Pets on Planes

“If they can’t come with us, we’re not going,” my partner and I agreed: If our three Miniature Schnauzers – our children, now that our biological one was grown – couldn’t travel with us and be allowed entry into the EU, we wouldn’t follow our hearts and minds to Portugal and Spain … much as we were distraught and disillusioned with what has been happening in the United States.

That meant not only would we expect our dogs to fly in the cabin with us – not the cargo hold – for all three flights from Green Bay, Wisconsin, to Madrid, Spain … but it also presumed that they would be allowed to pass through Immigration in Spain and then into Portugal without any beastly requirements.

Bringing our furry family members with us would become the most complex and frustrating part of making a new home on the other side of the big pond.

The “kids,” as we refer to them, had lived with us in Florida, Wisconsin, and Virginia. But whenever we traveled to our vacation bolt in southern Spain, we’d leave them at home with carefully vetted pet-sitters.

Now, our future depended on them being there with us.

Fortunately, due to our own personal maladies, the dogs were qualified as “service” animals with the airlines. Unfortunately, there are three of them and only two of us.

American Airlines was the only carrier that would allow two people to bring three designated service dogs aboard … and that was only after (working with our travel agent) we completed their forms, had medical testimonies vouchsafed by our doctors and submitted to the airlines, and were interrogated in telephone interviews by airline officials.

We qualified and our dogs were approved to travel with us!

But that just covered their transportation. Getting them into the European Union was another matter that would require entirely different documents and protocols.

They’re called “pet passports” in the EU. But they’re issued only once you’re inside the EU. Emigrating from the United States, one needs to complete a reasonable facsimile – an official EU Health Certificate – specific to the language and place of entry. For us, that was Spanish, as our entry to the EU would be through Madrid’s Barajas airport.

The eight-page bilingual document, requiring a separate 22-page set of instructions for completing it, attests that each of the named and described dogs has received a state-of-the-art microchip (manufacturer’s name and number identified) followed by a new rabies shot (with batch number and effective dates identified). It had to be filled out by a USDA-accredited veterinarian and then certified by the appropriate United States Department of Agriculture office in our state.

Was our vet USDA-accredited?

“Darned if I know,” Dr. Randy laughed. “I’m certified by the American Veterinary Association and by the Wisconsin Veterinary Association. Does that count?”

Nope. He had to be USDA-accredited.

Try finding the USDA office in your state specifically charged with handling documentation for pets traveling abroad. It took us two weeks through a variety of sources and referrals to find that USDA office in Madison, Wisconsin.

The amiable USDA rep who helped us deal with the process confirmed that Dr. Randy was, in fact, USDA-accredited and advised us to have him inject the microchips and rabies shots between three and four weeks before we traveled, and to go back and have him sign all the paperwork ten days before leaving. We were then to send the docs via overnight mail from our city to the USDA’s office in Madison ($50) and to enclose a postage-paid return overnight envelope (another $50) so that, theoretically, we’d have them in hand a week before our travel. Apart from the vet costs, we’d need to pay the USDA’s $38 certification fee.

Signed, sealed, and delivered!

Our dogs were ready to enter the European Union, traveling with us as passengers aboard our American Airlines flights.


We arrived early the next morning in Madrid, not knowing who – or where – we’d be asked to show the dogs’ docs. Not the customs agent who stamped our passports. Nor the immigration agent whose station we needed to pass through after retrieving our luggage.

Just as we were about to leave the airport building for the rental car area, a man dashed out of an adjoining vestibule. “The paperwork, please, for the dogs,” he asked in Spanish.

We handed over our new, eight pages of documentation.

He looked only at one page, bypassing every sheet of paper with the dates and signatures and certifications. Of interest to him only were the microchips, which he waved over each dog with a wand to confirm that the numbers listed on our papers agreed with the numbers shown on the wand.

They did.

It was a long, complicated, and exacting trip that lasted some 18 hours with our dogs.

Would we do it all over again if the need be?

You bet we would!

How can you begin a new life in another country without your “family” … even if they’ve got four legs and fur?

Considering traveling with your pets on a plane? Here are links to the pet policies of several airlines that fly directly between the USA and Portugal or Spain:


American Airlines:
www.aa.com/i18n/travel-info/special-assistance/pets.jsp

Delta Airlines:
www.delta.com/eu/en/pet-travel/overview

United Airlines:
www.united.com/ual/en/us/fly/travel/animals.html

British Airways:
www.britishairways.com/…/travel-assist…/travelling-with-pets

Iberia Airlines:
www.iberia.com/us/fly-with-iberia/pets/

TAP Air Portugal:
www.flytap.com/en-us/travelling-with-animals/pets

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Férias for the French

It’s common knowledge that Paris and much of France shuts down for vacation in August.

What’s not that well-known is that many French people head to Spain and Portugal, where they visit their “poor” cousins, friends, and family members while enjoying down-home Portuguese and Spanish hospitality.

In other words, “férias!”

Throughout the month of August, those of us living in central Portugal cannot help but be bombarded by ubiquitous brightly-colored plastic bags hanging everywhere, imprinted with too many letters too small to read while driving, announcing this town’s férias … or that one’s.

Suddenly, little villages and larger towns are where it’s happening … with overpriced food cooked and eaten with flies al fresco, beer by the barrel or bottle, and second-string singers who – though advertised as famous – appear in our own little hamlets to entertain us.

Observes the Rev. António Vitalino in Reconquista, Beira Baixa’s regional religious newspaper, “Infelizmente não é apenas por causa da sua condiçao de ser peregrine, que o ser humano se desloca do torrã e do país onde nasceu. Mas também devido a guerras, a perseguições, a cataclismos e à fome.”*

Father Vitalino obviously overlooked or forgot about the férias!

Assuming, of course, that fires don’t disrupt the festivities, the férias change everything … for better and worse, beginning with the people. Overcapacity indulging is what turns community “festas” into férias.

Joyous occasions though these celebrations can be, they bring along with them troubles … and trash.Trash bins that barely can contain their own disposables now overflow, unable to close. More refuse in plastic bags continues to be added and placed on top of and next to the bins, where cats and dogs roaming the streets rip them open and feast of their entrails … leaving tracks of thrown-away food and decayed vittles throughout the village.

“Land mines” multiply, as an influx of immigrant dogs and cats that accompany adults and children are let loose to litter on our streets.

Capillaries barely capable of carrying – or accommodating – vehicles to begin with are suddenly overwhelmed beyond capacity. Cars are left wherever: in the middle of streets, at roundabouts and intersections, double- and triple-parked, anywhere and everywhere.

No room at the inn? Forget the inn. There’s no room for the locals at their own coffee shops and bars, a sacrilege greater than sin.

Hobbit houses otherwise abandoned the rest of the year are brimming, bulging, and bursting at their seams with visitors and far-away families. Adolescents aged from barely double-digits to teenagers and young adults – people who should know better – go carousing noisily through the streets at very early morning hours, while their elders desperately try to rest and sleep. There’s plenty of noise-making at these férias. From the babble of voices around communal tables, eating and drinking … to the spine-chilling feedback of rebellious sound amplifiers … too-late hijinks of intoxicated youngsters weaving their way through our streets … and the firecrackers, a bit too dangerous for these times of ferocious fires.

Just as férias can be good for one’s soul and community spirit, it’s also quite healthy to bypass the hustle-bustle for calm and tranquility.

Needless to say, this year is quite different.

Maybe for their own good — and ours — people will stay put?

*“Unfortunately it is not only because of their pilgrim condition that the human being moves from the torrent and the country where he was born. But also because of wars, persecution, cataclysms and famine.”

# # # # # # # # # # # # # # #

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Doors, Not Walls

With all due respect to Jim Morrison, I’m not talking about his band here – which would certainly disclose my age – but, rather, those substrates that create openings into buildings, rooms, and/or vehicles.

Photos of doors found in our small Portuguese village (Lousa, Castelo Branco)

I’m referring to property doors—the doors to houses in Portuguese villages and Spanish towns. (Not those in Door County, Wisconsin, where we lived before moving here to Castelo Branco’s Lousa from the USA.)

The diversity in size, shape, color, composition, construction, height, and materials (and whether they have windows and/or screens) makes me think about our former “melting pot” nation now divided by walls.

Doors usually are made of a sturdy, hard-to-break substance (such as wood or metal), but sometimes consist of a frame into which windows or screens can be fitted. Often attached by hinges to a frame, doors make entering or leaving a building (especially) easier to manage.

Often, doors have locking mechanisms to ensure that only some people can open them. Devices such as knockers or bells enable people outside to announce their presence and summon someone to come and open the door for them … or give them permission to open and enter.

Apart from access into and out of a space, doors tend to ensure privacy, preventing unwanted attention from outsiders. Doors separate spaces with different functions. They allow light to pass through (or not) … control ventilation, more effectively heating or cooling the interiors … block out the noise … and impede fires from spreading.

Doors also have aesthetic, symbolic, and ritualistic purposes.

To be given the key to a door can signify a change in one’s status from outsider to insider. Doors frequently appear in the arts with allegorical or metaphorical importance:

They’re portents of change.

As I walk our dogs past a hodgepodge of doors diverse and distinct by any measure – no matter how close they are, one to another – I can’t help but wonder what’s behind these doors? Who lives there: the boy or girl next door? Why is this door so different from a neighboring one? Is anything specious going on behind all those closed doors?

Please, leave the door open and don’t shut me out … let me get a leg or foot in it, at least. Even if it’s the back door (or a revolving one).

I realize that doors are much more than metaphors, since they serve security purposes: Doors let us in and usher others out. They provide the ability to look and see who wants to enter, before we open up and permit people to come in. When it’s their time to leave, we hope the door won’t hit them on the way out.

Useful, functional, and practical planes of engineering, doors delight us with linguistic and literary allusions: Opportunity comes knocking at our door, We can open any door – even creaking doors (which hang there the longest) – and, hopefully, not find ourselves at death’s door.

Who wants to be dead as a door nail, anyway?

People may insist on beating a path to my door, even if I’ve asked them not to darken it again. But, build a better mousetrap, and everyone will be here, including the wolf.

Doors, not walls.

Because, when one door closes, another one opens.

Which is why I’m convinced that the world needs more of them.

And that it’s time to close the door on this ramble.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Dirty Water and Other Cravings

Undoubtedly, I’m going to be crucified for my confessions here, so be my guest … skip to the end of this piece … and give it your best shot.

“What do you miss most from the USA?” I’m frequently asked.

That’s changed quite a bit since living in Portugal and Spain almost three years; but, originally, leading my list was American-style coffee.

You know: what the locals, especially, refer to as “dirty water.”

Coffee is almost a religion in Portugal; but unlike religion, it’s worshiped daily here. Both the Portuguese and Spanish are addicted to their bold beverage, which they drink from early in the morning until late at night. From black Espresso Intenso to Ristretto Ardenza, the consistency of Iberian coffee seemed more like motor oil to me than the “pish” water we Americans drink and consider caffeine.

No, I wasn’t looking for that over-priced, sugary, syrupy Starbucks stuff that’s more like make-believe ice cream dressed up as coffee, but something more akin to my mellow-morning-medium-roast-breakfast-blend: Folgers, Maxwell House, Chock Full O’Nuts, even Costco’s Kirkland brand.

Anything but “instant.”

Along with the coffee, I yearned for my Keurig coffee maker. Nescafé (clutching my pearls!) makes something like it, known as “Dolce Gusto,” but it’s just not the same. Besides, the polluting plastic pods (Nescafé produces them for the Dolce Gusto) are more java-jolting than Green Mountain’s, whose name, at least, implies environmentally-friendly.

So, we ditched the Dolce and, little by little, I adjusted to Portuguese (and Spanish) coffee. Actually, there are some “flavors” and brands that I really appreciate … even more than the American stuff I’ve abandoned. Especially the Sical blend. By the numbers, I guess I prefer those deemed 5, 6, or 7. Beyond that, the brews are too bitter and brash for my taste.

Having satisfied my need for a morning pick-me-up, what I miss most from the USA — apart from some people — is food.

Topping the chart is a real New York City Carnegie Deli-style sandwich piled high with spicy pastrami on rye bread with a shmear of mustard, some creamy cole slaw, a sour pickle, and cheese cake that adds pounds to your waistline just by admiring it. (Carnegie’s has closed, but similar fare has been available at Katz’s Delicatessen—since 1888!)

And Nathan’s “Coney Island” all-beef hot dogs heaped high with sauerkraut and plenty of mustard on a bun. Heck, given those turd-like specimens swimming about in slimy water that are sold here, I’d be happy with Hebrew National or even Ball Park franks.

Bagels – even “plain” ones – though onion, garlic, cinnamon raison, asiago cheese, and “everything” bagels would be seventh heaven … if they could be found (not frozen) across the Iberian peninsula.

And steaks! Hunger-hunkering slabs of beef, perfectly cut with just the right amount of fat. Filet Mignon. Porterhouse. Rib Eye. Strip steak, flank steak, even top sirloin! But not those strange cuts of meat butchered in too many Portuguese churrasqueira restaurants.

I wonder whether those Kansas City mail order steak houses deliver to Portugal?

Other favorite foods that are hopefully hiding on shelves somewhere around these parts are a wide(r) variety and selection of salad dressings – not just mayonnaise, olive oil, and vinegar, along with a token “ranch” – and Tabasco-style hot sauces (anything but Piri-Piri!) for Bloody Marys and Sunday brunches. And a dash of red (hot) pepper flakes.

Yes, yes, yes, I know: Much of this stuff is available in Lisbon and Porto, Madrid and Barcelona, and other expat ghettos. Or online. But we live in more rural areas, where it’s just not available or to be found.

Restaurants, too, I miss.

Hey, we have a food court with pepperoni pizza and foot-long, all beef hot dogs at the Costco in Sevilla … and Swedish meatballs are plentiful at all our Ikeas.

But, what I wouldn’t give for a Tex-Mex restaurant’s multi-page menu featuring variations on the taco and tortilla themes! They’re probably there in the larger, more tourist-oriented cities. But what about Thai restaurants? Where are they hiding, apart from on the back pages of our Chinese restaurant menus? Speaking of Asian food, a Japanese restaurant couldn’t hurt. Heck, sometimes I even grow nostalgic for IHOPs (although rumor has it their menu has changed from stacks of flapjacks and waffles to burgers and pizza), Baskin-Robbins, and Dunkin’ Donuts.

It’s not that some of this stuff isn’t available here … just daring to be found. Expensive, too, at times. But we don’t live along the coast where Lisbon, Porto, and Algarve cater to the appetites of English-speaking expats. Yes, I know that many if not most of these delicacies can be found in these big cities, along with wonderful supermarkets like Aldi and the Corte Inglés.

They’re just not here, where we live, or within driving distance.

Lest anyone worry, rest assured that we’re doing fine – really well – with what we do have here. And what we don’t have? We probably don’t need it, anyway. We’re still newbies, who are adjusting. Especially to all those flies attracted by food eaten al fresco!

After all, we have with the coffee.

Despite being serious business in Portugal and Spain – an amphetamine and aphrodisiac of the gods to some – to me, coffee is just a morning beverage that’s sometimes enjoyed at the end of a good meal.

Blasphemy! Sacrilege! Heresy!

Now, let the carnage continue.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Sunday Sermon: 26/07/2020

‘How much are you selling the eggs for?’ the rich woman asked.

The old seller replied, ‘Twenty-five cents an egg, Madam.’

The old seller replied, ‘Come take them at the price you want. Maybe, this is a good beginning because I have not been able to sell even a single egg today.’

She said to him, ‘I will take 6 eggs for $1.25 or I will leave.’

She took the eggs and walked away feeling she had won. She got into her fancy car and went to a posh restaurant with her friend. There, she and her friend, ordered whatever they liked. They ate a little and left a lot of what they ordered. Then she went to pay the bill: $45.00 She gave $50.00 and told the owner of the restaurant to keep the change.

This incident might have been not unusual for the restaurant owner, but very painful to the poor egg seller.

The point is:

Why do we always need to show that we have the power when we buy from the needy? And why are we generous to those who don’t need our generosity?

I once read somewhere:

‘My father used to buy simple goods from poor people at rather high prices, even though he did not need them. Sometimes he even paid extra for them. I was curious about this and asked him why he did this? My father replied, “It is a charity wrapped with dignity, my child”.’

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Without a prescribed religious service or liturgy, People of Faith Online Congregation has no creeds, confessions, or collections … no pulpits, pews, or processionals … no altar calls, prosperity preaching, damnation-orientation, celestial choirs, books that we worship, or “holier-than-thou” critics.

Instead, we’re a home-based, nondenominational online congregation that’s spiritual rather than religious, organic over organizational, personal beyond institutional, here-and-now oriented instead of hereafter.

From Portugal and Spain, we gather online to consider and celebrate the sacred journeys of our lives. All are welcomed, appreciated, and affirmed … no matter where in the world you are located!

Whether you’ve attended church (but feel alienated), or if you’d enjoy meeting other wayfarers seeking this type of progressive spiritual experience, please join us and other progressive people of faith. Here’s the link to our group on Facebook:

www.facebook.com/groups/FaithCommunityOnline

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Franchising Tapas

When I was a younger man with more vim and vigor, earning more than my mere Social Security income, I seriously considered opening a franchised restaurant in Sturgeon Bay (Door County), Wisconsin.

Not another burger bunker, taco take-out, chicken coop, or sandwich shack. We had plenty of those already …

Analyzing the market for what might make a successful enterprise, I believed that a Noodles and Company franchise – combining various pastas, sauces, and toppings in a mishmash of Italian, Thai, Chinese, American, and Vegetarian dishes – could be a winning recipe.

Fast food, savored slowly or gobbled quickly, at an affordable price!

We left Wisconsin for the European Union before nogging the noodles; but I remain convinced that an eatery like this could be quite profitable, catering to the consumers’ tastes.

Living in Spain and a Portugal border town, I now suspect that tapas may be the next big (little) global franchise for foodies.

Moreover, we could have umpteen variations on the theme: tapas españolas, tapas americanas, tapas francesas, tapas italianas, et al.

Tapas tend to be popular wherever they’re served and already are available in many places. My point here is that somewhere, some entrepreneur or fast food chain looking to expand, sometime soon, will recognize the commercial potential for franchising them … eliminating their unique tastes and variations on the theme by reducing them to their lowest common denominators.

Tapas aren’t particularly made for “take-out.” They’re more of a social experience in a sit-down together environment.

Tapas are:

Delicious. Satisfying every taste bud, tapas are smaller-sized versions of almost everything on the full-size menu. They typically come with a basket of bread (and/or breadsticks), olives, a side salad and/or chips (fries)

Healthy. Nutritionists and dieticians will attest that, not only are tapas a “balanced” meal, but their serving size portions are the amount we, ideally, should be eating at each sitting.

Social. Tapas are meant to be shared. Everyone around the table orders one or two, with enough to be shared around the table. Folks get to sample different dishes and discuss their observations over gossip and glad-handing.

Inexpensive. Away from the big cities, tapas typically range from €1.50 to €3.00 per serving (averaging about €2.50). And that includes all the extras: bread, small side salad and/or fries, olives, and other hors d’ouevres. With wine and beer costing less than water or soft drinks, add another euro or so for each beverage. Total bill for two tapas to share, two more tapas to be enjoyed independently, and two drinks per person: less than fifteen euros.

Diverse. Nearly everything on the complete menu is available as a tapa. Eat one or more of the same tapa – it’s also available in a double-size portion (“media ración”) or a full-size plate (ración) – or sample several goodies to delight.

Experiential. How often do we get to try something different, something we may find delicious (or not), by sampling it in a smaller size at a bottom-line price? From meats and poultry to fish and seafood, cheeses and wraps or soups and salads, tapa economics are as incalculable as their substance and variations!

And, since we all deserve a break today, tapas allow us to eat fresh, make it great, and have the food our way.

Now, that’s thinking outside the bun!

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Making a Difference from Abroad

“But, you left.”

“It’s not your country. You don’t live here anymore.”

“Why do you even care?”

“Anyway, what can you do from over there?”

For one reason or another, sooner or later, directly or indirectly, expats and immigrants are bound to hear comments such as these … especially on Facebook … because people don’t understand our decision or desire to live outside the USA.

Some people don’t; others won’t; many just can’t.

Yet estimates put the number of USA citizens residing internationally between six and nine million. According to a January 2019 Gallup poll, that number is increasing, as the emigrant exodus continues to climb under the Trump Administration.

Ironically, we left a country in the throes of battles over immigrants … to find ourselves now as the immigrants in another land: for many of us, that’s Portugal and/or Spain!

Moving elsewhere doesn’t sever one’s ties to the motherland. We can cut the umbilical cord; but never will we be detached from cares and concerns about our country, no matter where we may live. We remain U.S. citizens, albeit residing officially outside the USA.

Some people want nothing more to do with the increasingly belligerent partisan politics in the USA (or the UK … and elsewhere, for that matter). Others, however, are every bit as involved and engaged in the battle to form a “more perfect union” from this side of the great divide.

To answer those questions posed at the beginning of this post, expats actually can make a real difference in the USA from abroad:

 Contributing our time, talents, and resources to people and organizations we believe can make things better;

 Volunteering our efforts to help staff offices, make calls, translate, or moderate online forums dealing with citizenship matters;

 Writing letters to the editors of newspapers and magazines, websites and blogs, based in the USA and worldwide;

 Posting, commenting, responding, and sharing diplomatically on the “social” media;

 Sending emails and faxes to our “representatives” in the USA, informing them of our perspectives regarding matters of consequence and importance;

 Joining and participating in expat groups that represent our interests … maybe, even marching and rallying to show our solidarity with others who believe as we do;

 Most importantly, however: voting and doing everything possible to encourage others – whether in the USA or living abroad – to register and vote, too.

We’re involved “back home” as registered overseas voters.

Registering to vote overseas really is quite easy:

Simply go to either the website established by federal law, fvap.gov, or the Democratic Vote from Abroad’s website (votefromabroad.org) and register. They’ll take care of the rest.

According to USA law, Americans abroad continue to vote in the last jurisdiction where they lived and were registered to vote.

For us, every time there’s an election in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, we receive a ballot attached to an email from the city’s Clerk of the Court. We complete our ballots and mail them back (well before the designated deadline!) to Sturgeon Bay. By law, our ballots must be counted with all those during “early” voting and/or on Election Day.

“You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy,” is a statement published over one hundred years ago in The Country Gentleman’s May 16, 1914 issue.

Truer, more relevant words have yet to be written (or spoken) for those of us living internationally.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Square Peg in a Round Hole

When Sexual Orientation and Identity Conflict …
Men May Marry, Yet Carry-On Clandestinely with Other Men

Many older and middle-aged men are intimately involved with other men. Married or not, most of them tragically choose anonymity over acknowledging their true selves to others and, often, even themselves.

Why are these men so secretive and afraid of revealing their sexual orientation?

Because they grew up at a time when culture and society exorcised homosexuality, treating homosexual men and lesbians as lepers: sick, reprobate, reprehensible pariahs.

So their sexual behavior, orientation, and identity conflict and increasingly collide.

That’s the thesis of Bruce H. Joffe, a college professor and church pastor whose new tell-tale book is a memoir about myriad masked men supposedly “straight” but actually same-sex oriented.

Square Peg in a Round Hole follows the author’s attempts to delude himself and loved ones, tracing his experiences rejecting, confronting, and ultimately embracing the man he now believes God meant him to be all along. For Joffe and many men like him, the challenge required reconciling religious beliefs with his innate disposition.

An enigma within an enigma, Joffe is a Gay Jewish-Christian whose academic focus for the past ten years has been on Gender Studies. The connection enabled him to meet many men from the baby boom generation still struggling with their sexuality—online, in support groups, at churches, and through other social networks.

“We tried to deny ourselves, hoping the burdensome secret would disappear,” he shares. “But, of course, it never did. So we turned to prescription drugs, self-inflicted voodoo, and pejorative prayer. Mostly, though, we married … expecting that wedding rings and children would add legitimacy to our lives and help keep the demons at bay. Inevitably, other people got hurt as we woefully dealt with a painful identity crisis.”

Married with children or still single, politicians, celebrities, sports figures, and even evangelical leaders are now coming out and confessing … or being forced to do so.

“Guilt, shame, and remorse plague many homosexual men but, especially, those who are married and lead hypocritical or duplicitous lives while cringing in the closet,” Joffe says.

“Denied equal rights, respect, and even their religion, how could people with same-sex orientations lead legitimate lives?”

All too often they couldn’t, because they wouldn’t come to grips with what they thought was wrong: to be born a homosexual … or to love someone of the same sex. The author maintains that we can’t control one and the other is a natural expression of the birthright.

“Homosexuality almost always has meant second-class status, or worse. It shouldn’t. Gays in society have harmed themselves – and others – long enough,” insists Bruce Joffe who, in writing this book, realized that he would pay the piper for coming out publicly.

Square Peg in a Round Hole (Hardcover: ISBN 978-1-4257-6918-5 & Softcover: ISBN 978-1-4257-6908-6) is available from amazon.com and most online booksellers in all formats: hard cover, paperback, and eBook.

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Tips on Gratuities

Now, here’s a sensitive topic if there ever was one: tipping.

That extra “something” provided to (certain) people who provide services to us: waiters and waitresses, barbers and hair stylists, guides, helpers and assistants working for contractors you’re paying directly.

I’ve asked the question(s) many times of lots of people. And plenty, in turn, have asked me: Do you tip? Who(m)? Where? How much?

Unlike USA workers in some industries and trades, tips aren’t necessarily expected by their counterparts in Portugal and Spain.

But they’re surely appreciated … especially if unanticipated.

There’s a theoretical irony here in that a “tip,” according to reasonable references, was originally given “to insure promptness.” Promptness? Doesn’t that go against the grain here in Portugal and Spain?

But the reasons for gracious tipping these days go well beyond timing and promptness. They’re about the quality of service we receive.

Regardless of where they’re working or what they’re doing in their jobs, my understanding is that Portuguese and Spanish workers are entitled, at least, to the prevailing minimum wage.

Not so in the “colonies,” where restaurant and salon workers (among others) are paid a lower minimum wage, often not even earning a living wage that covers the basic costs of a life. For them, tips comprise a substantial portion of their income.

In Spain and Portugal, people in these same fields of endeavor make little more (if any) than the legal minimum wage. As of January 2018, that’s €700 (US $806) per month in Portugal and €1050 (US $1209) in Spain.

Despite the lower costs of some products and services here on the Iberia peninsula, I couldn’t live on those wages. Could you?

So, yes, I tip. Because I feel good when I can help and give a little extra.

But only for good and/or special service. And, usually, not to the owner or proprietor of a business, even if s/he is the one who is serving me … although, contrary to the conventional rule not to, I do tip taxi drivers who help me load and unload lots of baggage to and from airports.

Not everyone tips.They just don’t believe in it, as it’s not part of their culture, upbringing, and overall formation. If and when they do tip, it’s typically given as a token—but appreciated nonetheless.

Tipping has been one of those difficult adjustments for me to make, now that we live in Portugal and Spain.

While I am tempted to use the same rule of thumb that guided my gratuities in the USA – 20% for good service, 10-15% for acceptable, less for less – I am seeing how awkward even appreciative workers may feel and react when given a tip based on these percentages.

On my restaurant tab of, say, 20 Euros, most service staff are delighted to receive a one Euro tip … they seem uncomfortable accepting three euros (15%) or four (20%). Evidently, the rule of thumb is 5% in restaurants here and 10% only if lots of plates are being changed. Similarly, my barber is very grateful when I give him (or her) a 50 cent or one euro tip on a charge ranging from €6-10. More often than not, a few coins are appropriate and thankfully welcomed. Especially for beer or wine, coffee, and “raciones” (tapas).

When you do tip, try to leave it directly for those who have served you well. In cash (or coins), not on credit or debit cards, whose transaction fees and merchant charges will be deducted from your largesse.

Ultimately, tipping – like most perks and bonuses – is a judgment call.

There’s no right or wrong, no rules or standards set in stone.


My advice about tipping, therefore, is to do what feels right for you. Tip or don’t tip, whenever, wherever, whatever you believe is appropriate.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Supermarket Sweepstakes: Grocery Shopping in Iberia

Since we all don’t live on “quintas” and grow our own food, or belong to co-ops where we share that food with others (who share theirs with us), we are among those who purchase our food – along with personal products and household supplies – at local shops, grocery stores, and super/markets.

In Spain, every town of any size has at least one major supermarket (in addition to specialty shops: fruit and vegetable stands, butchers, bakers and bread shops, fish mongers, corner markets inserted between “bazaars,” delicacy shops that we’d call delicatessens or delis in the USA … although their foodstuffs are totally different).

Olvera, our hometown in southern Spain, has two: Dia (Distribuidora Internacional de Alimentación) which is known by its Minipreço (“Low price”) brand name in Portugal … and Mercadona, a larger, full-service supermarket with everything departmentalized under one roof, and an annoying jingle that gets under your skin, erupting when one showers, shaves, drives, or otherwise isn’t thinking about grocery shopping.

Few Portuguese villages have such supermarkets. Instead, the “corner” market is where one shops when you run out of something essential or forgot to buy it while at a city-sized supermarket. And when you want fresh rolls or bread baked that day (two lunch rolls are €0.32). Or when you want to shoot the breeze, brushing up on your Portuguese with neighbors who are also there buying a thing or two.

But for major shopping excursions and expeditions here, most head to Castelo Branco’s industrial zone, where no fewer than five major supermarket chains have staked out territory alongside warehouse-size specialty stores selling breads, cheeses, fruits, and everything your pets and animals could possibly need (Agriloja).

We do our food and supply shopping weekly at these super/markets, visiting one or more frequently. Often back-to-back, on the same day.

While all of these mega-markets sell the same things (more-or-less), we’ve developed preferences for this place and that, according to the specific objects of our desire.

I suspect that what follows will promptly provoke passionate debate and dissension but, hopefully, discussion and dialogue as well … as we share our secret appetites and pleasures for where we consider certain “bests” in the food chain(s) can be bought and found.

If empirical research is to be believed, first among equals is Auchan (aka previously as Jumbo), the anchor store at one of our two major malls here in Castelo Branco.

According to DECO, Portugal’s largest (nonprofit) consumer association that’s been accorded “public utility” status, after analyzing almost 600 supermarkets in 70 countries, Jumbo was found to have the lowest prices of all large chain stores—especially in central Portugal. Further, the consumer watchdog’s research highlighted that Jumbo’s prices tend to be best across-the-board in terms of both fresh and frozen products, groceries, personal care, and household products.

The study found that “Jumbo was top of the table when it comes to cheap prices,” as reported the English online weekly Portugal News. “It was the number one choice for many shoppers in areas including Aveiro, Coimbra, Leiria, Lisbon, Setúbal, and Viseu.”

I can understand that: we relate Jumbo/Auchan to the ubiquitous discount Walmart Supercenters spread throughout the USA.

To realistically reflect the shopping tendencies of Portuguese families, Deco’s research put together a “hamper” comprising 243 products: 38% were a store’s own-brand products and 62% were branded.

We shop regularly at Auchan and, while we find that it’s the greatest numerator and common denominator in terms of one-stop shopping, we aren’t always thrilled with our purchases. To be fair, Auchan is the only place that carries our preferred Noir dark chocolate; and its own mouthwash – at one-third the cost – comes closest to the world’s leading brands in terms of swig and bang for the buck. Auchan seems to have a larger, consistent selection of “international” foods, and is the only place we’ve yet found for Ricotta cheese to make lasagna.

Trailing a close second to Auchan/Jumbo in Deco’s ratings is Continente, where “prices are, on average, two percent more expensive than Jumbo.”

While we sometimes do our weekly shopping at the Continente mini-mall outside Castelo Branco’s industrial zone, we’re not that impressed. Except on some of the special deals offered – like tables and chairs – in front of the store itself. This particular Continente appears to have very narrow aisles and rows, compounded by the number of shopping carts left unattended while customers head for items located in other aisles. We find the largest selection of paper goods at Continente (especially boxed tissues), and it’s the only place nearby where big people who like and use it can buy Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder.

On the other side of the industrial zone is our other major mall, where Pingo Doce (“Sweet Drop”) supermarket serves as its anchor store. Contrary to Deco’s research – which found Pingo’s prices, on average, six percent higher than Jumbo’s – we think much of the inventory at Pingo costs less. Do we do our major shopping there? No. But we do, especially, appreciate Pingo Doce’s pre-prepared, ready-to-eat servings from its café bar and (when available), its chicken and/or tuna spread submarine sandwiches. Hey, can you even buy the fixings of these tasty foot-longers for just €1.79 … let alone, spend time fixing them?

Largely due to “the prices of their fresh fruits and vegetables” and meat and fish supplied by external companies, and “therefore higher prices,” Deco’s survey found Intermarché, Minipreço, and Lidl to be the most expensive supermarkets.

But we believe that depends on what you’re looking to buy and spend.

Take Lidl, for instance.

Nowhere else – not at Jumbo, Continente, Pingo Doce, Minipreço, or Intermarché – could we find such a vast variety of freshly-baked breads and bread products (like the “misto” croissants of ham and cheese, or the chorizo-filled rolls), cooked on premises and put out, piping hot, while you’re standing there. At lower prices than anywhere else. We think the cuts of meat at Lidl are butchered and cut closer to “American-style” than anywhere else.

At Lidl, I can buy “real” orange juice from the freezer case, similar to Tropicana and Florida’s Natural brands back in the USA. Elsewhere, the orange juice is made from concentrate, sold in boxes or containers displayed on the shelves, and tastes more like Tang orange drink than real juice (zumo). The store’s “Diez” cosmetics, groceries, and other products give the competition a marathon for our money.

What’s more, shopping at Lidl is like going on a treasure hunt: you’ll never know what you’ll find – clothing to small appliances, hardware to DVDs and CDs – in its bin aisles. It’s the closest we’ve come to finding close-outs carried by the likes of TJ Maxx, Tuesday Morning, or Big Lots here today, gone tomorrow, in Castelo Branco.

So much for plugging Lidl … except to say that we truly dislike shopping there. Every Lidl we’ve been to feels cramped, dirty, and takes forever to check out (as there’s usually only one, maybe two cashier lines open). During these times of pandemic pandemonium, it appears that other grocery chains take greater care in social distancing (at least on the conveyer belts) and sanitizing the credit card terminals than does Lidl.

The only Aldi we’ve been to, Portalegre’s, in many ways is similar to Lidl. According to what we’ve been told, it’s the only place where real sour cream is readily accessible!

Contrary to Deco’s claims, we’ve found the best buys and lowest prices on certain items – store-brand cleaning products and supplies, even wines at times – at Minipreço, directly opposite Continente. It’s not a place to wander up and down the aisles. You can’t. But to run in and pick up certain cheaply-priced items, Minipreço can’t be beat.

(Unless, of course, Auchan, Continente, or Lidl have those items on sale.)

And then there’s Intermarché, part of the Minipreço and Lidl troika.

I’m here to tell you that, yes, it is higher priced! And that you’d better be careful when buying items promoted as “on sale” as, all too often, what rings up at the register is the regular, not sales, price of items. Quite a few times, we have had to point out the disparity to the cashier, showing her the product’s price as listed in its weekly sales flyer.

Yet, ironically, we spend more of our time and money at Intermarché than at all of the other supermarkets.

One reason is its location: Yes, there’s an Intermarché (attached to its sibling, BricoMarché) in Castelo Branco’s industrial zone. But the one in Alcains is much closer to us and it’s far more convenient to run out for something we “need” (or forgot) when the destination is ten minutes, not thirty, away.

Results of Deco’s recent research were released in early June 2018. Two types of consumers were profiled in the study: those who spend €150 a month on shopping, and those whose monthly shopping costs up to €400. “Those who spend more also save more,” it concluded.

Russ and I do spend more than €400 each month on our supermarket shopping, so we should have saved enough to be able to enjoy eating out at one of the area’s fine dining establishments.

Not now, of course. But sometime later.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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