January, First: Second Time

Since 2020 has been such a bummer, with restrictions on movements and gatherings continuing today into 2021, we aren’t able to host our annual Open House get-together with family, friends, and neighbors. So, I will make do by reminiscing — and sharing — last year’s “festa” and hoping that this new year will be a time of recovery for all!

Feliz ano novo.

The day dawned delightful during my early morning walk with the dogs, providing Portugal’s blue and bright skies amid a string of belle weather days. Already the sun was beginning to rise earlier … with the roosters advancing their “wake-up” calls, while the town’s bells never missed a beat.

With the help of Facebook to prod people with props and reminders, we had decided to continue our annual tradition of celebrating the New Year with an open house. Last year, we combined the open house with a house-warming, as it was our first, full year of living in Portugal (and Spain), and we’d finally finished furnishing and making needed improvements.

An open house wasn’t that difficult to describe to those who spoke Portuguese: we explained that we invited guests to visit, at their convenience, between certain times … “stay as long or as little as you can,” we clarified. A house-warming, however? It simply didn’t translate.

Along with wines and beers, a variety of cheeses and appetizers are joining our fulsome-food buffet: Pisto, a vegetarian dish I’d learned to prepare from my grandmother in Spain more than 50 years ago (though I’m told the Portuguese people are familiar with it, too); the quintessential American mac-and-cheese, embellished by Russ but done Martha Stewart’s way; a new twist on my annual pot of beans and franks—beans and chourizo; meatballs served in a special, Piri-Piri sauce; and a heaping bowl of home-made Potato Salad. Plus all the little “side dishes” and samplers, of course.

Together, they offer an aromatic stew of smells, coalescing to greet our guests: friends, old and new.Side by side, the crockpots seem like similes – or metaphors? – for our lives: One, a humble slow cooker with but three basic settings (high, medium, low) purchased from Lidl for 20 euros; the other an oversize, state-of-the-art gizmo with settings and options galore.

Kind of hokey, huh?

Apart from four of us from the USA, most of those coming had moved to Portugal from elsewhere, becoming friends (first) online or meeting at gatherings with friends of other friends. Altogether, about two dozen are expected.

Our Portuguese friends and neighbors were grateful for the invitation, but felt some hesitation – perhaps reticence – about entering houses other than their own to share food and festivities. These bountiful and gracious people, often poor in pocket but rich in heart and spirit, would knock on our door, dropping off baskets of vegetables and fruits from their family quintas throughout the year.

No longer are we those “strange Americans” living among them … by now, they had adopted us. We’ve become their strange Americans!

Despite my limited language skills last year, I felt confident enough to do the honors by introducing friends and neighbors in Portuguese:

• Ele é o nosso amigo/Ela é a nossa amiga (He/she is our friend);
• Eles são os nossos amigos (They’re our friends);
• Ela é a nossa vizinha (She is our neighbor);
• Eles são os nossos vizinhos (They are our neighbors); and even
• Ela é a dona do mercado na esquina (She owns the market on the corner).

This year, my vocabulary and ability to use it have expanded.

Since January 1, 2019, we have dealt with Portuguese contractors on home repairs and remodeling. We’ve traveled and got lost around the roundabouts—asking directions and, finally, finding our way. Processing down the street with our neighbors, we mourned the passing of people we knew, and participated in our village’s ferias by placing flower petals along the street. We made purchases – major and minor – and financial decisions, dealing with salespeople and bankers. We suffered medical exams with doctors and staff who didn’t speak English, answering their questions as best we could. And we responded to the dictates of government bureaucracy, as well as those of big business: Freguesias, Cámaras, Centros da Saúde, Segurança Social, IMT, SEF, NHS, MEO, EDP. We began weekly Portuguese for Foreigners classes, applying our lessons about contractions (no, na, nos, nas) to others: do, da, das, dos; pelo, pela, pelos, pelas. While sitting on the “throne,” we read Portuguese advertisements of all shapes and sizes, newspaper stories and obituaries, and children’s books. We figured out the meanings of various signs lit on the motorways

.Last year, we could ask and answer simple questions; now, we are able to ask natives to speak more slowly—to repeat or explain what we don’t understand. Nonetheless, we can engage in limited conversations and dialogues … even if our accents still are awful and it’s all in the present tense. Our Portuguese pronunciation often falters, but we have learned to say “shkola” (escola), “shkreetorio” (escritorio), and “shkadera” (escadera), although we’re still at a loss about blending the end of some words with the beginning of others.

We have even begun to punctuate our conversations with typical pause phrases in Portuguese: “tá bem,” “pois, pois,” “pronto,” “é que …?” as well as to interject common rejoinders: “Tudo bem?” and “Não faz mal,” especially.

Language like this from our Portuguese textbook no longer is quite so intimidating: O Fernando é elecricista e trabalha por conta própia. Ele é casado e tem tres filhos. Os filhos são ainda muito jovens e por isso não andam na escola. A mulher do Fernando, a Ines, fica em casa com os meninos e prepara o jantar para o Fernando. Ele não almoça em casa, porque mora longe. Ele apanha o autocarro e chega a casa sempre cansado.

Still, there are many challenges ahead!

Our New Year’s resolutions include learning to correctly respond to the divisions of the day, so we know when it’s proper to say “Bom dia,” “Boa tarde,” or “Boa noite.”

Apparently, during mornings – until lunch – it’s “bom dia” … but, after eating lunch (13H-14H for the Portuguese), it becomes “boa tarde.” As for evening, there’s still some disagreement over whether “boa noite” is best said after eating dinner (jantar) … or after the skies turn dark and stars can be seen. And, what does one say – if anything – following that curious extra meal of the day: “lanche”?

Another resolution is to memorize our fiscal numbers (os números contribuientes), although our “números utentes” already are a forgotten cause.

We are so thankful for all of you, people who understand … people who care and share … people who love to live and live to love … people who follow those impossible dreams.

This is what the good life is about.

Good people. Good times. Good places. Good feelings.

Feeling good, knowing that you’re in a good place now.

We are. And we hope you are, too.

Happy New Year!

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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