What Don’t You Like about Portugal?

“There must be something you don’t like!”

That’s the response I get from the naysayers, those who don’t believe that Portugal is a land of milk and honey, even if its streets aren’t lined with gold. After all, almost everything they read these days paints Portugal as the best, the most, the friendliest, the warmest, the cheapest, absolutely an ideal place to live—nirvana—especially for digital nomads and foreign retirees.

And, in many ways, it is!

But, let me get this off my chest upfront—because I know there will be those mocking and taking issue with whatever I say here:

I love Portugal.

Please, reread that:

I. Love. Portugal!

Still, despite all the hype, hoopla, and fanfare about how this Iberian country is the closest to heaven on earth–calm, peaceful, friendly, welcoming, beautiful, easy on the wallet—there are some things that are bothersome here or incur a hard time getting used to.. Of course, my likes and dislikes, probably differ from yours … so, what annoys or frustrates me may be perfectly acceptable to you and others. For some, these queixas aren’t applicable. And, sooner or later, we come to grips with this stuff.

I share these stories of our experiences not to complain or seek sympathy, but because we are North Americans acculturating to another country’s norms, traditions, and expectations. Information in posts such as this typically aren’t found in tourist or relocation guides … nor asked about and answered in most Facebook groups. Hopefully, some will learn from my anecdotes and be better prepared for the grit and grist, the grain of living abroad. We love Portugal for what it is, not what it isn’t, and have no intention of leaving. And, certainly, not all “foreigners” have difficult dealing with what I consider these nuisances.

Again, let me be clear: Just because I may not like something doesn’t diminish my love for the country. Some things we get used to; others we don’t.

So, here’s my list of what irks me most in (not about) Portugal …

Allergens. Never in my life have I had allergies—until moving to Portugal. I don’t know what’s in the environment, the air, but I cannot stop sneezing and sniffling or rubbing my itchy eyes. Perhaps it’s related to what our veterinarian warned us affects non-native dogs (and cats), requiring periodic medications. Or, more likely, it has to do with all the dust. Good heavens, you can dust something—a mirror, furniture, countertops—today and it will be back within 24 hours. Spontaneous generation?

Ants, Flies, and Creepy-Crawlers. Ants are almost everywhere here in Portugal. Big ones that you find crawling along your steps and landings. Medium ones going about their business. Most of all, though, are the little ones that suddenly appear out of nowhere —entire armies—near doors, windows, and other entry points, or marching across your counters. Then, there are the flies. And gnats. And hovering predators that insist on following, needling, and targeting us … playing catch me if you can. I swear, they’re sadistic! The big, fat flies that buzz the loudest are the lamest, not lasting long against our arsenal of mechanical and chemical weaponry. It’s the smaller, quicker ones that are the nastiest. Darting around, playing hide-and-seek, they’ll find you, wherever you are—especially the loo! They last the longest and are the most persistent. Like the gnats buzzing in your ears as you’re trying to sleep … no matter how many times you slap yourself in the process of trying to say good riddance. More often than not, they swim and die drowning from overdoses of alcohol while floating in your (tinto) wine. How the Portuguese aren’t bothered by them in this café culture of outdoor dining, is beyond me. We cannot sleep with open windows without screens. Spiders, centipedes, and other common critters may creep me out; but I can deal with them. Not with the dreaded processionary caterpillars, however, whose venomous entanglements scream, “Danger, danger, Will Robinson!” to us and our furry family. My word, even if I could pronounce Leishmaniose, it’s another parasite I don’t want our dogs to encounter.

Banking It just doesn’t seem fair that we have to pay banks here for the privilege of holding and using our money to invest in their ventures, especially when coming from a country that pays us interest (however minimal) each month for the right to speculate with our hard-earned deposits. If it’s any consolation, the few euros deducted each month from our Portuguese bank accounts don’t compare with the €45-90 per quarter some Spanish banks charge to non-residents … even if you own property there!

Home construction—primarily concrete and cement—leaves much to be desired in terms of insulation. Think drywall (sheetrock/plasterboard): Remember how easy it was to hang pictures and whatever on our walls? Better tool up with a drill, lots of drill bits, a hammer, and pliers! Most houses throughout Portugal have strong interior cement walls that are rough and textured … making painting and wall-hanging time-consuming challenges.

Mold Regardless of the barricades used to keep it away, come the colder months of the year, you’ll do constant battle with mold. Typically, it appears looking like nothing more than damp shadows on your ceilings and walls (Brits refer to it as “the damp”); but then it gets dank and darker. Mold multiplies and spreads almost everywhere—even inside closets and wardrobes, attaching itself to our clothes. It’s definitely not healthy. Opening windows often to the cold, wet, and wind increases ventilation and helps to minimize mold. Nevertheless, you’re going to need a step ladder (or larger), spray bottle, cleaning rags, and face masks to tackle what’s stubbornly intruded and settled in. Many stores—groceries, supermarkets, hardware shops, even the ubiquitous Chinese bazaars—sell products to spray on, rub in, and remove the mold … but diluted vinegar and elbow grease work just as well.

(Some) Portuguese Drivers. Once they get their licenses, all hell breaks loose. About half of native Portuguese drivers are courteous and follow the laws in their roadside behavior. The remaining 50% are divided, again, in half: About 25% are speed demons and road hogs, kissing your car’s butt—regardless of whether (or not) they ultimately decide to pass you. The other 25% are slow pokes who drive 50 km/h in 80 km/h zones and 80 km/h on highways designated as 120 km/h Both types of drivers – speed demons and slow pokes – straddle more than one lane and typically drive in the wrong lane through roundabouts … sailing from the inside (left) lane to exit right, cutting you off without so much as a signal. Roundabout ramifications need more explanation.

Roundabouts, Parking, and Lack of Consideration. Some people swear by roundabouts and their greater efficiency over traffic lights. Others, like me, dislike them—especially the big ones with traffic coming at you from nine different directions simultaneously and nary a driver courteous enough to let you in. Panic attack territory is when there’s a series of these circles from hell … one after another. Even my GPS with its brilliant British accent can’t keep up. Before you know it, you’ve missed the seventh exit and find yourself lost along the way. And to add insult to near injury, there are pedestrian crosswalks within meters of the exit—an accident waiting to happen. Similarly terrifying are Portuguese parking lots—often with tight, awkward spaces between concrete posts that make it almost impossible to open your doors, let alone back out. They’re breeding grounds for inconsiderate parkers. Is there any reason why two cars must take up three parking spots? Park horizontally in vertical spaces? Or for drivers to park diagonally in well defined areas, often sticking their vehicles dangerously into the traffic lane, where cars are traveling in both directions, even though arrows clearly indicate which (one) way they’re supposed to move?

The flip side of the “what I don’t like about Portugal” coin is what I can’t seem to find (yet) here—stuff that’s probably no big deal to some, but important to me. Maybe these eccentricities are here hiding, just waiting for me to discover them:

Vacuum cleaners that really can clean carpets and rugs. No matter what shop you go in or search for on Amazon, a reasonably priced vacuum cleaner that picks up the dirt and dust in carpets (especially thicker pile ones imported from elsewhere) is almost impossible to find. Ironic that upscale vacuums here are referred to as “Hoovers,” which are available online. So are Sharks, Kirbys, and Dysons. But they cost a friggin fortune—some more than 400-500 euros. In Yankee dollars, that translates to between $500 and $600. For a bloody sucker-upper!

Yard sales, estate sales, auctions, flea markets, thrift shops, and antiques malls. Yeah, I’ve been to a few “boot” sales … but, “Meh!” For intrepid bargain hunters and collectors, we wait with baited breath for those Saturday or Sunday open air markets hosting a fair share of memorabilia merchants. Sorry, online vendors: Facebook’s Marketplace, OLX, CustoJusto, and the periodic items for sale that pop up in our Facebook feeds or Portuguese second-hand groups just don’t measure up to the thrill of the hunt.

Bagels. Yes, I’m aware that “bagels” are available in Portugal, in the bakery cases of supermarkets, padaderías and pasteleirías, and the frozen food aisles of Lidl. Sorry, Charlie, but they´re too doughy or pasty … blander than biscuits without jelly or jam. I grew up in New York, where–along with seltzer–it’s said that nowhere else can produce the same quality bagels … because of the water. Don’t believe me? Go ask Jerry Seinfeld!

Crushed Red Pepper For the most part, pizza in Portugal is delicious—whether you prefer thin crust or deep dish, and whatever toppings you want. Except one: crushed red pepper. It’s just not served here—even when requested—in Portuguese pizzerías. Some like it hot … Piri Piri just doesn’t make it.

While we can get good pizza almost anywhere in Portugal, what we can’t (by and large) get is savory Tex-Mex or its essential ingredients (except online, through a retailer like The Chilli Experience). What the Portuguese consider tacos, burritos, tamales, and enchiladas here just don’t fit the lingo. Maybe Tex-Mex is better and more plentiful in bigger, coastal cities, but it’s sadly lacking elsewhere in the country.

So, there you have it: my big, bad list.

As a Boy Scout, I memorized the “Be Prepared!” motto. Now you are ready, as you prepare for your relocation to Portugal … or, as a resident already, to find whatever comfort you can in the “misery loves company” balm.

I’ll end this soliloquy where I began, repeating that—despite these minor horrors and inconveniences—we love Portugal and have no intention whatsoever of moving away.

Nevertheless, there are those who are going to find fault, complain, and deplore me and my words with a variety of curious, finger-pointing comments.

Have at it!

Bruce is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. Read the current online issue and subscribe to the magazine at no cost whatsoever: portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue. On Facebook: www.facebook.com/PortugalLivingMagazine.

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American in Portugal


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


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


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


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


Examples?


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


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


The same goes for Finanças, a legal requirement.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Obrigado, Portugal!

Well Done, Portugal …

I could be talking about Portugal´s amazing win over Hungary in an awesome Euro 2020 football game. Not only did Portugal do an amazing job in an awesome game, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s after-game moves favoring water over Coca Cola were the icing on the cake.

Nonetheless, I am writing here about other matters where Portugal has done well. Stuff even we expats and immigrants residing here often become used to and take for granted. So, here´s a “shout out” of thanks to Portugal for what it’s doing so well on a bunch of things – large and small – that make our lives so much better here … presented in no particular order other than my current stream of consciousness:

• Obrigado, Portugal, for your majestic beauty and splendors. Rather than tear down and demolish, you value your history … the people and places that created such masterpieces. Who knew that you´re the oldest country in Europe, with borders defined in 1139 CE? Before you even were acknowledged as Portugal, the area had passed through the hands of many empires and civilizations.

• Obrigado, Portugal, for your bakeries (pastelarias), among the finest in the world. Those responsible for my affairs know that, when my time comes, I want nothing more than a memorial service in a Portuguese bakery.

• Obrigado, Portugal, for your vast array of excellent wines–many priced cheaper that bottled water. And obrigado, too, for your café culture where — as in other Western European countries — we gather with friends to discuss this, that, and the other thing over wines, coffees, teas, and nibbles.

• Obrigado, Portugal, for our free and low-cost health care. While the country provides excellent, universal coverage to all who reside here, it’s great to know that a couple aged 72 and 58, respectively, can purchase top-of-the-line private health insurance for less than €2,000 per year. When we left the USA almost four years ago, the premium for one month of basic, bronze health insurance cost US $1,200—for one person, then aged 54.

• Obrigado, Portugal, for your wonderful outdoor markets. Whether fruits and vegetables, clothing, plants and flowers, textiles, or antiques and collectibles, for those of us who love bargains and hunting around flea markets, yard sales, and auctions, there´s plenty of great and festive finds at bargainable prices.

• Obrigado, Portugal, for your IBANs and Multibancos, enabling us to conveniently conduct financial transactions from our home computers or ubiquitous “ATMs.” Now, if only banks in other countries (to the west) would replace routing and account numbers with IBANS, it would be so much simpler to transfer funds from here to there.

• Obrigado, Portugal, for incorporating English in every school´s required curriculum—rather than as an elective “foreign” language (i.e., Spanish, French, Italian, Latin, Greek, etc.).

• Obrigado, Portugal, for your coin-dispensed shopping carts. A 50 céntimo coin or euro deposit is enough to entice customers to return the carts to their corrals, instead of leaving them, helter-skelter, in parking lots to scratch and dent our cars. Now, if only your drivers would make more of an effort to park courteously, within the designated lines.

• Obrigado, Portugal, for your beloved bombeiros (firemen and women), models of national respect and admiration. The world needs everyday heroes to look up to, now more than ever. In addition to fighting the fires that blaze through Portugal, bombeiros deliver water to outlying properties. If you need water for irrigation or drinking, the bombeiros will deliver it to your property. Many bombeiros are skilled in rock-climbing techniques, and rescue people from cliffs. They rescue animals, as well. In the winter of 2017, bombeiros were called to rescue a baby whale that had washed onto Monte Clerigo beach. Bombeiros also retrieve people and animals stuck in wells. Attend car accidents. Provide first-aid treatment to locals. Support the community in the event of flooding, earthquakes or landslides. Assist in underwater searches. Transport accident victims and others in need to hospital.

• Obrigado, Portugal, for being recognized as one of the most peaceful countries in the world. You have maintained your place as the third most peaceful nation (behind Iceland and New Zealand), according to the venerable 2020 Global Peace Index. On an individual basis, peace translates to safety and security … of not being in the wrong place at the wrong time (or the right place at the right time) for fear of being a victim of violent crime.

• Obrigado, Portugal, for your wind turbines and solar panels seen throughout the country—visible reminders of your commitment to deliver cleaner energy and a sustainable environment.

• Obrigado, Portugal, for upkeeping our infrastructure. Rare is the pothole or dangerous debris found on your highways and national roads. In our own neighborhoods as well, you´re continuously upgrading our electricity, water pipes, and sewer lines. We may be frustrated by all those unexpected detours (desvios) … but we´re thankful, too.

• Obrigado, Portugal, for taking on the mantle of melting pot for refugees and immigrants, welcoming us with free health care and education, relatively low-cost housing and property insurance. And minimalist taxes, compared to whence we´ve come. We’ve met Indians and Israelis, people from Belgium and Germany, China and Russia (as well as the UK and USA) within your borders. Up close and personal, our differences – albeit skin tone, LGBT or hetero, country of origin, or language spoken – fade, as we exchange extremist nationalism for patriotism. Tudo bem!

For more feature stories, news and commentaries, personalized columns and departments, eye-popping photos and artwork, please subscribe – at no charge – to Portugal Living Magazine. You can read our current issue and subscribe for free at: http://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue.

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The Jab

Sometimes, the system works.

Against what I’d imagined to be the greatest of odds in this socialist bureaucracy, where Covid vaccinations are only available through government departments and dispensaries, I got called to come in for my jab.

What’s amazing about this is that I’m neither a citizen nor permanent resident … just another expat-immigrant still classified as a “temporary” resident, even though we’re working on four years since we arrived in Portugal.

Even more extraordinary was the fact that I was called – not messaged, emailed, or contacted via the postal system – by a real person speaking Portuguese so quickly that, twice, I had to ask her to slow down a bit.

“Pode a senhora falar um pouco mais devar, por favor?”

At first, I thought she was another salespeople, calling like MEO telemarketers to sell me something. “A senhora quer vender-me alguma coisa?” I asked as she came up for breath. “Não, não, não!” she insisted, stating that she was calling me in Alcains, Castelo Branco, to schedule my first Covid shot. Odd, though, that she said she was in Évora, despite the fact that my caller ID showed her location as Estremoz.

I asked her where I was to go and when.

“Elvas. In the old business center located in the industrial zone, at 1:30 pm on Thursday,” she replied.

“Can I get the shot here in Alcains, instead?” I asked. Elvas is a good two-hour drive away.

She didn’t know. I’d have to ask the officials here in Alcains. But, if I wanted to get my shot two days later, I would have to confirm with her for Elvas now. I’d tried getting information from my local centro de saúde, but the doors were (almost) always shut and the people inside just shook their heads when I knocked on the door and spoke Portuguese with my English accent peppered with Spanish.

So, I confirmed.

This, in itself, is a matter of no small significance!

See, we divide our time between small homes in Alcains (Castelo Branco) and Vila Boim (Elvas). When in Elvas last year, I suffered from some gastrointestinal malady that forced me to consult with a doctor, who insisted that I undergo a colonoscopy—something I’d defiantly avoided for 70 years.

To undergo the colonoscopy, however, I’d have to bring proof that I tested negative for Covid within 48 hours of the procedure. The Affidea clinic (in Évora) offered to do the test while I was there, before my colonoscopy—for €120. The same test was free in Elvas, the concelho where we lived.

But I was registered with the health department in Alcains, our first and primary home.

“Not a problem,” advised the drive-up Covid technicians. “Just have the test prescribed by your physician here in Elvas … take it to the hospital … and they’ll schedule an appointment for your test within 48 hours. Come back here, the same place, when you’re scheduled.”

Trouble was, my doctor was off for the week. Her receptionist suggested that I go directly to the hospital, which I did. Very pleasant people. But, before they could attend to me, I would need to get my “Utente” (health care) paperwork changed from Alcains to Elvas at the Centro de Saúde in Elvas and then return to the hospital to be scheduled for the test.

All that accomplished, we were ready to head to Affidea in Évora for the colonoscopy, when an SMS (message) arrived on our mobile: My procedure had been cancelled because I hadn’t booked a Covid test at the clinic.

We ran to the doctor’s office, negative Covid results officially in hand, where the receptionist called Affidea and gave them a piece of her mind. In rapid-fire Portuguese. Turning to us with a smile, she said “Sem problema. Tudo bem.” And off we went.

All of the preceding is prologue, a digression, if you will, to contextualize my marvel at how the Portuguese system had actually worked: Despite all the changes and complications, I had been called to come in for my first Covid shot.

The process was precise and professional. I showed my identity card and it was confirmed against the list the facility had of who had been scheduled that day and at what time. Remaining outside, they brought me a clipboard with a short form to fill out: Had I ever had Covid? Had I ever had a Covid shot? Was I suffering any of the (listed) symptoms?

Handing me a card that said Astra-Zeneca, the guard escorted me inside, where six cubicles had been set up for the injections. Within two minutes, a nurse entered, had me roll up my sleeve, and jabbed me. Amazingly, I didn’t feel the shot at all!

Another attendant led me to a seating area, where people were purposefully seated in the order we’d received our inoculations. First shot, first seated. We sat there for 30 minutes, watching a slide show about Elvas play over and again. Half an hour had passed when the guard came to escort me out, asking how I felt.

“Tudo bem,” I said, as I really did feel fine at that moment.

“Do I need to schedule my next appointment?” I asked before leaving … even though my second jab wasn’t to be given for another three months. Three months!

“Não,” responded the guard. “We will call you again.”

Over the next three days, I suffered chills and flushes, alternatively feverish and cold. I was “spacey” in that way that older relatives can become. My bones felt like jelly, jamming in a loosey-goosey way that made walking an exercise in futility.

It passed.

As Portugal heads into the next stage of its vaccination process – those over 65 are being jabbed – I look at my Astra-Zeneca card and feel a bit more confident and trusting.

Despite their tendency to be helpful and courteous, in Portugal and Spain, you don’t call them. They call you.

And they do! It just takes time …

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

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Checks and Balances: Banking in Spain & Portugal

Remember the days when American Express advised us not to leave home without the company’s ubiquitous traveler’s checks, accepted and exchanged virtually everywhere … for a fee?

Alarmy Stock Photo

Forget about them.

They’re no longer accepted at banks and few offices (far between) will convert them to the local Euro currency.

It’s not only American Express checks. It’s all checks. Especially, personal ones. Even if you have a bank account in Portugal or Spain, you can’t just deposit your Christmas card gifts from back home or birthday presents sent on paper. Some banks won’t accept them at all; others, will charge a hefty fee – upwards of 25€ — for the privilege of waiting while each check is sent back to the USA for conversion before posting to your account.

EU countries are becoming cashless societies where plastic is the financial instrument de rigeur—at least at retail stores and points-of-sale. No longer are cards inserted, slid, or swiped; they’re hardly even touched, since the card “reader” comes within kissing distance of approval or denial, as your hand hovers over it. Increasingly, too, is your telephone as the tool of choice in financial transactions. Same concept, different instrument: card or mobile.

It may be awkward for some, but remind anyone from the USA in the habit of sending you checks that, not only can it take up to two months for you to receive it in the mail … and most banks (if they’ll even accept American checks) charge a minimum of 12.5% of the check’s value to convert and deposit it to your Portuguese or Spanish bank account. In the end, it’s a lose-lose proposition with you paying coming and going.

Best bet? Impersonal as they may be, international funds transfer services – Paypal, (Transfer)Wise, Western Union, etc. – will charge a small fee and choose the exchange rate, but the money will be received by you usually within 24 hours. Money can be transferred quite easily from home via the Internet.

Online, too, deposits, withdrawals, and transfers are now virtual, if not literal. Buying and paying online has boomed thanks to stay-at-home shoppers who purchase everything not available to them through local merchants or shopping centers.

Think that’s going to change once Covid no longer is such a threat?

Brace yourselves for the brave new world of banking.

Neither Spain nor Portugal typically credit your money that they’re holding (and investing) with interest. Quite the contrary: For the privilege of granting banks the right to serve as clearing houses for your recurring bills and financial transactions, several of Spain’s largest banks are charging fees of 90 Euros quarterly – that’s €360, nearly US $500 per year – to steward your funds, plus additional fees for withdrawals, transfers, and other transactions. While few banks or any in Portugal (that I know of) charge such usurious fees, they all do eat away at your savings with fees for every transaction. Adding insult to injury is that – on top of these fees – banks are also required to charge IVA (sales tax, if you will) of 21% in Spain and 23% in Portugal.

(If/when you do open an interest-bearing account, it’s almost not worth it: we deposited €11,000 in a U$D account for six months—you need to specify how long the investment period will last. At the end, we had earned about 40€ on our deposit. But that was before taxes were deducted on our earnings. In the end, our €11,000 earned a whopping 14€! Plus, the account usually isn’t insured.)

A bank account is required for residency in both countries so that your recurring bills can be directly debited.

Then there’s the Multibanco:

More than the ATMs Americans are accustomed to, Multibancos do much more than disperse cash from your account, or allow you to move money from one account to another within the same bank. You can pay bills and/or transfer money to other people, businesses, and government agencies (regardless of their bank) and debit directly those recurring charges—like your electric, water, car payment, insurance, and telecommunication bills. Forgotten your personal IBAN number? You can obtain it – along with a detailed summary of your transaction history – electronically through your home computer or mobile device and, of course, the Multibanco.

We’ve come to appreciate the Multibanco, but know that all aren’t alike. There’s a difference between an ATM and the Multibanco.

The branch we bank at, for instance, has a Multibanco outside, while, inside the entrance is its own ATM. You can’t use any other bank’s credit or debit card at that ATM … but, theoretically, you can use your bank’s debit card at any Multibanco.

When using a debit card with a Multibanco to withdraw funds from a bank account in the USA, always be certain to reject the option for the amount to be deducted in dollars. It’s the last question prompted – twice, including a confirmation – before the transaction is completed. Instead, opt for the withdrawal to be done in Euros, with your home bank handling the transfer. The same holds true when using a debit card for purchases: always choose the “euros” option, not the dollars one.

On a withdrawal (or purchase) of 100€, we’ve saved ten to fifteen euros that way … enough to buy a really good lunch in Iberia.

Supposedly, you can’t withdraw more than two hundred euros (€200) on any day from the Multibanco. We ass-u-me they’re inter-connected … so if we withdraw €200 from this Multibanco, we won’t be allowed to withdraw another 200€ from that one, using the same card and account.

If one needs cash – more than €200 – on the same day, however, there are ways around the Multibanco’s limits. If you have more than one bank account and debit or credit card, for example, just use another one to draw out up to another two hundred euros. Keep going … until you reach what you need or run out of cards.

Then, of course, you can go into the bank itself to take out larger sums. But you’ll pay a higher fee for the personalized service.

Perhaps someone else can explain all the curious charges, fees, taxes, and take-aways affixed to our bank accounts in Portugal and Spain. You know: those amounts preceded by minus signs and abbreviations?

I understand “comissões” and my monthly “quotas” – fees charged for the bank’s associated accounts with additional benefits – but what about all those other encrypted letter deductions:

  • IMP.TRF.P?
  • DESP.TRF.P?
  • I.SELO OP.BANC?
  • COM SERV EST R O?
  • COM OE STP NET 24?

For pure economics, financial institutions are making money on top of money through a variety of fees, charges, and commissions.

“It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning,” Henry Ford claimed.

Thomas Jefferson charged, “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.” Of course, neither man had access to the Multibanco.

Disclaimer: I share these stories of our experiences not to complain or seek sympathy, but because we are North Americans acculturating to another country’s norms and expectations. Information in posts such as this aren’t found in tourist or relocation guides … nor asked about and answered in most Facebook groups. Hopefully, some will learn from my anecdotes and be better prepared for the grit and grist, the grain of living abroad. We love Portugal for what it is, not what it isn’t, and have no intention of returning to the USA.

Bruce is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. Read the current online issue and subscribe to the magazine at no cost whatsoever: http://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue

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O Número Contribuente?

Americans are issued Social Security Numbers in the USA which are used to identify them—from taxpayer to pensioner.

Other countries assign their citizens (and residents) a variety of numbers. In Portugal, for example, in addition to a social security number, many of us also have a separate health care number, driver’s license number, and – of course – the ubiquitous “fiscal” (or taxpayer) number, technically known as our NIF but more popularly referred to as the número contribuente.

Every time we go shopping, we’re queried “Contribuinte?” by the cashier.

Merchants are required to ask if want to provide your “número contribuinte” for that purchase … although you aren’t required to give it. But, if you do, it’s recorded and reported to the tax office.

Will providing your NIFs for Lidl or Continente purchases affect your tax bill in Portugal?

It could!

Part of the reason behind tracking money spent and received is to thwart the “underground economy” and its financial transactions. But, thanks to giving our número contribuente, our own tax records display deductions we can take on our income taxes. And we’re entered in lottery-like “drawings” held regularly by Finanças and the tax office.

(Unless you pay income taxes here, however, you can’t claim these deductions. If you do pay taxes here, some “costs” are reclaimable.)

In welcoming us to their country, we want Portugal to know that we are investing in it, too, by purchasing from its businesses.

So, although not required or requested, when I head to SEF to renew my residencia, I’ll also be handing over a printout of the spending I’ve done here … attributed to my número contribuente!

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

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Moving Out, Moving On

What do you do when your doctor decides you cannot go up and down the 37 stairs (a dozen times daily) in your house anymore? Especially with your three dogs—which you walk twice around the village: once with the two little ones and, again, with the bigger boy? And, further, that the aches and pains in your back and your bones are unable to withstand the uneven cobble stones paving your streets because of the stresses and strains they put on you—especially when walking your dogs around your beloved village four times each day?

You don’t have 37 steps? Or three dogs? And your streets are paved with asphalt, not cobble stone, you say? Or you live on a quinta?

No matter.

Consider this scenario, one quite familiar to Americans seeking to move abroad to Portugal (and Spain). One of the indispensable requirements of obtaining a residency visa is documenting that you have a dwelling … at least for your first six months here.

You can rent or buy.

Though some opt for renting, knowing they will have to relocate when their lease is up, it’s a sensible choice—especially if you have few household items and worldly goods to transport. You’ll have a chance to live up close and personal and understand the lay of the land as you explore other neighborhoods, nearby towns and villages and cities, or (perhaps) elsewhere entirely in the country.

Your choice.

You have six months to travel and explore, gambling that, for whatever reason – a community of friends already living there, proximity to the coast and its Atlantic beaches, charm of the place that tugs at your heartstrings and beckons, a perfect plot to put down roots and live off the land instead of the grid – the time will provide opportunities so that you don’t have to rush to judgment about where you’ll live.

Others, like us, however, prefer to buy—submitting a property deed with our visa application, rather than a rental contract.

With all the moves we’ve made already, packing the mementos and monuments of our 25+ years together for a transatlantic shipment would be our last herculean undertaking before the Atlas in us shrugged.

Buying in a “foreign” country requires a different type of fortitude. For instance, you need to envision – even fantasize – the lay of the land where you want to be: Urban, suburban, or rural? Village, town, or city? On the coast, in the center, or along the border? Single-family detached house, “row” home, duplex, apartment, condo, or land enough to grow (maybe even sell) your edibles and comestibles? New build or resale, renovation or ruin to rebuild from scratch?

Along with such demographic factors, you’ll also want to weigh in with the “psychographics.” Close your eyes and picture your perfect place. What does it look like? More important, how does it feel to you? For the sake of seclusion are you opting for less in terms of Internet and telecommunications options—especially if you’ll be working online? If dogs are already part of your furry family (or will be), will you be comfortable in a home without any land, requiring you to walk and pick up after them, regardless of the weather … which can be day upon day and weeks at a time of continuous rain or brutal, scorching sun where it can be 100 degrees or more in the shade throughout the summer? Do you have special health issues or concerns which will dictate medical availability and accessibility?

And what many of us forget to take into account is our age: Will what seems reasonable, doable, and accommodating now feel or be just as easy to cope with down the road five, ten, twenty years hence?

In our case, we didn’t know if Russ would be able to continue working remotely. Would his close-knit Door County performing arts company consent to him not working under their thumb? Would they be willing to contract communications and marketing – as well as attendance, virtually, at staff meetings – from a time zone six hours later?

We didn’t know when we began planning our move; yet, discretion being the greater part of valor, we concluded that we’d best assume that we’d be “freelancers,” with new income flowing from the USA except for Social Security.

Along with a relatively modest budget, that was a reality which dictated many of our choices and criteria where to look and live in Portugal.

Eyes closed, we envisioned our new home set in an idyllic village with cobble stone streets and a picturesque church whose bells would mark the tempo of our daily lives. Our home would be easily accessible by car to shopping, dining, and entertainment. After ten years of flying to our vacation bolt in southern Spain, it would also be within an easy driving distance. Importantly, too, it had to be approved for commercial use, as we planned to open our “Tapas Americanas” to produce income.

All told, we made three round-trips between the USA and Portugal in search of the “right” property, searching for places between Coimbra and Castelo Branco that met our needs … and wants. We scheduled one of our trips to coincide with a Pure Portugal seminar on buying and building, losing one possibly perfect property close to Miranda do Corvo because it sold before we could make an offer; we bypassed another property after learning at the seminar that a “build,” enclosed on three sides by a mountain, would be difficult to maintain because of the moisture and constant battle against damp and mold.

Towards the end of our second tour, we found a house that ticked off all of our boxes. In a village just 15 minutes outside of Castelo Branco, it was postcard picturesque. On the street level, it had housed a café before the owner’s husband died and she put the property for sale—including the lower-level café, a courtyard, and large kitchen.

Above, rose two more levels. On the first was a huge living room, two smaller rooms (formerly bedrooms, but offices for us), and a separate wing above the downstairs kitchen with a large guest quarters and en suite that not only would provide privacy, but could be used as an AirBnB rental. The top floor featured a master bedroom with walk-in closet and separate en suite, an adjacent multi-purpose room with a second (service) kitchen, and a huge covered terrace. The house also included a large attic with ample room for storage.

The drawbacks? After being vacant for several years, the elements had taken their toll on the premises which needed repairs, mold remediation, and painting … not to mention an entirely new kitchen constructed downstairs. Those 37 steps would be our daily exercise. And, although the café was zoned “commercial,” the landlady had allowed its license to lapse. To be granted a new license would require bringing the café up to current code—at least €10,000 in construction costs to make it handicapped accessible, more mobile and modern.

Not that it mattered, anymore …

Russ’ employers wanted him to keep working for them. This was well before Covid closures and work restrictions; they were willing, at least, to give it a try. Fortunately, everything worked well. Not only did it prepare the organization for the new realities of work caused by the pandemic, but it also prepared the way for other employees and contractors to work remotely as well.

We fixed up and improved the house, using the former café as our gathering area for friendly get-togethers. Walking the streets with our dogs, we got to know our neighbors. Because few in this provincial village spoke English, our conversational skills grew beyond “Bom Dia” and “Obrigado.” These good-hearted yet private people knocked on our door, bringing baskets with fruits and vegetables from their gardens or quintas. We came to enjoy the local holidays and festivities, even as we respected the solemn processions of locals paying their last respects to those dearly departed. Living on the main street brought life’s realities and rituals to our windows, balcony, and front door.

With each chime of the church bells, I grew older … crossing that milestone from sixties to seventies, from an energetic “senior citizen” to an “elderly” fussbudget. Limbs broken 20 years earlier sent me not-so-gentle reminders with increasing frequency. New ills, aches, and allergies began to trouble me. Never particularly patient to begin with, I increasingly identified with grumpy old men filled with frustrations, feeling (felling) my physical limitations and life passing me by.

When a series of gastrointestinal problems and my first bout with sciatica brought me to hospitals, laboratories, pharmacies, and clinics, my physician insisted that pharmaceuticals could just do so much to help; some major changes must now be made in our lives.

“You cannot continue to climb up and down all those stairs,” she stated, “especially with the dogs. And the uneven cobble stones in the streets aren’t helping, as the dogs pull you going after a dog or cat.”

“So, what are you saying; what do you suggest?” I asked, presuming her forthcoming answer.

“You must move!” she informed me. “Find a one-level home with a backyard, a quintal. Maybe a bungalow. You will see how much better you will begin to feel.”

Move? Again? After all that planning? From a village that had welcomed and embraced us: Newcomers! Over the last ten years or so, the local population had been halved—from 1,200 to 600.

I had adjusted and adapted my life in retirement to one of active involvement. Since moving to Lousa, I had one book published and was working on a new one. I wrote regularly for The American Magazine (UK) and The Portugal News. I created and administer several popular Facebook groups—one for “Portalegre People” (where our other home was located); another for “LGBTQ+ People and Friends in Portugal”; and a third, “American Expats & Friends in Portugal and Spain,” for expats, immigrants, the curious, and wannabes. Most important, however, was the progressive, interfaith congregation I pastored for hurting and spiritually hungry “People of Faith Online.” And, most recently, we launched Portugal Living Magazine, an English language magazine that covers the entire country, connecting people throughout … as well as those seeking to relocate.

Move? At this point, I needed to think of it not as moving out, but moving on. Nonetheless, it’s not as easy as one might think.

Stay tuned …

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

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Refuse, reuse, and reduce plastic!

Back in the day, supermarkets didn’t sell bottled water.

Most of us got our water directly from the tap.

Water just wasn’t something people thought about buying from the grocery, anyway.

Those were the days, my friend, when milkmen (no women that I can recall) delivered fresh milk daily or every other day to those milk boxes — now sold as “antiques” and “collectibles” — next to our front doors. Similarly, Louie Armet delivered a case of seltzer water (carbonated or “tonic” water) to our house weekly. Soft drinks (soda or pop, depending where you lived) were sold in groceries. But that’s before we became health-conscious and learned that soda was bad for us, while, for the most part, milk and water were good.

Nonetheless, most beverages came either in glass containers (jars and bottles) or metal cans.

You paid a deposit on them at the check out and many a youngster earned extra cents (sense?) foraging, gathering, and returning this glass and aluminum in exchange for the deposits.

I don’t know when — exactly — it happened that plastic became the packaging of our lives … but I do vividly remember the black and white “Plastics Make It Possible” television commercials in which plastic was heralded as the scientific “miracle” that would improve our lives.

Think about it: just try to go an hour without touching something plastic.

Greenpeace partnered with Protecting Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana (PKO) and Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) to do a beach cleanup and brand audit at Kanapou beach on Kaho’olawe Island, Hawaii. Trash washed up on the beach.

The stuff is everywhere: from our toilet seats to the electronic devices we constantly use (sometimes, it’s safe to ass-u-me, while likely sitting on said toilet seat) are made of plastic. In fact, try as we might, there’s not much in our day-to-day lives that doesn’t contain plastic.

“I just want to say one word to you. Just one word … Plastics.”

Remember that line from The Graduate?

More recently, however, plastic has begun to bother me in its excess.

If these words weren’t about a former boss, they could aptly apply to plastic: “Some is good; more is better; too much is just enough.¨

Maybe for the producers, vendors, and plastic distributors, but definitely not for us and our world.

Why must water be sold in single-use plastic bottles? And those plastic bottles then wrapped in layers of plastic? And, again, as we check out, those plastics inside of plastic put in plastic bags?Why is there so much hard plastic packaging around razors, cds and dvds, tooth brushes and floss? Almost everything that now hangs from retail store shelves?

It’s bad enough trying to remove it to begin with … but, time and again, I cut myself and end up bleeding from the plastic shards.

But, I’m being self-centered here. There are communal and global reasons why we need to reduce our dependence on disposable plastic. Primarily because they’re not disposable!

Plastic, undoubtedly, has revolutionized society, introducing a huge amount of convenience and affordability, and allowing for the development of things like computers, cell phones and many modern medical devices.

But our obsession with it also comes at a steep cost. Although originally hailed as a miraculous innovation that could reduce a rapidly industrializing society’s reliance on scarce natural resources, plastic has also created a monumental environmental mess. Worldwide, more that 400 million tons of the stuff are churned out annually, generating a huge amount of waste of which less than 10 percent is recycled. The rest either ends up in landfills, where it will take an average of 500 years to decompose, or in waterways and oceans. 

A study by a scientific working group at UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), concluded that every year, eight million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans. What is more concerning is that, according to the study, the cumulative input for 2025 would be nearly 20 times the eight million metric tons estimation.

One of the most concerning problems that our oceans are facing nowadays – if not the most important – is plastic pollution. Plastics are the cause of increasing ocean pollution, which in turn affects marine life and, consequently, humans as well.

Did you know:

  • Plastic causes many adverse effects in wildlife because chemicals include reproductive abnormalities and behavioral effects.
  • All sea turtle species, 45% of all species of marine mammals, and 21% of all species of sea birds have been affected by marine debris.
  • Plastics can absorb toxins from surrounding seawater, such as pesticides and those in the class of chemicals known as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). They can also release harmful components.
  • Plastics can be ingested by many organisms. This can cause damage to their health.
  • The main cause for the increase in plastic production is the rise of plastic packaging.
  • The drilling of oil and processing into plastic releases harmful gas emissions into the environment including carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, ozone, benzene, and methane (a greenhouse gas that causes a greater warming effect than carbon dioxide) according to the Plastic Pollution Coalition.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency or EPA estimated that five ounces of carbon dioxide are emitted for every ounce of Polyethylene Terephthalate produced (also known as PET – the plastic most commonly used to make water bottles).

What can we — you and me — do about all this plastic pollution?

The solutions are simple and can be applied by everyone, everywhere.

The best way we can all help is to reduce new litter entering the environment. This may sound naïve, but it is a fact. To do that, there are three Rs that can remind us to do this:

  • Reduce: Choose products with less packaging, or shops where you can refill your own container.
  • Reuse: Use reusable products.
  • Recycle: Separate items that can be recycled (i.e. plastic, paper, cardboard).

Short of lobbying for government intervention in plastic packaging, there’s lots we can do to reduce our individual plastic pollution footprint: Have three receptacles in your kitchen–one for recycling, one for compost and one for trash. Collect all your plastic trash for one week just to see how much you actually use. It may make you think twice about how much plastic you buy. Stop buying single use plastic bottles and fill a reusable bottle, instead. Notice how things are packaged and opt for items packaged in cardboard vs. plastic whenever possible, for example laundry detergent. Minimize your use of plastic bags. Keep reusable bags handy. Use a thermos for your morning cup of coffee and bring it with you to your local coffee shop. Don’t buy disposable razors. Swap out or minimize all those plastic food storage containers you’ve collected over the years, especially those without lids or bottoms. Use glass or metal containers. Buy from bulk bins. This doesn’t mean buying in bulk. Bring your own reusable cloth containers or bags. Stop using disposable plastic plates. Donate plastic household items or decor you don’t love or are no longer using. Don’t just throw them out.

Don’t just throw them out!

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

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Fado & Flamenco: Evocative and Provocative

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but nothing expresses the soul of a people quite like their music. Perhaps nowhere does this resonate so clearly as with the Portuguese fado and the Spanish flamenco. Those seeking to familiarize themselves with the unique character and personality of Spain v. Portugal need only wrap themselves in these two existential music genres.

Even if you don’t know a word of either language and haven’t studied its culture, you can still experience it profoundly as you listen – no, engage – with the primal emotions aroused by the music.

Spain is quixotic, teasing and tempestuous, outgoing and flirtatious. Portugal, on the other hand, is sadly melancholic, holding tenuously onto a yearning sense of nostalgia.

Fado is traditional folk music, a form of Portuguese singing that is often associated with pubs, cafés, and restaurants. This music originated in Portugal around the 1820s, although it is thought to have much earlier roots. Fado is known for its profound expressiveness and melancholy. A musician – often a woman — will sing about the hard realities of daily life, balancing resignation and hopefulness that a resolution to its torments can still occur.

Best described with the Portuguese word saudade, an impenetrable word which encompasses more than “longing” and stands for a feeling of loss, fado was brought to mainstream music by Amália Rodrigues (1920-1999), known as the Rainha do Fado (Queen of Fado). Acknowledged throughout the world, Amalia’s charisma, extraordinary timbre of voice, and beauty made her an acclaimed artist. She became one of the most important personalities for the genre and the main inspiration for contemporary and modern fado.

I first heard Amália Rodrigues in my elementary Portuguese classroom, singing one of her best-known fados through a downloaded file on a decrepit laptop computer. Nonetheless, I was enthralled. Much as I’ve come to enjoy other fado singers and songs, nothing will ever compare for me to “Uma Casa Portuguesa” as she delivered it:
 www.youtube.com/watch?v=RU-Z0SiQKgU

The only non-Portuguese singer I am aware of whose music – especially her song La Llorona — comes close to the Portuguese saudade inherent to fado is Chavela Vargas, a  Costa Rica-born Mexican singer known especially for her rendition of Mexican rancheras, although she is also recognized for her contribution to other genres of popular Latin American music. Hailed for her haunting performances, she was a muse to such figures as Pedro Almodóvar and called la voz áspera de la ternura, “the rough voice of tenderness.”

Here is Chavela singing La Llorona (The Weeping Woman):
www.youtube.com/watch?v=tP2R-kqtkJo

If the Portuguese fado is evocative, Spain’s flamenco is provocative.

Sultry and seductive, flamenco brings together distinctive chirping, cooing, “come hither” voices with dance and instrumentals (mostly guitar) responsive to the speakeasy Spanish spirit. Flamenco features the call and response known as jaleo, a form of bravado involving hand clapping, foot stomping, and audiences’ encouraging shouts. clapping, finger snapping, and foot stomping.

Though somewhat mysterious, the roots of flamenco seem to lie in the Roma (gypsy) migration from Rajasthan in northwest India to Spain, between the 9th and 14th centuries. These migrants brought with them musical instruments – tambourines, bells, and wooden castanets – as well as an extensive repertoire of songs and dances to Spain, where they encountered the rich cultures of Sephardic Jews and the Moors. Their centuries-long cultural intermingling produced the unique art form known as flamenco.

In the U.S. and elsewhere, flamenco is a pervasive Spanish national identity marker. For proof of its pop culture currency, look no further than Toy Story 3: Buzz Lightyear is mistakenly reset in “Spanish mode,” and becomes a passionate Spanish flamenco dancer.

Indeed, the world outside Spain often stereotypes the country as inhabited by flamenco dancers, singers, and guitar players so “passionate” that they have little time to engage in the day-to-day world of the mediocre and mundane.

Much like our soap operas (telenovelas in Spanish).

Flamenco performance was once ostracized, considered a vulgar and pornographic spectacle. Over the years, many Spaniards considered flamenco a scourge of their nation, deploring it as an entertainment that lulled the masses into disorientation, hampering Spain’s progress toward modernity. Flamenco’s shifting fortunes show how Spain’s complex national identity continues to evolve to this day, where it is widely enjoyed as performance art.

This brief clip hardly does justice to the flamenco genre, where a single song can go on – with audience participation – for hours:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNhfV_53W7A

Spain and Portugal.
Flamenco and Fado.
Spirit and Soul.
Yin and Yang.
Salido and Saudade.

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

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Mother Nature’s Teardrops

I’m depressed …

Because of this relentless, obstinate, continuous rain.

Today marks the tenth consecutive day that rain – mist, fog, drizzle, downpours – is omnipresent across the Iberia peninsula … hovering intransigent, dismal, and unmoving.

The damp is everywhere, manifest in mold and mildew seeping through our walls. Swollen doorknobs and jambs pregnant with moisture protrude, disabling the opening and closure of doors, even as legs and arms broken decades ago remind us that they’re still hurting. Walls without windows to open (even in this weather) are wet. Clothing refuses to dry; umbrellas become the rite of passage.

Anyone who believes that the rain in Spain “stays mainly in the plain” obviously hasn’t been here in a while. Including the weather forecasters: wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, day after day! The rain is everywhere, crossing closed borders between Portugal and Spain.

Alas, whether vestige or herald, brief glimmers of sunlight hardly hint of days filled with cheery sunshine and overall brightness.

Perhaps it’s a government conspiracy, forcing us to stay inside, alone with our families, as the sun flees from new, more contagious variants of the virus?

More probably, it’s just the weather, whither here or there. After all, doesn’t everyone complain about the weather? Everywhere? It’s far better than complaining about people or politics! I’m beginning to feel sorry for the cows and sheep in the meadows, with nowhere to run or hide from these bloody torrential buckets and lingering, lackluster leftovers that won’t lift. With heavy heart, I hurt for those who are ailing (physically, mentally, or emotionally).

And me?

I just want to curl up and wait for it all to end: Covid. Unreasonable politics. Fearsome fulcrums of flooding, earthquakes, foolhardiness the world over.

But I can’t; I’m a pastor. It’s my responsibility to minister, lifting the downtrodden with words which belay belief. Not today, though. Instead, I will count my blessings:

• I have a roof (in fact, several) over my head.

• For a 72-year-old, I enjoy relatively good health.

• I love and am loved.

• There’s food in our fridge and freezer, even if we can’t go out to eat. In the pantry, there’s food for our furry family, too.

• We can stay busy – even entertained – at home. There are people to talk to, messages to share, films to watch, books to read, writing to ponder, floors and furniture to clean, food to be prepared, repairs to be made, problems to be fixed, dogs to fed and walked.

Which brings us outside as toys, yet again, of the weather.

Let’s think of Mother Nature crying, shedding tears for how we have hurt her. Let’s be grateful for all that we have, instead of what we’re wanting. Let’s appreciate the beauty cast even in the gray. Let’s hope, once again, that tomorrow will be better. Let’s promise to do one thing – whatever – to make it a bit brighter.

A wise man once said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” to which he added, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

Days of drizzle, countless clouds, nightfalls of rain.

Blessed be!

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

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