American in Portugal


I am an American living in Portugal, splitting time — with my spouse — between small homes and villages in the country’s core (Alcains, Castelo Branco) and the Alentejo (Vila Boim, Elvas).


After almost four years, we’ve come to know what we like most about living in Portugal, as well as a few things that frustrate or confuse us. It has nothing to do with our love for Portugal and the Portuguese, but because we grew up in another land and culture, and can’t help but see life (for the moment) through a different lens and viewpoint.


That’s not a criticism, just a fact we’ve come to understand.


Some things can’t be taught to us; we need to learn them by experience. Answers aren’t to be found in the fine print of guide books and manuals, or in the files of some Facebook group. Only time here will tell and reveal.


Examples?


Who knew that Portuguese pharmacies would refill our prescription(s) from the USA – before we have a local doctor or our SNS number – simply by showing a bottle or box containing our existing medicine … or, better yet, a Rx from our American doctor? Or that, unlike the USA, right turns on red (after pausing) aren’t legal here? Who do you call if your car should break down on the road? And how long does it take until that “Eureka!” moment when we realize that gasóleo and diesel fuel are the same?


Moving from one address to another in Portugal brings its own load of lessons. After all is said and done, you remember that your mail needs to be forwarded. Should be simple enough … until you learn from the post office that it costs €20 per month for the service. Apart from the flyers and junk mail, our mailbox receives so few pieces that it’s better (suggests correios), if not simpler, to contact those postal patrons who connect with us through CTT and fill out the forms to change our address.


The same goes for Finanças, a legal requirement.


Changing addresses also means stopping by EDP (several times) to disconnect and stop service, as well as to resolve any billing issues. Are we the only ones who didn’t know that the country’s energy provider has us all on annual contracts? Sure, you can cancel your contract … but through its legal end date, you’ll continue to be billed monthly service charges.


Then, there’s shopping: We’ve been used to being able to return stuff we bought and get full refunds, as long as we bring the receipt, the item is in its original packaging, and the return is made within a designated timeframe. One major hardware and household supply chain in Portugal advertises, “Don’t worry! If you buy it here and find a lower price elsewhere, we’ll refund you the difference plus 10%!” Plenty of merchants will give you a refund in full if you return something, for whatever reason, no questions asked. But don’t ass-u-me that’s the rule everywhere. Stores aren’t required to post their returns and refunds policy, whether at the point-of-sale or on the receipt. So, before buying something, especially if it’s costly, you’d best ask about the store’s return and refund policy.


Did you know that, from the moment SEF exchanges your temporary visa for a residency permit, you’re eligible to vote in Portuguese elections? That’s right: legal residents, as well as citizens and Portuguese natives are entitled — and encouraged — to vote here.


Nonetheless, Portugal’s politics, elude us … probably because there are more than two intransigent political parties. But that’s a good thing, as partisan politics here don’t appear to put party before people. Instead, coalitions are formed to move things forward—unlike certain countries where nothing progresses because of unrelenting forces meeting intractable objects.


“But it’s a socialist country,” some homelanders insist, confusing politics with economics (capitalism).


“And you don’t think there’s socialism at work in your country, too?” we reply.


Economically, Portugal is poor, at least compared to the competition. The national minimum wage remained fixed in 2021 at 775.8€ (US $940/UK £665.90) per month or 9,310 euros (US $11,275/UK £7,991) per year, taking into account 12 payments per year. Accordingly, the national minimum wage has been raised 35 euros per month from the previous year, or 4.72%. Put another way, Portugal’s national minimum wage rose to 665 euros per month before tax in 2021, but is based on 14 (not 12) monthly payments. The Portuguese government maintains its objective of gradually increasing the minimum wage to 750 euros per month by 2023.


We love Portugal for its neutrality. It’s not one of the big G7 nations … or even the G20, for that matter. Rather, the country is an active (if errant) participant in the European Union, whose most recent president was Portuguese. Portugal is also a member of NATO. It’s a safe and peaceful place; to the best of my knowledge, there’ve been no mass murders, gunfire, attack weapons, or daily violence.


We adore the Portuguese people, some of who are our closest friends, even when they’re standing outside our house after midnight talking, without using their “inside” voices.


Yet Portugal remains somewhat of an enigma, an evasive paradox … which might explain that sense of “saudade” shared by so many of its inhabitants—increasingly including immigrants like us, who have come to experience much the same feeling.


Especially when it comes to dealing with the dust, flies, and mold!


(Bruce is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine.)

Climate-Changed

It’s here, huffing and puffing and blowing our houses in.

Not to belittle Covid rising or myriad international crises and challenges, but the greater good demands that we stop what we’re doing and confront climate change—here and now.

Wildfires. Heat waves. Tropical storms, hurricanes, tsunamis. Heat waves. Flooding. Draughts. Icebergs. Air Quality. Haze.

All are symptoms — accessories and accomplices — of earth’s painful diseases.

Fuel spills and non-biodegradable plastic are destroying our oceans and their inhabitants. The Amazon is emitting more carbon than it’s absorbing. Flooding in Germany and Belgium defies explanation, as does passengers trapped in waist-high water inside a submerged subway and cars floating through streets, as deadly floods sweep through central China. Record high temperatures – some 50 degrees above normal – suffocate people trying to breathe in western Canada, California, Oregon, and Washington. Dozens of wildfires rage across the Pacific Northwest, with the region experiencing unrelenting draught while smoke stretches all the way to the East coast. Seemingly everywhere, haze obliterates the sky. And, in an ironic twist, smoke from the “bootleg” wildfires is changing the weather.

“There are more than 40 evacuation orders affecting about 5,700 people or almost 2,900 properties in the province,” reports the Canadian Broadcasting System. “There are also 69 evacuation alerts, affecting just under 33,000 people and about 16,000 properties. Three hundred of Canada’s 800 fires at the moment are raging in B.C. (British Columbia).”

Elsewhere, William Brangham reports on PBS from California’s San Joaquim Valley, “The demand for water has threatened the drinking supply for hundreds of thousands of rural residents—including the farmers who grow a significant part of the country’s food supply.”

Here in Portugal, 21 municipalities and districts have been placed at maximum risk of fire. As a Facebook friend put it following days of sweltering heat, “We’re making like lizards and keeping to the shade.”

Plastic pellets escape into the environment during every stage of their lifecycle–from production to transportation and during final product manufacturing. Together with single-use plastics which continue to line supermarket shelves, despite being banned by the government (in Portugal), they absorb toxins such as dioxins from water and transfer them to the marine food web and human diets, increasing the risk of adverse effects to wildlife and people, along with fishing and survival.

The bacteria that make up “red tide,” Karenia brevis, already have killed more than 613 tons of marine life and fish around Tampa, Florida, as sewage stops everyone from bathing at an Algarve (Portugal) beach when a burst pipe causes sewage to be discharged into the sea.

Following his sky shuttle, space cadet Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame and fortune announces the commercial potential of his billionaire joy ride: All that dirty, polluting manufacturing and industrial waste will be moved from earth into outer space, leaving the earth a much more splendid place … even while the universe becomes a more contaminated “dumping ground.”

Already, global warming has become climate chaos. In the future, will it be universal?

Satellite data have shown that the world’s biggest iceberg is no more. Weighing billions of tons and bigger than many cities when it broke away from the Antarctic ice shelf in 2017, the iceberg has completely melted away. Scientists warn that this could be a sign of the quickened pace of global warming.

Greenland has decided to suspend all oil exploration off the world’s largest island, calling it “a natural step,” because the Arctic government “takes the climate crisis seriously.”

I don’t want to sound like Chicken Little, but we used to predict that the devastating effects of climate change and global warming would hit us in twenty to fifty years—worrisome for our children and grandchildren, but not nearly so deadly to us.

Climate scientists for decades have warned that the climate crisis would lead to more extreme weather. They said it would be deadly and it would be more frequent. But many are expressing surprise that heat and rain records are being broken by such large margins.

That’s the difference between prophets and profits.

Limiting global warming to 1.5C will be a “pipe dream,” predicts US climate envoy John Kerry, if China waits as late as 2030 – not even a decade away – for the peak of its emissions.

And the USA? Russia? The UK and EU? Africa and Asia?

Several developed countries, including the US, this year have significantly increased their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The European Union last week unveiled an ambitious plan to put climate at the center of just about every development and economic initiative it has.

Yet many activists say that their pledges still fall short of the action needed to contain average global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which the International Panel for Climate Change says is necessary to avoid even more catastrophic impacts of climate change. They also criticize governments that make ambitious pledges while continuing to approve new fossil fuel projects, including coal mines, and oil and gas facilities.

“When you look at what’s happening in Canada, where they had temperatures of 50 degrees (C), and what’s going on all over the world, it is clear this is the result of climate change,” Niklas Pieters told CNN, as he helped his parents clear the debris from their ravaged home in Schuld, Germany. “I don’t want to have to get used to this.”

Wake up and do something, people: climate change is upon us.

Maybe we all should watch The Day After (again) on Netflix?

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Both Sides Now

Both Sides Now

“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down and still somehow, it’s clouds illusions I recall … I really don’t know clouds at all.”—Joni Mitchell/Judy Collins

Clouds have always been a metaphor.

On the one hand, we have people—entire populations—scratching the earth and cursing the “clouds” for their woe begotten perils and perishing resources. On the other, big tech companies own and reside in the clouds, as their titans fly high above them … quite literally, thanks to the likes of Sir Richard Branson and Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos.

It’s increasingly the double standard: the haves and the havents, the sick from the healthy, people and their preferred politicos, conspirators v. resisters, demagogues and/or uniters.

Call it a bipolar dichotomy, if you will, where even the bad guys (i.e., ransomware attackers) are considered Robin Hoods by some, stealing from big business and the powers that be, shutting down their usury.

But it’s more than that …

How can some people have such unquantifiable riches that they take joy rides with clouds, while others—entire countries, in fact—are victims of deadly forces beyond their control?

Some blame it on Covid, which helped the rich get far richer and the poor even more destitute. The virus has strangled us all—economically, physiologically, politically, socially, morally, and even spiritually. We’re tired and anxious, because of all the ever-lasting limitations.

Turn on the news, any channel, and we’re besieged by chaos in different places: Haiti, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Lebanon, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, South Africa, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Turkey, Nicaragua, India. And the list goes on …

… including higher prices and inflation, making an unwelcome comeback, as we dig deeper to pay for our lives.

Consider the scapegoating, the unprecedented violence in cities and towns everywhere around the globe.

Unprecedented.

How often that word is now used: A condominium building in Florida collapses, while another in Hamas-occupied Israel is deliberately obliterated. Flash flooding in New York and London put these cities under water, while more hurricanes approach, ever stronger and more furious. Record high temperatures, hitherto unthinkable, are being reached in the most moderate climates … with unquenchable flames igniting hell fires and damnation.

Plagues: Water turning on the blood of droughts, flies, livestock pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and the killing of firstborn children. The question of whether Bible stories can be linked to archaeological discoveries has long fascinated scholars.

Symbolic of the universe’s moral law, the preacher in me believes that the ancient plagues represent the Almighty’s expression of justice, as well as judgments upon those who refuse to repent of their evil, self-serving ways.

According to the New York Times, Republicans in more than a dozen states are seeking to limit ballot access and increase partisan control of elections. GOP legislators want to make it more difficult for people to vote, paradoxically leaving Democrats to object and flee—impeding a vote (without a quorum).

Will partisan politics and the puerile need for power ever be replaced by an emphasis on the greater good? Or, are we to be the epitome of Darwin’s survival of the fittest?

Can we truly have both sides now—maybe more?

Or will clouds get in our way?