 50% of the country (5 million residents) traveled to the Algarve a day before the travel restriction started to go to the beach, only to spike the covid-19 numbers with this super spreader practice. So, Portugal went from easing the restriction phases of Mar/Apr/May to a delayed roll-out easing rules for Aug/Sep/October plan, with no consequences to law breakers.

Regarding taxes: The Non-Habitual Resident tax system for expats went from 0% to 10% overnight, with the stroke of a pin starting from 31 Mar 2020. Also, that NHR expires after 10 years, leaving expats’ pensions at the mercy of the Portuguese income tax brackets of 14.5%-48%. Another thing that I didn’t learn till later was the effect of obtaining Portuguese citizenship on tax exempt pensions under the current 1994 tax treaty with the US, where federal pensions (from Fed, State, and local governments) would be subject to Portuguese income taxes once the recipient is both a resident and a citizen of Portugal. Thus requiring the recipient to stay under the 183 days per year to avoid being a tax resident, provided that the expat’s primary residence was not considered by Finanças as being in Portugal, a big grey-area open to interpretation, especially if you own a property in Portugal!

Regarding the cost of living: While in general the cost of living in Portugal is lower than most places in the USA, some things just aren’t that much cheaper in Portugal. Many posts rant about how cheap the food is here, where lunch shouldn’t exceed 10 Euros, and dinners shouldn’t exceed 20 Euros, and never tip more than one euro. Well no one tells you that locals have two menus, where an Algarve restaurant owner emailed me his Portuguese patrons’ local-priced menu, but handed his walk-in customers the overpriced touristy priced menu. I ordered a breakfast cheese omelet, a coffee, bread, and water, for which I was charged 17 Euros! The concept of exploiting your expat residents is appalling to me. The grocery stores are not cheap, and are comparable to USA prices, unless you elect to forfeit all “luxury” foods and brands you’ve grown accustomed to back home. Residential electricity cost in PT is 211.4% of that in the USA. The average price a residential customer in the United States pays for electricity is $0.149 per kWh, where in Portugal the average residential rate [with the 23%IVA tax] is 0.262 Euro per kWh ($0.315 per kWh). The gasoline price in PT is 228% of that in the USA: The average price of gasoline in the United States is $3.043 per gallon, where in Portugal the average price of gas is $6.95 (1.527€ per Liter/5.78 per gallon). Even though renting can be affordable in Portugal, the entire Algarve region spikes rents to three or four folds in the tourist season month’s May through September, asking their tenants to pay up or evict them, resulting in the entire expat population in the Algarve desperately pleading for accommodations on expat groups. Cars cost at least twice as much as they are in the USA, simply because of the outrageous taxes imposed on imported cars and the added VAT and road taxes. Used cars are unreliable and are triple and quadruple what a reasonably priced used car should comparably cost in the USA.

(Note: I disagree with several of the points the writer made above. For one, the price of electricity. Numbers can be tricky and used every which way to justify a point. Personally, we have lived from Florida to Wisconsin and places in between, where our typical monthly electric bills were U.S. $300-500. In Portugal, we’re paying €125 on average for two separate properties with aircons, washers, dryers, dehumidifiers, and hot water heaters in use. Our Internet “package” — including a fixed line telephone, a mobile phone with more minutes and data that we’ll ever use, over 100 channels — more with a “Smart” TV — and high-speed broadband is 70€ per month. Compare that to Comcast! And property taxes? For us in the USA, it was well over $3,000 per year vs. €125 in Portugal. All things considered, our cost of living is covered by my monthly Social Security payments–about US $2,000.)

Regarding health care: Everyone touts the great prices of medical care in Portugal. That may be true in emergency medicine (life, limb, or eye sight), which one could very well require if you drive enough in this country, being cut off around every corner at high speeds for no apparent reason. However the public health system is grossly inadequately equipped and understaffed, where my diabetic expat neighbor is waiting over three months to get his eye exam scheduled. I attempted to schedule an appointment with a public clinic doctor to no avail for eight months now; every time I go to the clinic they say it’s not possible or no doctors available in the next month, and refuse to schedule future appointments that are beyond a 30-day window. The fact is that the public health doctors in Portugal moonlight at private clinics during the tourist season for more income, and their staff at the public clinics cover for them. 

(Note: Free, national health care plans — from Canada to the UK and beyond — suffer similar problems. Voilà: enter another money-making service catering to confused and frustrated foreigners in Portugal–the health concierge, whose team helps you navigate the system, make appointments with doctors and dentists, and resolve any concerns you may have. All for a fee, of course. On the other hand, private health insurance is a bargain in Portugal. My partner, 59, and I, 73, together are paying €2,000 for the most comprehensive coverage we’ve had anywhere … and it includes all of Iberia, Spain as well as Portugal.)

Like everywhere these days, Portugal — and the European Union — has its share of liberals and alt-righters. There are robberies, both burglaries and advantage-taking. Not everyone is nice–some people are downright nasty. Fuel is more expensive here, at least three times its cost in the USA. It gets bone-chilling cold all over the country, a different type of cold that we’ve not experienced elsewhere. There’s mold and bugs and flies and creepy crawlers. And lots of houses that continue to be inhabited since they were built (and hardly upgraded) in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Yes, there are some people who have different attitudes about domestic pets than we do. We cringe when we hear of their abuse and abandonment. They may cringe when they see us treating our dogs and cats as children, rather than pets. But, increasingly, I see Portuguese people walking their dogs on leads, picking up after them, buying specialty foods at upscale pet shops, and taking their “familiars” to the vet to be diagnosed, treated, and inoculated.

My friend João (don’t we all have at least one?), whom I respect immensely, responded to a litany of complaints about living in Portugal with these words:

“We describe things as we are, not as they are. As objective as one can be, the overall joy of living in one place cannot be calculated from some parameters on a bullet list. I must say that as a former expat myself, what some considered negative points were truly the things that made me happy. Take into consideration that the grass is always greener … and there will always be people (seeking to) overrate their products–countries included.”

One of the questions asked of would-be members to the largest Facebook group for expats, immigrants, and others interested in moving to Portugal is “What do you like most about Portugal?” By far, the majority of those answering say “Everything!”

Give me a break, please. Most of them have yet to set foot in the country, but they already know that they like everything about Portugal. Yeah, right.

A friend, Rudi, posted this on her Facebook feed today: “I love my little village. I spent this morning emailing and calling four companies to ask if they could send me an invoice for work they had done at my place and materials they had delivered. After four texts from me, the wood guy finally did send me an invoice for wood he delivered the first week of October. I don’t think I ever before had to beg to pay my bills.

That’s the paradox of Portugal.

For some reason, I’m reminded of these lyrics from Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi: “They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.”

Those who come to Portugal because they’ve been sold on it being paradise are in for some surprises and reality checks. But just what is “paradise,” anyway? One person’s paradise may put another in the doldrums.

For us, it’s living in peace–safely and securely. It’s having a diverse group of multi-lingual friends who enjoy being together. It’s marveling at the splendors of the world within driving distance. It’s integrating to the culture rather than making it subordinate to ours.

We experience that in Portugal.

“At the end it’s a wonderful country to experience but it’s not paradise,” commented Jon Collier in a post. “That’s a place you create in your heart.”

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine, the “thoughtful magazine for people everywhere with Portugal on their minds.” To read the current issue and subscribe — free of charge! — please visit https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue/

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Masquerade

I found myself thinking about masks today.

Some people continue to wear them when out walking, shopping, even driving in their cars.

Most people no longer wear them, except where it’s obrigatorio–in pharmacies, health centers, and other such places.

Others should — but don’t — wear them. Like the waitress in the restaurant we ate at on Saturday. Her cough was continuous. Not the dry, hacking kind … nor the wet, sneezing kind that’s symptomatic of colds or the flu with phlegm. Hers was an incessant cough, like something scratching relentlessly at her throat. When she didn’t have anything in her hands — a plate of food, a pitcher of wine, a menu — she’d cough into her hands. Not once did she wash her hands while working or waiting on customers.

“Deves chevar uma máscara,” I told her in my best Portuguese while she stood over our table taking our order. Não, she shook her head. She’d have nothing to do with wearing a mask. Except for her father (maybe her husband?), nobody else was handling the food. And he was too busy moving ice cream around in the freezer to notice or be bothered about the need for good hygiene–especially around food.

Even during the height of the pandemic, most people in Portugal understood the need to wear masks to protect themselves as well as others. It didn’t require a government mandate (although one was issued), nor was it a matter of government interference, intervention, and/or disinformation. Certainly, there were those who believed in government conspiracies and refused to wear masks. But they were few and far between. The same could be said for Spain, where the protective face shields are called mascarillas instead of máscaras.

While there was some grumbling at times, mask-wearing never became the cause celébre provoking country-wide revolutions and demonstrations as has women not wearing face covering hijabs in Muslim countries–especially the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nor was mask wearing (or not) the divisive political issue at rallies and riots in the USA (and elsewhere).

Today when I see people wearing masks, I assume it’s because of common sense: people caring for themselves and others. Although their facial apparel makes them stand out in the crowds, I respect them for going against the grain and taking care.

Russ and I suffered through bad colds, or maybe the flu, for two weeks recently. When not bedridden or staying inside, we wore masks. In the supermarkets. In shops. On the streets.

As Covid restrictions and travel advisories become realities again, mainly because of China’s international travel while cases of this plague-like virus and its variants are surging, it’s well worth remembering that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

When in doubt, wear a mask.

There’s no law requiring you to do so … but there’s no law saying you shouldn’t.

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine, the thoughtful magazine for people everywhere with Portugal on their minds. To read current and past issues … and subscribe — free! — visit https://portugallivingmagazine.com.

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Portugal Budget Busters

Have You Factored These Costs into Your Finances?

So, you’ve come up with what seems like a comprehensive budget for living in Portugal?

You’ve factored in housing (mortgage or rental) costs. Utilities–gas, electric, water bills. Gasoline. Groceries. Insurance: health, home and auto. Recreation and eating out. International and child-related expenses. Even taxes, travel, and contingencies.

Here are some buggers you may not have thought of that can impact your budget, no matter how grand or frugal:

Via Verde If you’re driving on Portugal’s highways, you’re responsible for all those tolls–whether you pay booth by booth or invest several shekels for that gadget affixed to your windshield that allows you to sail through now and be charged later. In either case, depending on how much (or little) you drive on toll roads, consider adding ten euros per month to your budget.

Fares You live in a metropolitan area served by a network of trains, trolleys, and buses? You may not have tolls to pay, but consider what you’ll be shelling out daily for commuting costs. Create a new budget item for fares, commuting, and transportation costs.

Bank Fees Unlike some countries which pay you interest for the privilege of holding and investing your money, Portugal (and Spain) charge you for “renting” space at their banks. Add five euros each month … just for maintaining your account. To this, your bank will also charge you transaction fees. Take transfers, for instance. Regardless of the amount or location to which you’re transferring funds, you’ll be charged a fee–plus IVA! At our bank (Montepio) we’re currently charged €1.15 per transfer + €0.05 IVA. Use this convenient service enough and you can spend another fifteen or twenty euros each month for fees on top of the amount of your transfers. Speaking of transfers, don’t forget to figure on the fees charged by (Transfer)Wise and other currency transfer companies. My Social Security payments go directly into my USA bank (credit union) account, from which I transfer almost 80% of it each month to our Portugal bank account. All things considered, the transfer fees on that amount to about 30€ per month.

Vet Visits and Pet Licenses Certainly, you take good care and responsibility for members of your furry family. Excluding pet food, which is part of your grocery budget, have you added the costs of keeping your pets in Portugal? Each must have a rabies shot and be micro-chipped. Each requires an official EU passport. Each must be registered at your local town hall. And, in addition to routine veterinarian visits and periodic inoculations, pet medications and special diets are downright expensive. They’re usually covered by insurance–public or private. We spend between €150 and €500 each year to care for our three miniature schnauzers.

Pharmacy Except for top-of-the-line health care coverage, prescription and over-the-counter drugs aren’t covered by insurance. Prices for most medicines are prescribed by the state, but can vary from pharmacy to pharmacy. Add at least €100 per year to your budget.

Pellets and Wood for Heating Whether you’ve got one or more fireplaces, a pellet or wood-burning stove (or two) to keep you warm during Portugal’s damp and cold weather, remember that your appliances must be fed. Pellets can run between €3.69 and €3.99 per bag … and you’ll go through at least three per week during the winter season. Similarly, if you don’t have the space or the inclination to deal with multi-kilo barrages of wood, you’ll pay about the same to purchase tidy packages of wood covered with plastic from your grocery, hardware, or agricultural supply store. Figure between €50 and €75 monthly.

Tax Preparation Yes, you have to report and submit income tax filings every year here in Portugal, which can be frustrating — a pain in the arse — when winding your way through Portugal’s Finanças portal. The cost for a professional (accountant) to prepare and file your taxes here is actually rather reasonable: From most accounts we’ve heard, tax preparation costs €50 per person–whether your filing as an individual, married couple filing jointly, or married couple filing separately. So, put in €50-100 per year for having your taxes done. And don’t forget to add in the preparation fees and taxes you may also owe to your country of citizenship.

IVA (Value-Added/Sales Tax) Almost everything you buy here already has IVA factored into its price and includes the 23% due to Portugal and 21% to Spain. But, sometimes it doesn’t. Look carefully to see if stores and salespeople are trying to be more competitive by showing prices exclusive of IVA along with the words “… plus IVA” in small print. Big-ticket items like vehicles, especially, can deliver a wallop when you first see the price listed as €30,000. But, turn the page, and you’ll notice an additional €6,900 for IVA, making the actual price €36,900 or more.

Property Tax In addition to what you paid in taxes when purchasing property and transferring it from the previous owner to you, in Portugal you also will have to pay annual property taxes. The property tax is fixed annually by each municipality and typically ranges from 0.3% to 0.45%. While properties in rural areas are taxed at 0.8%, properties in more urban areas are taxed within the mentioned range. If a property has been re-valued since 2004, it will fall between 0.2% and 0.5%. If a property was valued before 2004, the rate will be between 0.4% to 0.8%. In some cases, there will be exemptions from the taxes on property (IMI). For example, if you will use the property as a permanent home or if you rent it out, it will be exempt from property tax for three years. Also, the rate will depend on the patrimonial value of the property. IMI (Imposto Municipal sobre Imóveis) is paid annually, either: in a single instalment, in April, if the tax is below EUR 250; in two instalments (April and November) if the value is between EUR 250 and EUR 500; and three instalments (April, July, November) if the amount is more than EUR 500.

Road Tax If you own a vehicle registered in Portugal, you must pay the Single Circulation Tax (aka “road tax”) every year. Probably, you’ve already received an email from Finanças regarding payment of this tax. It is a mandatory tax for everyone who owns a vehicle in Portugal. The amount of tax paid is different for vehicles registered before and after July 2007. Owners of cars registered before July 2007 pay an amount of tax directly related to the age of the vehicle and its cubic capacity. The tax on vehicles registered after July 2007 also takes into account the vehicle’s CO2 emissions and its engine power. Mine is €103.12 … but most people pay more.

Subscriptions Forget (or not) about magazines, newspapers, and other periodicals to which you subscribe. I’ve not counted them in here. Instead, I’m referring to the annual fees which Internet providers and suppliers charge you each year. Netflix, HBO, the Disney Channel. Microsoft Office 365. Malwarebytes or other protection services. WordPress and other Internet-related expenses … especially if you host a blog or vlog or do business online.

Tips and Gratuities Giving or not is a matter of choice–yours. Whether at restaurants in taxis, at the beauty salon or the car wash, there’s no expected amount to give. After embarrassing quite a few services with our (American) 20% tips, we learned that some people don’t leave tips. And that’s perfectly acceptable. For us, although we still feel awkward about leaving pennies on the dollar, we’ve found that 5% is a reasonable and perfectly appropriate gratuity.

Though not really an additional expense, here’s a worthwhile reminder: It takes a while to get used to European weights and measures. For instance, fuel is sold by the liter–not gallon. When looking at price signage, if you see unleaded (95) gas listed at €1.95, it’s for a liter. There are four liters to a gallon. So, a gallon of gas would cost €7.80. At today’s very favorable exchange rate, in dollars, that gallon costs just over US $8.00.

And then there’s this: Though eating out at cafés, snack bars, and restaurants is often quite cheap, it’s the extras that add up. See that table set with a basket of bread, a bowl of olives, and a variety of spreads — butter, cheese, etc.? While often served courtesy of the house, in not too few places there’s a surcharge for these nibbles: usually between one and five euros, which will be added to your bill.

Don’t want (or need) it? They’ll be removed from your table before the first course arrives.

No charge!

Retracing Our Steps

Thomas Wolfe wrote that you can never go home again.

That’s inherent in the Portuguese sense of saudade.

Some yearn for the “good old days,” while others are nostalgic for the way they were.

We move on, treasuring certain memories while forgetting about the mistaken realities of others.

Our former home, the first footprint in Portugal, had been a distant thought since we sold it to two other Americans a couple of years ago … despite that it remained but a 10-minute drive from where we now live. Somehow, we never had a reason to return or turn left from the main road into the village.

Until yesterday.

We went to the annual “Feria de Sopas” (Soup Festival) in Escalos de Cima, the big brother of the parish (freguesía) to Lousa, where we had lived for our first three years in Portugal. Accompanying us were the two guys who had bought our house there. A great deal: soup bowl, reusable and environmentally friendly stash bag, plus three tokens good for our choice of three soups. All for five euros. And the heaping bowls of soup are plentiful and delicious.

Three little old ladies descended upon us as soon as we entered the pavilion, surrounding us with hugs and chattering in Portuguese. They were neighbors who lived down the street from us in Lousa. Always together gathering at set times in the morning and early evening, they were my (wo)mentors in learning the language. Respecting my “Falem um pouco mais devagar, por favor” plea every time I came across them while walking our dogs, they’d patiently help me encounter new words and pronounce phrases correctly, … at least according to how Portuguese is still spoken in this neck of the woods. Elsewhere, we’d later learn, accents are different–as is the vocabulary.

But I digress.

These former neighbors, excited to see us, stirred up remembrances of things past.

Now I was not only eager to see what had been changed in the house we’d called home, but rather what (if anything) had changed in the village.

While lots had been done since the new owners took possession of the property — walls removed to make large open space, divisions reconfigured, new floors and new colors, different furniture and placements — the same couldn’t be said of the village.

The same ladies sat in their spots by the depot at the village entrance, taking in what remained of the sun. The same men drove their same cars too quickly down the main street. The same church dominated the central landscape. The same public fountain opposite the church was filling pails and buckets with water. The same buildings stood — a bit more weathered — sentry. The same cobble stones covered the streets. The same two cafés and corner mini-mercado serviced the villagers. The same properties were waiting to be sold.

In essence, the same charm that had attracted us initially still permeated the village.

Walking the familiar odd little roads with names like “Largo do …” and “Travessa da …” that passed for thoroughfares within its boundaries, people looking out their street level windows showed hints of recognition in their eyes. Some smiled at us; others came out to embrace us with hugs and asked “Tudo bêm?” inquiring about our lives since leaving Lousa.

It was then — and there — that the saudade firmly gripped us.

Not that we wanted to back down the rabbit hole through the looking glass. It was something more ineffable that touched our souls, bringing bittersweet tears of melancholy to our eyes.

Completing our visit, we passed through rowhouses clustered here and there with falling down ruins next door to livable dwellings as we ambled toward the village periphery where unfashionable doors disguised the beauty of quintas inside. How gratifying it was to see people still working their land–whether gardening, pruning, planting, or harvesting crops.

Here, too, surrounding the village, once magnificent manor homes continued to welcome back guests–especially during the summer, especially from France.

Every so often, we came across signs of renaissance. Dominated by older folks prepared to meet Saint Peter, the diminishing population held the promise of regeneration and resurrection. New people from other places speaking different languages were discovering the inscrutable joys of living in harmony with nature and land.

We had retraced our steps trodden so many times through myriad matrices during our first residence exposure to Portugal–reminiscing and celebrating people and places.

It was time now to look homeward, angels, behind and beyond.

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of award-winning Portugal Living Magazine, the thoughtful magazine for people everywhere with Portugal on their minds. Read current and past issues — and subscribe FREE! — via this link: https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue/

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Planet of the Apps

For more years than many of you have walked on this planet, I have steadfastly rejected a mobile phone, earlier known as a “smart” phone to distinguish it from the dumb ones.

(Yes, especially for geezers like me, mobile phones without any “apps” are still available.)

I did own a mobile phone back in the day when they were called car phones … and we got along reasonably well, I daresay. I even had one of those damned digital devices back around 2008, when they were introduced to the public and known as cell phones. Even then, they were too big for their britches and proved themselves much smarter than me. So frustrated was I with the self-serving novelty that I threw it against the wall, stomped on it on the ground, and brought the broken plastic pieces back to the shop I had purchased it.

“Do you give courses where I can use to learn how to use this?” I asked. The salesman grimly nodded no. “Does the technical college provide training for adults on how to manage these infernal contraptions?” He laughed but shook his head again in the negative, saying “It might be a good idea. You should contact the public schools and community colleges to see if they would offer one.” To which I retorted, “When they give courses on how to use smart phones for stupid old men like me, I’ll consider buying another one. But not until then!”

And so, it went …

My partner (younger=more tech savvy) has been the guardian of the family phone. We said a teary goodbye to Ma Bell when Comcast squeezed us and promised to give us lots more communication opportunities for lots less money.

They lied.

So, calls come in for me on Russ’s móvil (as they’re called in Portugal). He uses Skype to make free international calls, Zoom for remote staff meetings, his bank’s cyber counterpart to scan checks his aunt sends from the USA and deposit them in his bank account over there. He knows the time and weather, can calculate and compute, determine the best way to get somewhere, take pictures and send them to me or post them directly on Facebook.

He knows his apps.

Fine. Let him have them.

As for me, I was perfectly happy doing online banking, searching for information with Google, chatting with friends from Facebook, writing my stories and books, and even printing out detailed directions for getting from here to wherever. All on my desktop computer. Somehow, over the years, I moved beyond the first-generation Macintosh into the world of wired PC operations and beyond—through the wireless realm where nothing cooperated according to the instruction manuals which came in teeny-tiny booklets written in 37 different languages. All type, no illustrations. At least Ikea instructions I can decipher.

But now, apps are taking over the planet.

Heck, I had to wait nine months for my new car (Dacia Duster) because the chips empowering the apps had to travel through war-torn Ukraine. “Production side difficulties,” I was informed. But if truth be told, apps are the driving force behind vehicles today, not motorists. Everything is digitized so I no longer need to balance my clutch, brake, and accelerator if I don’t want to lose control and slide down the hilly streets of Olvera (Spain) and Portugal. That’s because my car comes with “hill assist.” The infernal vehicle knows when to turn on the lights and the windshield wipers. It reminds me when to upshift and downshift. It makes nasty noises if I take too long in attaching my seat belts. It even thinks there are passengers in the rear seat who need to affix their seat belts when it’s just a bag full of groceries. It’s got a rear view mirror and side view mirrors with cameras and beepers to warn me when I get too close to the car parked behind or in front of me. It even has a “dead spot” monitor that tells me if there’s a vehicle in my blind spot that I cannot see. There’s a point, though, when enough is enough: I absolutely refuse to allow my car to park itself (or, for that matter, do most of the driving without me).

Have I digressed?

To use my computer, I need a mobile phone so that another computer can confirm my identity by sending a code to the phone … which I then must enter on my computer.

How many passwords do you have—and remember? Stored in my Google Passwords Manager, they’re all controlled by an app. And now that I’ve run out of space on my Passwords Manager, Google kindly reminds me that I can increase my storage (in the cloud, of course) … by renting more space. Trouble is, I can’t figure out how to make the payments from my computer—especially if I’m digitally transferred to another service, like Paypal, to pay. Meanwhile, how curious it is that if I go to my Password Manager, Google asks me for the password before allowing access to my securely guarded secrets.

And now everyone (but me) uses Whatsapp, “internationally available freeware, cross-platform, centralized instant messaging (IM) and voice-over-IP (VoIP)” service owned by American company Meta Platforms—aka Facebook!

I’d give a rousing LOL to this techno mumbo-jumbo … but it isn’t funny!

Talk about selling one’s soul in a Faustian bargain. Doesn’t Facebook (i.e., Meta) know enough about me already, which it shares with the highest bidders?

Whatever.

I discovered – or so I thought – that I could download Whatsapp directly to my computer to communicate with those (especially merchants) who use the platform. I got all the way to the fourth step in the process when – Gotcha! – I was instructed to enter my mobile number so Whatsapp could send it a QR code (or whatever it’s called) which I would then hold close to my computer for it to read. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

I don’t have a mobile device. That’s right: I don’t have a mobile device. And I fear that the apps are coming to get me. It’s just not fair!

“App” isn’t even exactly a word, but an abbreviation. It’s a computer program or piece of software designed for a particular purpose that you can download onto a mobile device. As a shortened form of the word application, app represents a contemporary example of what process linguists refer to as “clipping.” Computer programs designed to carry out specific tasks other than relating to the operation of the computer itself, apps are used by end-users (us, not an abbreviation) for word processing, media playing, accounting, and lots of other nifty endeavors on mobile devices … like phones.

There are apps for everything—from learning a language to buying move tickets. (There must be an app for TicketMaster, but I’m not sure of its current status.) Apps can be bundled with a computer and its system software or published separately and may be coded as proprietary, open-source, or projects.

Some apps are available in versions for several different platforms; others only work on one and are called, for example, a geography app for Microsoft Windows … an Android application for education … a Linux game. According to Wikipedia, “Sometimes a new and popular application arises that only runs on one platform, increasing the desirability of that platform. This is called a killer app.”

Why does Elon Musk come to mind?

Still, the plot thickens: “Mobile-app quality is becoming an increasingly important issue. These apps are generally delivered through app stores that let users post reviews, providing a rich data source …”

Imagine that!

Being a writer and a poet, I wish that app was shorthand for something other than application. Like apple. In the Bible, the phrase “apple of my eye” is first used figuratively. The apple of the eye was a favorite idiom of Old Testament writers to indicate something (particularly a person) that one values above all others.

Shakespeare used the idiom in his A Midsummer Night’s Dream; alas, he was using the phrase quite literally—simply referring to the pupil of an eye.

Sometimes, the old masters knew a lot more than we do.

KISS: Keep things simple, stupid!

Who would have thought that a “killer app” is a good thing?

Or that, regardless of their shape and size, they’re running our world?

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. You can read the magazine’s current and past issues, and subscribe — for FREE! — at https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue/

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Spanish Towns, Portuguese Villages:

Some (Not So) Subtle Differences

After owning a vacation home in southern Spain for 15 years and two properties in Portugal for five, we’ve started to notice and track a variety of not so subtle lifestyle differences between the two countries.

When or if comparing your experiences with ours, please bear in mind that we live in towns and villages – not coastal cities – where our neighbors are natives, and many don’t speak English. We’re comparing typical suburban standing, not urban ubiquities, between the two countries.

For example, shopping centers and supermarkets are closed on Sundays (and holidays) in Spain; they’re open in Portugal. For the most part.

With every purchase made in Portugal, merchants are required by law to ask for your fiscal number (NIF in Portugal, NIE in Spain). It’s your choice whether to give it. But if you do provide the number, merchants report the transaction – and the taxes you paid – to Finanças and you’re automatically credited for these tax payments against your annual income taxes. For whatever reason, we’ve never been asked for a fiscal number in Spain. Perhaps, Portugal’s central accounting system is more sophisticated than Spain’s … or maybe Spain simply doesn’t tabulate taxes paid on purchases to offset one’s annual income tax liability.

Trash in most Spanish towns is picked up daily – seven days per week, including holidays – by garbage trucks with door-to-door service. Residents hang their bags of trash on nearby railings or set them out against convenient spaces nearby. A recycling center is centrally located, although there may be a few bins scattered throughout the area for the purpose. In Portugal, however, people take their garbage to trash and recycling bins conveniently grouped together and located every few blocks. Large items – furniture, major appliances, etc. – are collected in both countries by calling and scheduling the pickup.

IVA is 21% in Spain and 23% in Portugal.

The Spanish might assume that all Portuguese women — except for children — are married, as there are no “señoritas” in Portugal. Just senhoras.

Speaking of which, there’s no such thing as gender neutrality in Portuguese or Spanish. Everything that’s named must either be masculine or feminine. Except, sometimes, the two countries and their respective languages can’t agree on the gender. Take “Christmas,” for example. The Spanish call it female (la Navidad), while the Portuguese think of it as male (o Natal).

Houses are comparable in cost in both countries.

Nevertheless, property purchase costs (taxes, stamps, legal and notary services, other fees) are far lower in Portugal—especially on a primary residence costing less than €100,000. Depending on location, figure between 10-14% on top of the purchase price in Spain v. perhaps 1% in Portugal. That’s because the transfer tax in Spain on such properties varies between 6% and 13%, while the same tax in Portugal is a meager 0.1%.

Drying laundry is another matter. In Portugal, all sorts of rack contraptions are used to hang drying clothes from windows, terraces, and balconies. It remains a mystery to me where the Spaniards hang theirs.

Spain, even in rural areas, is much louder, longer … and later. Portuguese people tend to hold their peace and tranquility much longer.

The spirit of Spain is expressed in its flamenco; the soul of Portugal in its fado.

Parking your money in traditional, brick-and-mortar banks – even those with online banking – is a losing proposition in both countries. Portugal charges between four and six euros each month (Montepio and Millenium) per account, while Spain charges many accountholders €45 per quarter (€180 per year). All for the privilege of using our money to invest in the bank’s profitability.

Petrol (gasoline, diesel, LPG) has historically been cheaper in Spain than Portugal. Not so anymore. Portugal is giving Spain a run for its money at the fuel pump, although canisters of propane and butane continue to cost far less in Spain.

Electrodomésticos – especially large screen “smart” TVs – are far more expensive in Spain than Portugal. Take, for example, this 43-inch, 2022 LG Smart TV: It’s advertised at a “promotional price” of €449 at “Electrochollo,” a chain of discount appliance stores throughout Spain. The same unit and model at Worten throughout Portugal, however, costs just €299.99. Even the ads are the same. The same holds true for many other major appliances—washing machines, cookers and hobs, frost-free refrigerators and freezers, even computers and peripherals. I guess it has something to do with the market: Spaniards typically earn more than the Portuguese; Portuguese are poorer than Spaniards.

Maybe it’s the electricity—which also is somewhat higher in Spain?

Curiously, despite Portugal’s pharmaceutical subsidies, Spain is far cheaper when it comes to over-the-counter drugs (not prescriptions). “Baby” aspirin (90 or 100 mgs) for the heart, anti-fungal cream, and pills to fight the allergies in the air everywhere here, cost less than ten euros combined in Spain vs. 25 in Portugal.

For those who savor haute cuisine, for the most part Spanish food is better than Portuguese. I know, I know: all those articles raving about how delicious the food – especially fish and other concoctions – are in Portugal. Perhaps that’s true if you don’t know what you’re eating or see pictures of it in supermarket flyers.

Disculpa, Portugal, but Spanish food looks and tastes better. A lot of credit for that goes to its small plated “tapas” served with bread, plastic packages of crackers, and olives (or, sometimes, peanuts) … all included for €2.50-€3.50 per dish. Add another euro for a large pour of tinto and two people can share a variety of food – croquetas, chicken, meat, fish – for less than fifteen euros, including salad and crisps (fries) that come with the “meal.”

But the bread …

Spanish bread cannot compete with its Portuguese cousins. Dry, tasteless, starchy, and bland, the best that can be said about it is “blah.” For its part, Portuguese bread tends to be hard crusted but moist and flavorful inside, luscious when served warm. The same holds true for pastries and desserts: The sheer variety of sweets in Portugal is mind-blowing, loaded with creams, and succulent—a delicious and delightful way to end a meal. Except for its flan, perhaps, the best to be said about pasties in Spanish towns and villages is “blah” … they’re just not finger-licking good.

I’ve often told friends (so it’s no longer funny) that when my time comes, I don’t want funebre faces or empathetic eulogies. Instead, rent a Portuguese pastelaria and enjoy remembering me for my sweet tooth.

Rather than end this epistle on a morbid note, I share this curious beginning of the most commonplace greetings in Spanish towns and Portuguese villages: Why is it that the Portuguese greet us in the singular: bom dia … boa tarde … boa noite, while the Spanish express such pleasantries in the plural: buenos días, buenas tardes, buenas noches?

Is there something they know that we don’t?

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine, the award-winning thoughtful magazine for people everywhere with Portugal on their minds. He and his partner divide their time between homes in Spanish towns and Portuguese villages—and vice-versa. Read the current issue of Portugal Living Magazine online and subscribe – FREE! – at https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue/

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Street Sounds in Spain

For 15 years now, we’ve had a vacation bolt in Andalucía–southern Spain. Our pied a terre is in a town named Olvera, which is found precisely at the point where the provinces of Málaga, Sevilla, and Cadiz intersect and collide. Except for its majestic appearance from the roadway, Olvera is a typical Spanish town, albeit one with a good share of expats and immigrants–mainly from the UK, but increasing numbers from elsewhere.

Olvera view

Since moving to Portugal in 2017, we’ve made the four-hour trek from our Portuguese home (in Elvas) at the Spanish border by Badajoz two or three times each year. And with each trip, we’re reminded of my good doctor’s prescription for old age (mine) and assorted aches and pains, including a broken leg and ankle from 20+ years ago: “Stop climbing up and down all those steps.¨(At the time, we lived in a house with 37 steps between the three floors.) The doctor went on to warn me how dangerous it was to be pulled down the village’s cobble stone streets — especially when wet and slippery — by our three Miniature Schnauzers.

“You need a single story home, a bungalow, with a small, enclosed backyard for the dogs,” she stressed. “You will feel much better and enjoy life that much more.”

The doctor was right.

Except for Olvera.

We loved our three-story 55m2 house that had “Challenging!” written all over it. It was challenging to decorate according to our taste when the small space dictated absolute minimalism. It was challenging to go up and down all those steps, which twisted and turned and had less surface area to support us. It was challenging to walk the dogs up the steepening street, avoiding poopstacles along the way.

Heck, it was challenging even to get to the place!

A tiny alley way sliced through the retail shops on Calle Llana, the main street in town. Blink and you’ll miss it. Try to make a 90 degree right turn from Calle Llana onto Calle Cantillos (yes, the alley has a name!) and you’d better pull in both of the car’s side mirrors. And pray.

It’s there that you first become aware of it …

The noise.

In abandoned, decrepit, former manor homes now falling apart, you’ll hear the constant coo-coo-coo-ing of pigeons. Whether love calls or sirens crying for times past, the pigeons are loud. They’re also dirty, their droppings plastering the street.

Continuing about 20 meters, the road widens somewhat … enough for cars to park, clinging to houses on one side of the street. Normal size cars can pass through … with about half a meter to spare. A harrowing experience driving down the street, it’s no wonder that every car exhibits what is affectionately known around town as “Olvera kisses.”

Not far down the street is a “park” which resulted from tearing down the former post office building and erecting a site to sit on facing concrete benches atop a cement slab injected with three precisely placed trees and two trash baskets on stands. Approaching this oasis set in the midst of too much crammed tightly together, one becomes aware of clucking sounds, somewhat like a brood of hens. Especially around dusk. It’s a group of about 10 senior citizens, men facing women on opposite sides, gathering to socialize.

Immediately thereafter, the road lurches left, into another alley-like connection. That’s where our house is located–directly opposite a so-called “street” branching off to the left. Though it has a name (C/Arcos), only two-wheel vehicles — bicycles, scooters, and motos — can pass through, as there’s a low-hanging archway just a few meters ahead.

In effect, we live in the middle of a man-made echo chamber exaggerating simple sounds into raucous roars.

Maybe it’s me who’s exaggerating?

Here’s what we hear:

• Despite the “no parking” sign and curb painted yellow on this leg of C/Arcos, someone parks there late at night and leaves early in the morning. Maybe s/he thinks that nobody will need to pass that way or be inconvenienced at such times. Nor would the possibility of police patrolling and ticketing the car be that great. We know that the car is old and its engine is diesel. From the series of 30-second motor cranking to the belching and burping of the engine engaged, there’s no mistaking those sounds at six in the morning.

• Not much later, a tractor shakes, rattles, and rolls, trudging its way into the vacated spot, creeping its way up the incline until it can go no farther. Stopping beside what’s left of a row house, the man driving yells something to a colleague and the demolition continues. Bang! Boom! Snap, Crackle, and Pop!

It’s just before 7:00 am.

• One by one, up and down the street, “persianas” — those built-in blinds comprising wood and other weather-resistant materials — are cranked up to let in a new day. At the same hour that evening, they will be cranked down again.

• Next door, our neighbor is having repairs and renovations done. Industrial-size bags of concrete (cement?) are parked in front of her house. Promptly each morning at 8h,the men come to begin work. There’s the steady banging of a hand-held hammer. The high-pitched whine of electric drills. And the ear-jarring rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat of a jack-hammer jamming. The men stop their work when the lady of the house begins arguing with whoever is in charge. I don’t know what the problem is, but their voices are raised and, despite bickering for 15 minutes, she is determined to have the last word. Their voices rising to crescendo, a door is slammed and we become aware of the infrequent sounds of silence on our street.

• The same next door neighbor and two others get together in front of our house — which, for whatever reason is convenient — mid-morning and mid-evening to chat. Their pitch is that of loud, overpowering shrillness that scares the sh*t out of our dogs. I wish! Instead, they are petrified, tail between their legs, refusing to eat or do their business, fearing they’ll come across what they perceive as perils.

(Fifty or so years ago, while I was attending the University of Madrid, my very proper Spanish grandmother would wag her finger at me, stating unequivocally, “No te quedes en la calle.” In other words, don’t hang out on the street. Streets had their purpose, she believed — to take you somewhere and bring you back — but were not the place for respectable people to spend time gossiping.)

• Motorcycles scream by, going the wrong way on our one direction (only) street. You can tell their manufacturers, makes, and models by the whine and howl of their motors as those driving demons rev, rev, rev their motors to make a point as they pass. Evidently, since the pandemic lockdowns, more people have discovered the convenience of restaurant food delivered to their doors, thereby increasing the number of motos (and noise) on the street.

It’s now nine in the morning.

• Rather than beeping politely, the bread truck bullies its way down the street, driver leaning heavily on his horn every 10-meters for what seems like eternities. The bread truck is followed by the gas truck, delivering full canisters of propane and fetching the empty ones. It, too, follows the same ear-piercing etiquette. Every so often, the fish monger comes along, making a trio of the cacophony.

• Meanwhile, the masters and mistresses of dogs on our street have opened their doors to let the canines out to do their business in the street. From the soprano voices of the women to the gravely, baritone tones of the men — and, sometimes, whistling in between — it can take 15 minutes for the dogs to return home from their jaunts around the neighborhood.

• Later, cats who’ve taken residence in the ruina facing us howl and screech in nighttime hissy fits. Either they’re fighting for mastery or having great sex.

Any one of these matters — two, three, or even four — could be accepted and adapted to, considering the friendships and food we enjoy here in Olvera. But put all of them together, continuously, day after day, and it’s a lifestyle … regardless of how we describe it.

Of course, there are other nondescript sounds that get muffled by all the racket: people walking and talking to each other in sotto voices or listening to their mobiles. Cars passing carefully at a sensible pace. Children playing in the street. Ladies back from their grocery shopping, dragging the carts behind them. Elderly gentlemen gingerly tapping their canes. Birds chirping. Flies buzzing. Bicycle riders gliding silently down the street. Emergency vehicle sirens off in the distance.

Maybe it’s only our street where expats and immigrants must learn to fish or cut bait. Perhaps people in other towns and villages across Iberia are comfortable living where such happenstance is routine and acceptable behavior.

Then, too, others are probably more tolerant than we.

When asked about the differences between Spain and Portugal or why we chose to live in the latter instead of the former, we tell them that there are many similarities between the two countries and cultures.

But we do believe that Spain is louder.

P.S. We cut short our “vacation” and returned to Portugal a week earlier than anticipated. We missed the relative peace and quiet of our new homeland.

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine, the thoughtful magazine for people everywhere with Portugal on their minds. Read current and past issues — and subscribe free of charge — at https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue/

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My Portugal Learning Curve

I dropped off my midterm election ballot at DHL in Castelo Branco, so it would arrive at the city clerk’s office in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin – still, technically, our legal residence … for voting purposes – in plenty of time to be counted.

The effort made me realize that it will soon be five years that we’ve lived and had our legal residencia in Portugal. We’ll be applying for permanent residency and citizenship here soon, too.

We’ve learned so much since arriving and departing the airport in a rental car, where an attendant warned us that it’s prohibido to allow dogs (and cats) to accompany us in the car unless they’re tethered to the rear seat belt sockets or confined to an acceptable carrier for traveling.

Shortly thereafter, our second, never-to-be-forgotten experience with Portugal initiated us to the country’s bureaucracy: registering for and buying a Via Verde pass for the country’s national toll roads. Who knew when entering Portugal on land for the first time that one had to go into a post office – anywhere in Portugal, assuming it’s open – to fill out the form, pay the fee, and be on our way … with the tolls conveniently deducted from our bank account?

The process of acculturating to Portugal took us from being expats to becoming immigrants.

How exciting it was to be able to decipher what the words on the highway’s digital signage were saying—and warning. Otherwise, bom dia, boa tarde, and obrigado were the extent of my Portuguese language. Though fluent in Spanish, I had no idea that my knowledge of a sister Iberian language would be a stumbling block, as much hindrance as help that would always complicate and confound my Portuguese. I could easily mispronounce my uttered words and/or say something entirely different than intended, as I guessed – based on Spanish – a sought after word … which would or wouldn’t be perfectly understood.

I’ve come to grips that, in the western part of Iberia, I will be speaking Portu/ñ/nhol.

There’s a lot I’ve gotten used to—whether by choice or by chance since moving to and living in Portugal.

Out of choice, for instance, I now drink Portuguese coffee – Sical is my favorite, #7 on the Strength Scale – while what I drank when we first arrived had neither number nor name but was laughed at and referred to as “dirty water.”

Similarly, I’ve become accustomed to shelved milk with shelf lives three or four months hence. It’s only to tone down the coffee’s bitterness, I tell myself. Besides, as soon as I get home and unpack the groceries, the milk will be properly placed in the refrigerator.

There have been other choices, too, which we initially made but later came to regret. Like our housing and accommodations.

To be issued a visa (let alone residence), Portugal requires that we document our housing—whether rented or purchased—for a minimum of 12 months. It’s hard enough to find suitable housing that’s both agreeable and affordable these days, even with feet on the ground … which could require multiple roundtrips between the USA and Portugal. That was the route we took … since we pictured precisely what and where we wanted to live.

We’ve never rented, always owned, and wanted to live in a quintessential fairy tale village with cobblestone streets and church bells tolling the time, rather than packing and unpacking more than once. And, as we thought we’d open a snack bar – Tacos Americanos – the street level of the property had to be approved for commercial purposes. Even back then, Lisbon, Porto, and Algarve were beyond our budget, so we looked to the interior and towns bordering Spain.

Searching the Internet daily from the USA, we found four properties that fit our criteria. That called for one round-trip visit to Portugal. Too bad that one of the four was under contract, another already sold, and two … just weren’t what they appeared to be online. We made a second trip to look at available properties in another area (Coimbra) and attend a Pure Portugal seminar on buying property. We thought we’d found an ideal place to live and, possibly, work … until the experts (especially architects and builders) explained why we shouldn’t buy a home built directly into the mountain on three sides without any vapor barriers.

Back to searching the Internet, we expanded our horizons and property portals.

At last, we found something that looked and felt like “us” (even) online. Spacious and interestingly configured with a separate wing for a guest suite, the faded sign on the storefront downstairs announced that it formerly was a café.

You got it: Another trip to and from Portugal. This time, however, we worked with a lawyer to negotiate the price, write a contract, open a bank account for us, pay a deposit, obtain our NIFs, and transfer the utilities to our names.

There was a lot of work to do before we moved in—lock, stock, and barrel.

Who knew back then that we’d have to upgrade the electricity throughout the house to handle the upgrades we wanted to install: inverter aircon units, a new fridge, range, hot water heater, and washer? Didn’t the sweet little old lady who owned the house and ran the café below (“the most popular one in the village because it was the only one to sell lottery tickets”) know that her commercial license on the café had expired and couldn’t be renewed? That, to get a new license and permit, we’d have to bring the place up to current code and standards—amounting to somewhere between €10,000-€15,000? Had I any inkling that, within three years, I’d no longer be able to go up and down the 37 steps dozens of times daily, especially to walk our three dogs … two together and the third by himself … around the cobblestone streets of the village—including in the rain, which we had back then? And that living on the main street of the village with your bedroom facing the street would subject you to noise, traffic overload, and processions for every occasion?

Following a series of examinations, procedures, and laboratory analyses, the doctor spelled it out load and clear: “You must move.” I couldn’t deal with all those steps anymore. The cobblestone streets are too slippery—especially when it’s raining, and I’m being pulled by the dogs chasing after a cat or street dog. “What I prescribe for you is a bungalow, and one-level house with a small, enclosed quintal (backyard) to plant and let the dogs out,” said Dra. Conceição.

And, so, we sold our imposing dwelling and purchased a hobbit house nearby.

Other choices have been far simpler.

I choose to read the Portugal News instead of the Portugal (aka Algarve) Resident. The former seems more forthright and honest; the latter is a tad too tabloid and sensationalist for my taste. I’m choosier, too, about my Facebook friends. Usually, I choose vinho tinto over branca. And I choose not to be surrounded by smokers.

I also elect to do my weekly grocery shopping at a variety of stores.

Why?

Because I prefer Lidl’s orange juice and bagged salads, along with its small pouches of chicken chunks. The aisles of non-food items are for browsing and buying stuff one wouldn’t expect to find in a grocery—at prices much lower than Aldi’s. Oh, but Aldi has a couple of great items in its bakery & bread department, like those mini quiches that make for delicious lunches. Continente is the only supermarket that carries the refrigerated grapefruit juice I mix with the orange for my cold breakfast beverage. In my opinion, Continente also has the best tasting bakery items, although Auchan’s is a close second. But Auchan only sells the branded (Bailey’s) Irish Cream – for 15 or 16 euros – while Continente has its own store brand which costs about six euros. While we do the bulk of our weekly shopping at Auchan, we run out at least once or twice a week to our town’s Intermarché for whatever we’ve run out of or forgotten.

I generally like seafood — shrimp, crabs, lobster — but I’ve never been particularly fond of fish. (I know: Living in Portugal and not liking fish?) Of course, I do like tuna and salmon and sometimes, depending on how it’s cooked and served, cod (bacalhau). But I’m completely turned off by ads for fresh fish–no matter how attractively their dead heads, fins, tails, and other pulpous parts are arranged and published by photographers and designers.

Other things, I have gotten used to—like Portuguese workers and government agencies moving at their own pace. And that there’s often disagreement between one and the other: One branch of SEF insists on a year’s worth of private health insurance, while others accept a six-month travel insurance policy without question. One electrician (from EDP) insists that we hard-wire our cooker directly to the electric; another (British) electrician says “rubbish,” that hooking the contraption up to the electric using a plug and socket will work the same.

I have nibbled a bit of saudade — that pervasive tension between yearning and resignation — knowing that massive fires are frequent and persistent, no matter where in Portugal you live. That persistent dust and predatory flies won’t stay outside. And that Portugal has its problems, too.

Slowly but surely my Spanish is receding. My immediate impulse now is to (try to) respond in Portuguese, especially when angry, although my accent and pronunciation will always sound foreign to the natives.

No longer the tourists, we’d trade a couple of those magnificent azure skies, day after day, for some rain—lots more of it. Because Portugal needs rain desperately.

There’s lots I’ve learned without realizing it over the past few years. I can deal — argue if necessary — with people who have tried to do us wrong. I can carry on rather lengthy conversations with neighbors and strangers … as long as they speak clearly and devagar. I understand what store clerks and delivery people are asking for and respond appropriately. I can even converse over the phone rather than online where I had the benefit of Google Translate. I now know quite a few ways to take leave and say goodbye, although I’m still not sure which to use when. And I can readily detect the difference between Brazilian and European Portuguese, along with a few expressions particular to given reasons.

Yet, one thing I’ll never learn is to pull when the sign on the door says “Puxe!”

It’s here that my Spanish (or Portu|nh/ñ|ol kicks in, wanting to know why the Portuguese don’t use the verb tirar, a word recognized and used (at times) by both languages.

Oy, vey. There’s still so much to learn!

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine, the “thoughtful magazine for people with Portugal on their minds.” You can read the current issue online and subscribe — FREE! — at https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue. Prefer the feel of fingers flicking paper pages? High-quality, low-cost copies of Portugal Living Magazine are available through all Amazon sites.

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Fickle about Food

We’re fortunate to have a slew of supermarkets – Aldi, Auchan, Continente, Lidl, MiniPreço, Pingo Doce – conveniently located, within driving distance.

Except (possibly) for Auchan, we unfortunately lack the hipermercados … like El Corte Inglés, Carrefour, and E. LeClerc.

Why should that matter?

Because I’m fickle to the point of fetish about my foods. And not one of our area supermarkets – not even Auchan – carries the variety, brands, and even foods that I crave. Which means that going to the grocery is a day of shopping and playing supermarket sweepstakes.

Granted, I can get most of what I’m looking for at Auchan. Especially my wine. Heck, I’ve even purchased some clothes there! You must be careful about their prices, though. (The same J&J baby powder Auchan sells for €2.49 costs only €1.75 at my neighborhood grocery.) And the super-sized box doesn’t sell the zumo de toronja rosa (grapefruit juice) that I mix with my morning zumo de laranja (orange juice) and daily dose of pills.

I don’t particularly care for Auchan’s orange juice. Even the squeeze-it-yourself machine that, depending on the oranges, puts out too sweet or sour juice.

The OJ honor goes to Lidl, whose cold bottled orange juice (with just a little pulp) is by far my favorite. At Lidl – or Aldi – I can get orange juice I’ll drink, although we prefer the cuts of meat butchered by Lidl. Aldi’s delicious mini quiches in the bakery department aren’t sold anywhere else. But, like Lidl, their stock always changes, and you never can be certain that what you bought there last week will be there next. Aldi’s prices are higher on that good stuff on special that week … of which there’s much more of it at Lidl. Lidl also carries a rather decent cole slaw (ensaladilla americana) and – sometimes – even the better potato salad (ensaladilla de patatas) brands, of which they sell two. We’ve tried them both. One is slathered with gobs of mayonnaise or crème fraiche (we don’t care for that one), while the other isn’t covered with so much sloppy fat and contains small pickles, carrots, and other appropriate veggies.

A creature of habit, I know what I like … so, our weekly shopping trek usually takes us from Auchan > Lidl > Continente.  

Why Continente? Because, to us, the bakery items sold there are better. (At least they taste better to us.) Plus, Continente is the only store in Castelo Branco that sells real, honest-to-goodness grapefruit juice … produced or packaged by Andros. Elsewhere, you can find juices of other flavors – orange, apple, multi-fruit – with the Andros label, but not grapefruit. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we’ll also be able to find Continente’s own brand of Bailey’s Irish Cream, a lip-smacking bargain at just €5.99 per bottle.

Alas, the only place where we can buy anything that comes close to Nathan’s, Hebrew National, Oscar-Meyer, Ball Park, or even Costco hot dogs is in Spain—at Mercadona. That’s why we purchased a “vacation” home (casa de ferias) on the Portuguese border with Spain at Badajoz. A side dish benefit is the number of restaurants in Spain that serve real, mouth-watering, hamburgers. There’s a chain of The Good Burger(s), along with Foster’s Hollywood … kind of a cross between Fuddruckers and Planet Hollywood.

After the car’s boot has stuffed itself on our groceries, it’s time to treat ourselves to lunch out. There are more than enough places around here with different cuisines that we like, although it usually boils down to either pizza or a family-style restaurant serving only a dozen or so Portuguese dishes … and we like at least half of them!

We bemoan the lack of good hamburger joints, frankfurter stands, even breakfast bistros like International House of Pancakes, Denny’s, Bob Evans, Waffle House, and Cracker Barrel. But we’re more than satisfied with the out-of-this-world pastries and breads here in Portugal that make for mighty fine breakfast fixings.

The problem with the restaurants around where we live – a district that occupies one-third of Portugal’s land space! – is that there just are too many or not enough. Feast or famine. If I had the money, I’d open a Tex-Mex, Thai, Japanese (more than sushi), or beefy steak house restaurant that serves London broil, prime ribs, and filet mignon. The thought of a real delicatessen makes my mouth water. Or even a takeout (“take away”) bagel emporium.

With all the Chinese shops on every corner, you’d think there’d be room for several Chinese restaurants here. One, at best, is mediocre. The other advertises “All you can eat” … which is not the same thing as a Chinese buffet! You order one dish at a time and, by the time your server comes to take away your third plate, you’re looked at disdainfully should you dare to order more. In Estremoz, near our second home (in Elvas), are some excellent restaurants where I enjoy eating even Portuguese food. Yummo: porco preto! Yet, tucked out of the way, on the outskirts of town, is a building that looks like it’s a lamp showroom. Instead, it houses the best Chinese buffet I have enjoyed in Portugal—down to General Tso’s chicken and hot-and-spicy whatevers.

Here, there´s rotating Indian food here that takes turns as the favorite. First, it was 7 Especiarias. It closed. Swagat, a combination of Indian and Nepalese—still is our favorite. Along came a family-owned and operated take away place which listed its menu for the following day on Facebook. People marvelled at the taste and heapings of the food carried away, as well as the gentility of the owners. Now, it appears that Taste of India is the flavor de jour, outshining Namaste (Vegeterian).

 

In terms of pizza parlors, we have more than enough … thank you. But what about Italian restaurants that serve more than pizza, spaghetti, and lasagna loaded with bechemel? Bring me some meatballs, at least!

Yeah, I know; I’ve heard it before: Some of you have no problem finding foods or places to eat. That’s what makes Lisbon, Porto, and Coimbra different in cuisine and culinary delights than Castelo Branco.

Here, we have our pastelerías. OMG! Portuguese sweets are second to none.

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine, the “thoughtful magazine for people with Portugal on their minds.” You can read the current issue online and subscribe — FREE! — at https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue. Prefer the feel of fingers flicking paper pages? High-quality, low-cost copies of Portugal Living Magazine are available through all Amazon sites.

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