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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Why I Dislike Supermarket Shopping in Portugal

Today is our food shopping day.

It’s one of my least favorite activities in Portugal.

Not because of the quality or the prices.

But, because:

We have to go to three supermarkets to get everything we want. (Castelo Branco has neither an Aldi, Carrefour, or Corte Inglés.) The bulk of our shopping is done at Auchan, which carries most — but not everything — we need. Next, it’s off to Lidl for their freshly bottled orange juice, freshly baked cheese sticks, and best cuts of meat. Finally, homeward bound, one of us runs into Continente for freshly bottled grapefruit juice–it’s the only store locally that carries it.

Shopping in the supermarkets is like an obstacle course. The aisles are narrow to begin with. People abandon their carts in the aisles, while they go off elsewhere looking for whatever. In other aisles, are clutches of two, three, and four people just standing there gossiping and blocking the aisles. If not customers, it’s employees who ignore the fact that their trolleys for stocking shelves leaves little room for passersby to do their shopping. Meanwhile, the stockers are oblivious, chatting with co-workers.

Am I the only one who’s bothered by people — customers — picking up fruits, vegetables, breads, and other foodstuffs … squeezing them, sniffing them, then putting them back?

Too many items are without prices. I picked up a super double pack of Dolce Gusto coffee capsules (they’re recyclable now!) because the price listed on the header said €14.99 for 64. With smaller size boxes of 16 capsules costing €5.50 or more, €14.99 is a pretty, darned good price! Except that it rings up, instead, as €17.93. In what I think is my very best Portuguese, I tell the cashier, “Mas a placa indica que o preço é €14.99.” Rather than make a fuss, I say that I don’t want it, thank you, and tell the cashier that after I’m checked out, I’ll deal with a supervisor. The people queued up behind me to pay are getting fidgety. “But you can’t come back into the store with the cart after you’ve paid,” explains the cashier, who is now getting frustrated herself. “Não se preocupe”, I assure her, “eu não vou.”

There’s never enough cashier lanes open to serve all the customers. How many times have I wiggled my way to a line, only to see the green “Aberto” light turn red “Fechado” just as I’m ready to unload. And even if everything else has gone well, I still have to deal with those cantankerous credit/debit card machines. Sometimes, they work perfectly. Other times, whether I swipe, insert, or magically wave my card, the “reader” just won’t cooperate. The cashier asks my permission, “Com licença,” to try it herself. It’s still won’t work. So, she calls over a manager, explains the situation, and hands my card and the wad of receipt papers to her. “Amazing!” I say to myself, as she hands me another receipt to sign. Reminding myself never to use that cashier lane again, I wonder how many forests have been cut down to merit all that paper.

I wait for my shopping companion in front of the store. He’s the cook in our family and always takes much longer than me to make sure that he’s got everything detailed minutely on his telephone app. Asking him to watch my cart (please), I march back inside, heading to the end cap of the coffee and tea aisle where I had found my great bargain on Dolce Gusto Sical. Aha! Just as I thought: the only sign indicating the price is hanging from the top of the top shelf, clearing showing the cost as €14.99. I politely interrupt two employees discussing whatever, and ask one to accompany me to confirm the price. The scans my Sical and €17.93 digitally appears on the screen. Then she scans other varieties on different shelves, which come up as €14.99. She tells me that “these” boxes of coffee are €14.99, but those — including my Sical — are €17.93. “But how is anyone supposed to know that?” I respond anxiously and with a bit of consternation. She shrugs her shoulder and smiles at me. Remembering all the items I had wanted to purchase until I asked and found out the prices (no, they weren’t marked), I contemplate going to the management section and making a stink. But I’m too annoyed at the moment and know that I would trip all over my limited Portuguese if I did–especially if asked a question. Knowing other opportunities would arise where I could vent my frustration, I turn and walk towards the exit. Nodding to nobody, I realized how the patience of the Portuguese was beginning to take hold of me.

Unloading the cart outside in the parking lot, I curse silently and wish I had a camera with me. Cars are parked diagonally in vertical spaces–one is even taking up three spots by parking horizontally. And several others are sticking out because they haven’t been pulled all the way in to the spots. I take all this in as cars careen around the lot at near highway speeds.

Do you recognize the man in this picture? I bet I could learn a lot about supermarket shopping and patience from him!

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Living on a Portuguese Income

Yesterday — amid all the talking faces and social media gabbing about rising inflation, prices going up, the potential for recession, homeless shelters and food pantries being used more often by more people, the adjustments and do-withouts even the employed are forced to make, higher costs and the problems we’ll all soon be facing — I stopped to listen to my inner voice, that soul or conscience that asks me to consider not how we would be affected by all these dire predictions … but what impact they would actually have on others.

Specifically, the Portuguese.

You and I are privileged. We’ve retired on a comfortable enough income, public and/or private pensions, to not be that affected by economic downturns and political pressures. Sure, maybe we’ll put off that cruise and faraway vacation, or postpone the purchase of a new car. For many or most of us, we’re living on money earned remotely or Social Security payments from a lifetime of working abroad.

Come what may, our standard(s) of living won’t change that much.

But what about our Portuguese friends and neighbors?

The widow next door to us is somewhere between 90 and 100. She has only three teeth left, so understanding her speech is difficult beyond comprehending the language we’re learning. A couple of times, we’ve knocked on her door to bring her some homemade food–meals or desserts. She’s very stubborn, refusing our offerings by saying her “children” bring her food each week. Her door slightly ajar, I’ve followed my nose and peeked in. It’s obvious that mold and mildew live there with her. She has neither air conditioning in the summer nor heating in the winter–at least not according to our standards. Regardless of the temperature outside, her house is cold and barren. No kitchen cabinets, just a shelf or two. Old, worn-out furniture. mismatched and misplaced … wherever. Her husband died more than 20 years ago and she’s been living on a state pension (“social security”) of €250 per month. Even though her daughters bring her food, at least once a week she trundles to and from the mini-market several blocks away with her walker. We can shrug off that extra €15 euros we’re spending now on what’s in our grocery carts from our weekly excursions to Auchan, Continente, Aldi, Pingo Doce, or Intermarché. But she can’t. What does she do? She does without, putting on extra layers and several threadbare blankets over the sagging mattress of her cot-like bed set in the middle of her kitchen, opposite the rusty front door. She may be poor, but her pride is intact and her survival instincts are strong.

We live in the suburbs of a major city, a comfortable if not upscale vila of mixed housing–most are row houses of all shapes and sizes, although there’s plenty of upscale properties with huge houses and landscaped gardens behind magnificent gates (not fences) around the town. We moved here from a smaller village (aldea) of about 500 people, down from 1,200 or more during its glory days. Today, one corner market, two cafés, and a beautician who visits twice each week comprise its commercial corps. Except for three tremendous but decaying manor homes, still grand and stately, all of the other dwellings are attached. No, that’s not quite right: around the village’s outskirts are a number of quintas inhabited by daily commuters who work for the government (elsewhere) and dirt-poor people.

Friends of ours live on one of those quintas, shared with a zoo-full of beloved pets: dogs, cats, chickens, guinea pigs, and geese that bark and bite. He’s a construction manager (whatever that means) who’s held a number of positions over the years. I have no idea how much he makes, but I do know that she’s worked for the government more than 20 years and still earns little more than the average minimum wage. How are they getting by with the increased costs of … everything, including their wages?

It’s obvious there’s an increasing use of plastic — credit cards — with people borrowing now and paying later for many of their needs. I suppose those erstwhile professionals proficient in digital, artificial intelligence, and cloud-based solutions are Portugal’s middle-class. Others, who’ve inherited property from their families play the pyramid game by holding on and selling high.

Another Portuguese friend owns a business that sells electrodomésticos: refrigerators and ranges, washers and dryers, but mainly aircon and solar solutions to everyday customers and large installations. He’s got a great location right on the corner of one of the city’s primary streets, a loyal and growing clientele, and a handful of technicians working for him. Yet, in addition to not being able to escape “the busiess” 24/7, he’s got a huge nut to crack between rent, salaries, inventory, utilities, taxes, and an accountant responsible for assessing and reporting the complexities of his financial considerations.

How do these people earning less than my meager monthly Social Security payments afford to drive new cars, with minimum sticker prices of €25,000. Some of the same vehicles and models cost 150% or more here over their prices in other countries.

One thing the Portuguese have, especially those living in the campo, that we don’t are quintas that have been in their families for ages, where they work the land daily and reap its produce, sharing baskets full with others.

The Portuguese also patronize places different than we do because they know where to get the best buys. If only we’d ask them, they’d be likely to help … but it means that we must take our homework more seriously, practicing Portuguese.

Would you believe that we know “foreigners” (expats, immigrants, or whatever) who have lived here for ten to twenty years and still can’t understand the language? Why should they? They live in expat ghettos surrounded by others much like them, where Portuguese isn’t spoken except by those serving or selling to them.

Now that Portugal is firmly on the map as one of the best places to be if you’re looking to retire with a good quality of life at prices more affordable and politics more amenable than the places we’ve come from, (almost) everyone wants to live in Lisbon, Porto, Algarve, or the Silver Coast.

But it’s a small country with not enough properties to go around–especially in those areas.

So, locals are being forced out of their homes, unable to afford even their maintenance. Now, there’s a bidding war for the best located properties, no matter their condition, as many will be torn down and rebuilt. Is that what we refer to as “regentrification?” Such a fancy word for a shabby deal. Maybe replacing faulty with functional would be better …

Taxes are high here, starting with “sales” tax, which is 23%. The government takes a big bite of your pay, too, with some people paying as much as 50% of their income in payroll taxes. Then, there’s Social Security, which is next-to-impossible to figure out without the services of a knowledgeable and competent accountant.

Residents in Portugal for tax purposes — us! — are taxed on our worldwide income at progressive rates varying from 14.5% (€0-€7,112) to 48% (> €80,882) for 2021. That doesn’t include Social Security, for which we’re also responsible when working. In 2021, an additional “solidarity rate,” which varies between 2.5% and 5%, applies to taxpayers with a taxable income exceeding EUR 80,000. LOL!

Social security contributions are 23.75% of gross pay from employers and a further 11% from employees. Portugal does, however, have agreements with some other countries regarding social security ‘totalization,’ including with the United States. In the case of the US, employees of American companies sent to work in Portugal for less than five years only have to pay US social security. Those working “remotely,” however are deemed independent contractors and must pay both their income taxes and social security contributions.

That’s a lot of taxes! But the money is spent to provide free health care and education, and lower prescription drug costs (among other essential expenses) to residents.

The minimum wage in Portugal is regularly adjusted, and currently is €8400 per year. The monthly level varies because many employees in Portugal receive 14 paychecks each year (the 12 months of the year, a holiday payment in June, and a Christmas payment in December), in which case the minimum is €600 (approx. £540, $710) per payment. For employees paid 12 times a year, the minimum is €700 (approx. £630; $830) per payment. There is no mandatory custom for wage growth or bonuses. 

Portugal has the sixth lowest average gross yearly salary among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) states. That comes to about 28,410 dollars per year (24,557 euros). A far cry from the United States, which leads with 69,392 dollars per year (59,981 euros), or neighboring Spain, with its 39,922 dollars per year (34,508 euros).

Nonetheless, if you’re committed to living frugally, you can live for less in Portugal. Many locals and retirees get by on less than 750 Euros a month. A couple can live in one of Portugal’s smaller or interior cities for about $1,700 a month.

Of course, there are some who make much more than the “average,” as shown here:

The top 10 careers with the highest salaries in Portugal:

RankingJobGross Annual Salary in Portugal
1General Manager in the Health Sector120,000 – 150,000 euros
2Commercial Director100,000-150,000 euros
3Chief Information Officer (CIO)110,000-140,000 euros
4Shared Service Centre Director95,000 – 120,000 euros
5E-commerce Manager50,000 – 75,000 euros
6Cyber security Specialist45,000 – 60,000 euros
7Big Data Specialist35,000 – 50,000 euros
8Software Engineer+ 45,000 euros
9Digital Marketer35,000 – 45,000 euros
10Machine Learning Specialist+40,000 euros
Chart: Manpower

But let’s get real. Not many make that kind of money in Portugal.

Average wages in Lisbon are considerably higher than the official minimum salary. The average salary in Lisbon is around 1050 euros, the highest in Portugal.

The Construction Union of Portugal (SCP) has stated that “there is no shortage of manpower” in the construction sector, but rather a lack good salaries. “There is no shortage of manpower; people are not choosing to work in the sector because they can earn three or four times as much abroad,” said the organization’s president, Albano Ribeiro.

According to Ribeiro, in the last six years, 300,000 workers have left the sector, and 90,000 are currently needed to carry out public and private works in Portugal.

The Portuguese leaving Portugal for better opportunities are being “replaced” by people like us. We’re necessary to the country’s economic welfare and, by and large, are welcomed.

That’s one of the reasons we didn’t move to Spain — where we’ve had a vacation bolt for 15 years — instead of Portugal. All Schengen countries agree to use the same visa application for would-be immigrants and residents. But there are major differences in their interpretation.

For instance, the European Union and Schengen may agree that all visa applicants be self-sufficient, able to support themselves and their dependents.

In Spain, income requirements for a Non Lucrative Visa for people from the USA and UK are $30,453/€25,816 annually, plus $7,613/€6,454 for each additional family member. These minimum income requirements covert to roughly $2,550 per month for a single person or $3,150 for a couple. (An additional €537.84 per month is required for each and every dependent family member.) Most of the Spanish people we know outside the big cities don’t make anywhere near those amounts. In addition, Spain residency applicants cannot have loans or mortgages outstanding in the United States. We didn’t feel welcomed by Spain.

For residency in Portugal, however, you must show income or pensions amounting to 12 months at the minimum wage: €8,460 for the first adult; €4,320 for a second or more adults; €2,538 per child. Couples must document income of €12,780. A couple with two children require €17,856. You must provide 6-months of bank statements. There are no restrictions on whether you work — in Portugal or remotely — if you have or can find a job. Portugal, despite its bureaucracy, made us feel very welcomed by these numbers alone.

Quite a big difference between the two countries, huh?

Sometimes, less is more!

Partying with the Portuguese

Imagine it’s the 4th of July, Mardi Gras, or New Year’s Eve … only bigger. Because the festivities continue day after day–typically for four days or so.

There’s food and drink, people dancing in the streets. Musicians and merriment. DJ disco. Friends and family who now live elsewhere returning to their homeland and birthplaces to celebrate with drink, games of chance, special lottery tickets and prizes. Often, even a Mass (or two). Albeit in the village’s streets, backyards, taverns, cafés, and church yards, it’s loud, begins late (10:00 PM), and continues through the hours most people otherwise are sleeping soundly..

What are they celebrating?

Perhaps they’re paying homage to a particular saint. Remembering a day from their particular history. Or momentarily singing the praises of Portuguese life.

It’s that time of the year when we see — and hear — a different side of our Portuguese neighbors … as saudade takes a break in the back seat, giving way to saúde.

No matter how small the village — our little Lousa (not Lousã) has fewer than 500 residents — these summer festivals are big events. So big, that the population surges four-fold with people staying with relatives, at their family’s original dwellings despite their delipidated condition, at lodging facilities, even commuting between nearby villages not hosting their shindigs at the moment. It’s nearly impossible to find a parking spot, as vehicles of all vintages, shapes, and sizes double (and triple) park … or are simply left wherever.

Broken beer bottles, plastic cups, and cigarette butts awaken the mornings after to the garish light of another day too hot to deal with overflowing trash bins, as streets become sticky–drunk by grit, gristle, grease, and grime fried by the day’s scorching sun.

Yet these annual festivities are good for the soul and give evidence of a spirit eager to be freed. While it may seem as though we’ve wandered into the midst of a circus or carnival, other days and times are set aside for such events.

Pause …

Of course, people need time and space to recuperate and regain their wits about them; so late mornings and afternoons are set aside for life’s more mundane tasks. Including sleep. Half-hearted attempts are made to clean up the public areas littered beyond the local bins’ capacity. But much of the time is traditionally spent with family.

In some Portuguese towns and villages — including ours! — the highlight of the doings is saved for near the end: running of the bull(s), an event that involves people running in front of a bull (or small group of bulls) that have been set loose on sectioned-off streets.

Ours is that sectioned off street in Vila Boim, our home in the Alentejo, as the usually dormant bull ring is located at the end of our road.

I guess, like most everyone else on our street, we will need to move our cars.

And stay inside, watching the wild frenzy through our windows.

Portugal has a vibrant bullfighting tradition, but killing a bull is deemed tantamount to murder by some and was outlawed in 1928. The vast majority of Portugal’s population doesn’t watch, go to, or support bull fights. But bull runs are something else entirely. Especially in Sabugal and Terceira in the Azores Islands. I’m told that in Portugal, after the running, the bulls aren’t killed but get a few weeks off because of their bravery. Maybe that’s pure … errrr … bullsh*t, said to appease this American’s loathing of animal abuse.

“It’s not a show! It’s life, it’s partying, it’s adrenaline, it’s conviviality, they are roots that hold us tight to the land that saw us born and to which we return,” insists President Victor Proenca of the Municipality of Sabugal. “The gallantry of the riders, the courage of those who face the ‘proof bull,’ the public’s expectations with each new bull that comes out, the scoundrel who calls to the calf, the nostalgia of the party that ends in the unwinding… this is Capeia, land of passions, strong emotions and feelings that are repeated year after year.”

Bull runs are also the highlight of summer street festivals held in villages throughout Terceira, where the island is big on its bulls since they literally defended the Portuguese island from a Spanish invasion during the 16th century. When King Philip sent the Pedro Valdes to Terceira for a diplomatic takeover, its crew was met by 600 angry bulls and subsequently wiped out.

Here’s how writer Robin Esrock describes the bull running experience:

“For a moment, the huge Bull stops to weigh its options. There are people everywhere, taunting him, laughing, showing no respect whatsoever. There are rock walls, and wooden barricades, and more people on those walls and barricades, exuding a cacophony of celebration. Around the Bull’s neck is a thick rope, held many yards back to several men dressed in white. They’re supposed to condition his movement, but the Bull knows, and they know, it’s more of a nuisance than anything else. A nuisance like the young men who dare to step forward, threaten him with movement from jackets or blankets or hypnotically twirling red umbrellas. The impetuousness! To dare challenge such a beast, so strong and muscled that cows shudder their udders at the sight of him. A young man crosses the imaginary line and the Bull springs forward, horns primed, an unstoppable tank of nature. But the man sidesteps, deftly turning in a circle. Although the Bull is big and fast, it does not have power steering. They play this dangerous game, closely bonded, man and beast, until the man skips away safely to the applause of the crowd. The Bull pauses. He has choices. Should he charge into the crowd to send everyone scattering? Should he trample the man holding a notebook, with his baseball T-shirt and distinctly un-Portuguese appearance? Should he make an unexpected leap over a low wall where many others stand in mistaken safety? Should he turn back down the street toward the pen from which he came? The Bull turns its thick neck toward me, and I am frozen stiff. Reflected in the black orbs of its eyes, I see him weighing his options.”

Back in Vila Boim, as the annual festival wends its way to the end, one final event is scheduled. It’s the closing church service.

I contemplate the irony of bulls running down my street followed by a holy Mass–a communion commemorating the martyred body and blood of their Savior, Christ Jesus.

The next national holiday is the Assumption of Mary, marking the the Virgin Mary’s (supposed) bodily ascent to heaven at the end of her life. Assumption celebrations are accompanied by festivals, colorful street processions, fireworks, and pageantry. “Feasts” aren’t actually required, yet there is a longstanding tradition of blessing the summer harvest.

In 2022, Mary’s assumption is famously celebrated on 15 August.

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

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Bully for Bureaucracy

We all have our stories to pass to posterity about how we’ve suffered because of bureaucrats and the systemic bureaucracy of Portugal (and Spain).

We’re still dangling through ours with the Autoridade Tributária e Aduaneira—aka The Tax Man (IRS), an arm of Finanças (Portugal’s financial system).

For us, nothing really had changed much when filing last year’s income declaration this year. Except for one important item: We’d sold our house and bought another.

Our new Portuguese tax accountant sort of assured us that there shouldn’t be a problem, as we handed over about 100 pages of official forms documenting what we’d paid and what we’d spent on the property.

Sort of assured us?

Let’s put it this way: She didn’t have definitive answers for what was and wasn’t deductible from our house repairs and improvements. “Not to worry,” she began while rifling through and assorting our documents. “A friend of the firm will help us decide which box to check.” Which box to check? “Not to worry. I will see him today or tomorrow,” she nodded. “But, not to worry. It doesn’t really matter, since you purchased another house — a new primary residence — between the two years before your sale and two years after it.”

Honestly, we weren’t very assured when we left her office on 18 April—she simply didn’t inspire confidence. “When will our taxes be ready?” I asked, as she escorted us to the door. “Two weeks, I imagine … but, no matter, because the taxes cannot be accepted by Finanças before June. Not to worry.”

When we met with her again to pick up our taxes, they still weren’t ready. She had yet to speak with the friend of the firm (who we later learned worked for Finanças), so she still didn’t know which box to check on the form.

I should have suspected that something was amiss, as she hadn’t replied to my initial four emails and two telephone calls to schedule an appointment. I had copied her manager on all our correspondence, and assumed he knew that I was getting impatient. Not just to schedule an appointment … but for the courtesy of a response. Am I the only one who believes that waiting two weeks to respond is unprofessional (at best) and negligent (at worst)—no matter what country we’re talking about? Portugal is no exception. At long last, we were scheduled to meet with her on Wednesday of the following week.

In the meantime—sometime between 18 April and 22 June—we had done some research with Google to learn what could be deducted from the sales price of the house to avoid any heavily-taxed capital gains. Commission paid to the property agency? Yes. The four inverter aircon units we had purchased including installation? No. The new kitchen cabinets upstairs and down? Yes. The pellet stove we purchased with installation? No. The electrical work we had contracted for to upgrade the wiring throughout the house to prevent overheating (and circuit breakers flipping)? Yes. The new refrigerators, ranges, sinks, toilets, and commodes? No. The four windows (with screens) and two doors that replaced single-pane glass ones surrounded by rusty metal frames? Yes. The big bar we bought for our gathering room which required two men and two days to assemble? No.

Bottom line: If it could be moved out of the house and taken elsewhere, it wasn’t deductible. If it was fixed to the house, it usually was. Goodbye nearly €8,000 worth of what we thought were irrefutable deductions.

Now you know why when looking at homes to buy (or rent) in Portugal, website photos may show a furnished and equipped property. But once you sign on the line, all that’s left there when you move in are a few bare light bulbs hanging from electrical cords.

Although the accountant was “pretty sure” which box to check on our return, she still wasn’t certain. The “friend of the firm at Finanças” hadn’t yet consulted with her. But “no problem,” our accountant promised. “If there is a mistake, Finanças will advise us.”

On 4 July (not a holiday in Portugal), our taxes were filed.

Then came a period of electronic fun and games with Finanças:

  • On 7 July at 07:56 AM, I was informed that my tax declaration had been received and considered “certa” (correct);
  • On 7 July at 07:48 PM, I was further informed that my tax declaration had been selected for analysis (“because of the expenses involved in the sale of the house,” presumed our accountant);
  • On 8 July at 15:58 PM, I was notified that “The expenses sent are not legible, but they do not seem to add up to the total mentioned in the declaration.” New, legible copies had to be delivered to Finanças;
  • On 11 July at 02:14PM, our relationship entered a new phrase as the email salutations now read “Caro/a contribuinte” (dear taxpayer), followed by my full name and fiscal number. The email message was a word-for-word repetition of the one received on 08/07 at 15:58 PM;
  • On 11 July at 07:21 AM, I received another email informing me that my declaration had been received and that it was correct;
  • On 12 July at 08:15 AM, however, I was told that, regarding the notification sent on 11/07/22, I should be aware that, once the discrepancy found in the declaration had been corrected, “the process that gave rise to it has ended”;
  • On 15 July at 07:21 AM, I was informed that the declaration received the day before was considered correct;
  • On 15 July at 08:13, nonetheless, I was again told that “the discrepancy found in the declaration” had yet to be corrected;
  • On 15 July at 12:39 AM, I was notified that, “following the procedure for the settlement of the IRS statements, for the year 2021, your income statement was selected for analysis, so you will soon be sent, via CTT, a notification informing you of the situation(s) to be verified by the Tax and Customs Authority services, as well as the procedures to be adopted with a view to resolving the same. It is further informed that the referred situation is, since this date, already perfectly identified in your personal area of the Portal das Finanças website.” Whatever in the world that meant!

I tried contacting our accountant … but you know how that goes.

To further complicate matters, since I am married and filing jointly, my lawfully wedded spouse also received a personalized copy of each message. Although my own tax status in Portugal for 2021 may be resolved through the Finanças looking glass portal, his isn’t.

See, while I am retired and my Social Security payments and pension income aren’t taxed in Portugal because we have Non-Habitual Residency (NHR) status which exempts me from being taxed here on that income – and there’s a treaty in place between Portugal and the USA precluding double taxation – he continues to work remotely as an independent contractor for his former employer in the USA. Which means that he must pay both Social Security and income tax to Portugal.

Naturally, nothing is simple here.

He earns the same amount every month and sends his pay stubs promptly to another accountant, who files the Portuguese paperwork and tells him how much to submit to the proper authority in a timely manner.

Which he did/does.

Although each month’s earnings may be the same in US dollars, the amount in Portugal differs according to the (then current) exchange rates for euros. So, of course, the annual earnings shown on his 1099-MISC differ from the amount he’s already paid taxes on based upon euros and shown in his fiscal records.

It’s what Portugal’s IRS and Finanças consider a “discrepancy.”

Guess what that means in terms of us?

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. You are invited to read our current and past issues on this page of its website. For those who prefer the feel of paper pages, paperback editions of the magazine are available at all Amazon sites.

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Postscripts to Paradise:

Rise of the Radical Right in Iberia

Even before the international pandemic which set people against governments and governments against people, 2019 proved to be a pivotal year of critical political incidents and innuendo.

“On the American continent, it seemed easy to understand (Jair) Bolsonaro and (Donald) Trump’s electoral success,” postulated Luís Gouveia Junior in a 5 March 2021 editorial published by DemocraciaAbierta, a global platform that publishes Spanish, Portuguese, and English voices which influence debates on democracy, justice, citizen participation and human rights.

“Brazil and the USA both faced undeniable problems, and the two candidates provided simple, if racist and undemocratic answers. Bolsonaro was a strongman who proposed to crack down on the violence and crime that plagues Rio de Janeiro. Trump was a voice for the part of his country that blamed immigrants for taking their jobs.”

Yet, how does that explain André Ventura in Portugal?

“On the face of it, says Gouveia, “the social context would suggest that there’s little potential for a far-Right surge. Roma people, who are targeted by André Ventura’s rhetoric, represent less than 0.5% of the country’s population.”

The question, then, is how does Ventura manage to make his pitch under such adverse conditions?

“One possible explanation–that the far Right presents itself as the only anti-system voice and appeals to voters who are disillusioned with the system–brings the examples of Brazil, the USA, and Portugal together,” Gouveia proposes. “The anti-system argument is not new, with authors such as Boaventura de Sousa Santos having discussed it at length within the Portuguese context. What is interesting, however, is that the anti-system discourse alone seems to be enough for the far-Right to gain political ground.”

# # # # #

Over the summer of 2019, Mamadou Ba, the head of an anti-racist organization in Lisbon, received a letter. “Our goal is to kill every foreigner and anti-fascist–and you are among our targets,” it read. A few weeks later, it was followed by a message telling him to leave Portugal or let his family face the consequences. That message was accompanied by a bullet casing.

Mamadou Ba, an anti-racism activist, received emails threatening his family [Courtesy of Mamadou Ba]

Ba’s experience is “one of a growing number of racist incidents perpetrated across Portugal that have led the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) to call for an urgent institutional response,” reported UK’s The Guardian newspaper, which lists additional anecdotes and evidence of racism and growth of the far right in Portugal:

After forgetting her child’s bus pass, a black woman and her daughter were assaulted because they didn’t have a bus ticket. Angolan-Portuguese Claudia Simoes was kicked by a policeman and placed in a chokehold outside a bus station in front of her daughter. Later, two Brazilian women were attacked by the police outside a Cape-Verdean club, and in the same month, Porto football player Moussa Marega, born in Mali, abandoned a game after fans shouted racial slurs.

Portuguese far-right Chega party leader André Ventura holds a banner reading “Portugal is not racist” during a Lisbon demonstration.
Photograph: Patrícia de Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty
 

A worse attack took place when black actor Bruno Candé was murdered after a man shot him four times in what ENAR described as “an explicitly racially motivated crime.”

In early 2019, police officers in Lisbon, called to intervene on an issue between two residents in the Bairro da Jamaica neighborhood, were captured on video beating and pushing several residents. The following day, young Black Portuguese held a demonstration against police brutality. Police forces intervened and responded by firing rubber bullets. This then sparked accusations of institutional racism within police forces.

“In recent months, there has been a very concerning rise in far-right racist attacks in Portugal, confirming that the hate messages are fueling more aggressive tactics that target human rights defenders from racial minorities,” the organization (ENAR) said.

Endorsed by 16 members of the European Parliament and 72 civil social organizations in a letter condemning recent cases of police brutality and racist attacks, the European Network Against Racism also sought action from authorities.

Ba, who heads the NGO SOS Racismo, agreed: “There has been an obvious escalation in violence – a clear result of the growth of far-right terrorism in Portugal over the past few years.”

In 2019, the Portuguese Commission for Equality and Against Discrimination received 436 complaints regarding cases of racism, an increase of 26% over 2018.

Despite the growing number of discrimination complaints, hardly any resulted in a conviction. Between 2014 and 2018, the number of convictions for “crimes of discrimination and incitement to hate and violence … is less than three,” according to police statistics provided to the Guardian.

Government data, however, claim that crime in Portugal has decreased steadily by 20% over the past 12 years.

On 17 December 2021, however, rights groups and politicians in Portugal condemned images that allegedly showed police officers abusing and torturing migrant workers and said those responsible must be punished.

Protesters hold a banner reading ‘Down with Racist Violence, Justice for Claudia Simoes,’ referring to a woman assaulted by police during a demonstration against racism and fascism in Lisbon in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement on June 6, 2020. Source: AFP via Getty Images

The incidents took place in 2019 in the municipality of Odemira, known for its fruit and vegetable greenhouses that rely mainly on migrant labor from Southeast Asia to operate.

The prosecutor’s office said seven police officers in Odemira had been accused of 33 crimes against migrants. The GNR said in a statement that it was aware of the incidents and “promptly reported them” to the public prosecutor office.

Two of the seven officers had already been suspended, it said. Three of the officers were repeat offenders.

The GNR (National Republican Guard) officers are charged with a total of 33 crimes against immigrants, mostly from Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan.

To make matters worse, video evidence, filmed by the accused and broadcast by CNN Portugal and local broadcaster TVI, suggests a group of military police officers engaged in the random harassment of migrants.

“Behavior of this nature is absolutely unacceptable,” said Prime Minister Antonio Costa.

In March 2021, Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, called on Portuguese authorities to address the increasing level of racism more resolutely in the country, as well as to take additional steps to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence.

The Commissioner remains concerned about the rise of racially motivated hate crimes and hate speech—especially targeting Roma, people of African descent, and those perceived as foreigners. She recommends implementing a comprehensive action plan against racism and discrimination, urging the authorities to condemn all instances of hate speech and insist that politicians firmly and publicly refrain from using or tolerating racist rhetoric.

Evidently, the Commissioner’s voice carried some weight. Portugal said it will review its anti-racism laws, including those concerning fines and sanctions, the government announced in its National Plan to Combat Racism and Discrimination 2021-2025.

The government committed to “assess the possible revision of the legislation on combating discrimination and hate speech … in the scope of administrative offenses.” The government also announced its goal of “strengthening the system of sanctions for misdemeanors, viewing the framework of fines and sanctioned conducts.”

Article 240 of the criminal code will also be revised in light of the international instruments that bind Portugal “to accommodate all the prohibited discriminations,” Sofia Branco reported in an article released by Lusa, Portugal’s national news service.

Nonetheless, a former TV commentator whose penchant for provocation won her fame and notoriety in Portugal by describing calls for racial justice “traitorous,” and referring to Black Portuguese people by an old-fashioned word that translates to something like “Negro.” Susana García ran for mayor of Amadora, a city adjacent to Lisbon with one of the largest Black populations in Portugal.

Says Nicholas Casey in a 26 September (2021) New York Times piece, “Ms. Garcia’s high profile and her combative persona mean she has tapped into a question far larger than who should be mayor: Namely, how a former colonial power like Portugal should deal with today’s debates about racial justice.”

Ultimately, Garcia lost the mayoral race–handily–to socialist Carla Tavares.

Yet a former prime minister, judges, top bankers, business chiefs and football club presidents have all been ensnared in corruption scandals. But with their cases still mired in a sluggish legal system, “perceived flaws in the fight against graft have become a pressing political issue,” the Financial Times recently reported.

And with this being one of the primary fields where populists prey, given the fact that government has not dealt effectively with the problem, it is expected (at press time) that the extreme right will gain from it in the upcoming legislative election on January 30th. Portugal’s legal system’s handling of white-collar crime has come to fuel greater discontent.

With every new case of corruption in Portugal becoming another “nail in the coffin of democracy,” at least those nails get driven at a turtle’s pace … just like the legal justice systems themselves.

Meanwhile, the white nationalist movement is spreading.

On 8 December 2021, The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, established in 2002 by the then Commission on Human Rights, noted with concern “the prevalence of systemic racism and racially-motivated violence and ill-treatment, racial profiling, abuse of authority, frequent police brutality towards people of African descent.”

Members of the Working Group visited Lisbon, Setubal, and Porto to gain first-hand knowledge of racism, racial discrimination, Afrophobia, xenophobia, and related intolerance affecting people of African descent in Portugal.

Their statement concluded: “Portuguese identity continues to be defined by its colonial past, as well as enslavement and the trade and trafficking of Africans, and racial equality efforts have not confronted the importance of a broad-based renegotiation of Portuguese identity.”

Racism. Hatred. White supremacy. Police brutality. Extremism. Prejudice. Discrimination. All are symptomatic of the so-called “alt-right” gaining strength in Spain and Portugal.

# # # # #

We left the USA for Portugal and Spain in March 2017 because of the alt-right’s growth. Disgusted by the politics, the police brutality, the discriminatory treatment of Black people, the anti-Semitic swastikas, the finger-pointing and curses hissed at LGBTs, the misogynistic attitudes towards women, the marginalization of minorities, the brutal caging and deportation of immigrants, and the overall worship of capitalism, we sold our home … packed our bags … said good-by … and emigrated from the United States to Portugal and Spain.

For 15 years, we had owned a vacation bolt in a small Spanish town (Olvera) in Andalucía, where we spent a number of weeks every year getting a foothold as expats in a foreign country. We decided to make our permanent residence in Portugal, however, so we could keep one foot in Spain and the other in Portugal.

Our status changed from expats to immigrants.

It’s been about four years now since we began dividing the days of our lives between Portugal and Spain. Throughout that time, we never have had cause to suspect or doubt the progressive attitudes in Iberia. For us, ultra-conservative-instigated hate crimes were a thing of the past.

Until recently.

Religious discrimination and hate crimes are on the rise in Spain, pushed by rhetoric from far-right political movements. The country’s interior ministry sounded the alarm in its most recent report, which revealed a 120 percent increase in incidents connected to crimes of religious intolerance in 2017, with 103 cases registered compared to 47 the previous year. Elsewhere in Iberia, police from Portugal’s National Anti-Terrorism Unit arrested 20 ultra-nationalists in an operation that involved searches across the country as part of an investigation into attempted murder and other hate crimes.

“Portuguese police officers told to remove racist tattoos within six months amid concerns over rising far-right,” asserted a headline in The Independent, a UK newspaper. The ban refers to “racist, extremist or violence-promoting symbols, words or drawings” and also covers earrings, bracelets and rings, Portugal’s police force said in a statement.

Police gave no estimate for how many officers might be affected by the ban, which coincides, according to the Independent, with increasing racist violence in the country.

After moments of disbelief, I couldn’t help but wonder why the government had targeted the racist tattoos of these Portuguese police rather than the racism under their skins.

Amid fears over the country’s far-right movement, protesters demonstrated in June 2020 against racism and fascism in Portugal.

Portuguese far-right Chega party leader André Ventura holds a banner reading “Portugal is not racist” during a Lisbon demonstration.
Photograph: Patrícia de Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty

In a 2018 report, the Council of Europe, a European human rights organization, referred to numerous grave accusations of racist violence against Portuguese police, while complaints to the country’s anti-discrimination commission rose by a quarter in 2019.

“The move comes after Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Portugal’s president, declared that there would be ‘zero tolerance’ of racism in the country, as authorities launched an investigation over a number of email threats allegedly sent by a far-right group,” according to a news report. “The threats targeted several people, including two black lawmakers who were told to leave the country and threatened with murder.”

In early September, the Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe and American intellectual Cornel West joined dozens of activists and academics around the world in signing an open letter calling for solidarity with the Black movement in Portugal, demanding accountability and concrete change to transform the “reality of structural racism and its manifestation in police brutality, racist violence and racial harassment in Portugal,” wrote Beatriz Ramaldo da Silva in a September 2020 article for Aljazeera.

Turns out that Portugal has become a target of alt-right ideology.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos, professor of sociology and director emeritus of the Centre for Social Studies at the University of Coimbra, frames the rise of Portugal’s far right within the context of wider global movement:

“There has always been a far-right base as is the case in Spain, Italy, Greece–the far-right was in power for 50 years in Portugal–and this basis never disappeared.”

Far-right internationalism is turning Portugal into a strategic target. “Clear illustrations of such signs include the recent attempt, by some intellectuals, to play the card of racial hatred in order to test existing divisions both on the right and the left and thereby influence the political agenda, the international meeting of far-right parties in Lisbon in August, and the strike called by the newly created National Union of Dangerous Goods Drivers, to take place at the same time as the Lisbon meeting,” claimed openDemocracy, a self-described “independent global media organization.”

# # # # #

Is Portugal so important as to deserve such strategic attention?

Yes.

Portugal is vitally important because, from the point of view of the international far-Right, it is the weak link through which radical renegades can carry out their attack on the European Union. 

People like to imagine Spain as a liberal paradise with sun, sea, and sangría, but its racism continues to be an open secret, according to the Olive Press. With approximately one million Black people living in Spain, that represents about 2% of the population–much lower than the 13-14% of African Americans in the USA. While chances of seeing acts of racism are less and fewer in Spain, entrenched racism is still very real.

In a June 2020 article, the English language Spanish newspaper noted that:

• Every Christmas, locals around the country use black face as they dress up as King Balthazar for the Three Kings Parade, a tradition that goes back to 1885;

Black FaceImage: La Sexta

• In 2017, a Black British stage actor was refused entry to a Málaga nightclub. A worker at the club later told the Olive Press that it had a “no Blacks” policy;

• “Convinced he was a terrorist,” a Spanish Guardia Civil officer killed an innocent Moroccan man in 2019, veering him off the road and shooting him eleven times as he fled on foot. Sentence for his crime was reduced;

• A Honduras woman selling sweets on the beaches of the Costa del Sol was allegedly strangled and dragged along the floor by police, who told her that she “was not human”;

• Increasingly worrisome is the flagrant racism that continues to be shown by young people in Spain, particularly in the world of football (soccer), where racial slurs are printed on the back of jerseys worn by members of immigrant teams.

Football Image: The Olive Press

It’s impossible for white people to know how gut-wrenching such discrimination feels, but it means that we must rally around and support the likes of Black Lives Matter and similar movements fighting for justice in the USA and, equally important, around the world.

“So, while we may not be in the US, don’t disregard the fight (against racism) as an American problem,” the Olive Press urged. “Tragically, both in Spain and around the world, the fight to end racism will not be over anytime soon.”

# # # # #

Same-sex marriages have been allowed in Portugal since 2010 and offer equal rights to the couple regarding property, taxes, and inheritance … since 2016, married couples of the same sex can adopt and foster children. (Spain legalized same-sex marriage in 2005, along with its adoption rights.)

People often ask us about homophobia: do we feel it or are we aware of it in either Spain or Portugal. Not really, I’d respond. Except for an elderly (90+) woman talking to her equally old, widowed neighbor in Portugal using the term “maricón” simply because she didn’t know any better.

Others, however, have had different experiences.

Attacks by the far-right Vox party on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights are testing years of political consensus on the issue in Spain, which, in 2005, became the third country in the world to allow same-sex marriage. Vox pledged to curtail gay pride parades, heaped ridicule on diversity lessons it wants to scrap in schools and even has drawn parallels between homosexuality and bestiality.

Since the 2005 approval of the same-sex marriage bill by the parties of Spain’s left, center-left, and center-right, even the mainly conservative People’s Party (PP), which vehemently opposed it, has changed tack, helping to defend and approve various bills in defense of LGBT rights. Some of its politicians have come out as gay and married their partners.

Yet, in October 2020, homophobic “slogans” were painted on rainbow benches in Spain’s Costa del Sol.

Be Gone, Gays!”Image: The Olive Press

Bigots in Pilar de la Honrada, a city-town-district of Alicante, smeared ugly graffiti on rainbow-colored benches installed by Pilar’s council to celebrate June’s World Pride Day as an acknowledgement of local LGBTQ residents. Two of the benches were emblazoned with the words “Gays, Get Out.”

“We will … fight this type of violent behavior with the goal of continuing to build a society that is more tolerant of diversity,” said a statement issued by Pilar’s council, as the benches were restored to their original rainbow state.

ILGA-Europe, an LGBTQ advocacy group, released its annual Rainbow Europe Country Ranking, funded by the European Union, which ranks 49 European countries from most to least LGBTQ-friendly. The ranking is based on how the laws and policies of each country affect the lives of LGBTQ people and uses a number of indicators, including nondiscrimination policies, hate speech laws, and asylum rights to create its list.

Of Europe’s ten most LGBTQ-friendly countries, according to ILGA-Europe’s 2021 ranking, Portugal and Spain rank fourth and eighth, respectively.

Lisbon Gay Pride, officially known as Arraial Lisboa Pride, is the largest LGBTQ event in Portugal (followed by Porto’s). It’s an important event that aims to shine a light on the various issues of injustice that still affect the LGBTQ community. A much loved and celebrated event, it attracts huge crowds each year–with over 70,000 visitors attending in 2018.

Lisbon Gay Pride Image: ILGA

That said, in a 22 November 2021 article in the daily Journal de Noticias entitled “LGBT Community More Discriminated in the Workplace,” Zulay Costa reported, “Those who deviate from the conventional norms in terms of gender identity and sexual orientation have added difficulties in accessing the labor market and are even more subject to job insecurity.”

The findings are contained in the Council of Europe’s study on diversity in the workplace.

“Candidates who are openly gay are 1.5 times less likely to be asked for an interview, and lesbians are offered a salary 6% lower than heterosexual women. There are cases of insults, harassment, threats, attacks, jokes, and prejudice,” according to the study.

Data from the Fundamental Rights Agency reveal that in 2019, in Portugal, 20% felt discriminated against at work, with the European average being 21%. And Costa’s article goes on to say, “L’Autre Cercie (a French organization working for the inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the work world) points out that 25% of LGBTQ+ people have suffered at least one attack in their workplace. The situation of transgender people is the most worrying: 43% report having suffered discrimination in their professional life in the last two years, 13% more than lesbian, gay, or bisexual people.”

# # # # #

Attempting to atone for a 500-year-old sin, both Spain and Portugal are offering citizenship to Sephardic Jews whose families were expelled in the 15th century. Historians debate the exact number of Jews expelled; some estimate 40,000, others say 100,000 or more.

Yet Portugal’s government found itself reconsidering the plan to change its “law of return” for Jewish people. The ruling party of Portugal stepped back from an attempt to severely limit applications for citizenship from descendants of Sephardic Jews, a threatened move that Jewish leaders and organizations had charged was anti-Semitic. Members of the Socialist Party submitted a draft amendment to change the 2015 law that grants citizenship to people who can prove they are descended from Jews whose families fled the Iberian Peninsula following the Inquisition, a 15th-century campaign of anti-Semitic persecution in Portugal and Spain.

Under the proposed change, beginning in 2022, only people who had lived in Portugal for two years would be eligible for citizenship. This change would have sharply restricted the number of people who could apply. Currently, there are no requirements for applicants to live in Portugal or learn the language. Experts brought by the Socialist Party testified that within 100 years, a few thousand returning Jews could swell to 250,000 people and pose a demographic threat to Portugal’s identity.

“I felt like I was in a room in the inquisition in Lisbon and they were asking me to prove my Judaism,” said Leon Amiras, a lawyer in Israel who works closely with the Porto Jewish community on applications for citizenship. Although he was not present at the hearing, his personal family story was mentioned. “Suddenly these two members of parliament are testing me and trying to figure out if I’m ‘Jewish enough,’ [to deserve citizenship],” he recalled, as reported by the Times of Israel.

In 2020, Portuguese cartoon artist Vasco Gargalo was criticized for creating an antisemitic political cartoon published in the weekly news magazine Sábado. Media reports were disseminated showing Gargalo’s cartoon, which depicted former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wearing an armband like that of the Nazis, but with a Star of David rather than a swastika on it.

Meanwhile, Spain’s foreign minister condemned a carnival parade featuring gun-toting Nazis and lines of dancing Jewish victims a day after Israel’s ambassador expressed outrage over the spectacle. The display, which also featured a parade float designed like a gas chamber, was the second such incident in the same week, after a Belgian town earned a stiff rebuke from the European Commission.

Photo Credit: YouTube screenshot via JTA

It feels different now, say immigration lawyers and others who work in the cottage industry of Jews permanently crossing borders. Much of the drive to leave has to do with the prospect of Donald Trump winning reelection in 2024, following a chaotic “Big Lie” post-election period in which he and others continue to dispute the results of the 2020 vote. American Jews, lawyers and advocates say, are chilled by a climate of rising extremism and anti-Semitism, stoked, or condoned by the former president.

The history of bigots linking disease and depressing news with Jews, immigrants, people of color, or other minorities is a long and ugly one. The Holocaust teaches us that in times of instability and fear, people who didn’t previously express or tolerate racist views may find them less offensive … or even appealing.

In one of his most famous sermons, “Loving Your Enemies,” Dr. Martin Luther King preached: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Hatred and evil, unfortunately, are part of the human condition. Once we shine a light on them, however, they tend to scurry like rats. Thankfully, the incidents mentioned in this article are few and far between. Whether in Portugal or Spain—they’re exceptions, rather than the rule.

Let’s do everything possible to keep it that way!