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.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

The BBB

Photo: Tripadvisor

Have you ever entertained the thought of retiring to some romantic place and opening a bed and breakfast there?

We have.

Nothing fancy, mind you; just a comfortable, offbeat place where weary workers or disheartened folks – single or couples – can relax and find some charm (or curiosities) and respite, off the beaten track.

For us, that means Portugal and southern Spain.

In these days of AirBnB, almost anyone can open a bed and breakfast. Anywhere. Even if you only have one “guest” bedroom to spare … or a sofa-sleeper in your living room!

Not long ago, we spent several days at a bed and breakfast outside a substantial suburb at the fringes of a major Iberian provincial capital. The chaps who own the place obviously love it and lavish cook-and-clean duties diligently on it daily. They’ve invested a lot of time, funds, and creativity in establishing an attractive b&b.

But it can be the little things – sometimes overlooked by people thinking they can create an idyllic bed and breakfast – that make all the difference between a memorable experience and one that won’t be repeated anytime soon.

As many people are hoping to move away from the USA or the UK or anywhere else and open a B&B in Spain or Portugal, here are a few observations and considerations for building the better bed and breakfast (The BBB):

Warmth—Beyond the comeliness and hospitality of a bed and breakfast is the mere matter of its comfort factor. As in temperature. Nobody enjoys staying in a bone-chilling room when it’s raining and nasty cold outside. If heating is provided by a single source (i.e., the warm setting of an air conditioner), consider back-ups. Even a portable electric heater can turn an unpleasant environment into a more comfortable one. Conversely, an air conditioner is an essential cost of doing business when inviting people to stay during warmer times.

Beds—Some people prefer to sleep au naturel. So, sleeping in a bed covered only by a nice duvet cover over a heavy blanket or comforter may be okay; but top (and bottom) sheets are better. After all, do you really want guests to wonder whose skin had caressed the comforter before they did? And, of course, provide comfortable mattresses.

Breakfast—Juice, fruits, cereals and yogurt, eggs, tortillas, toast, an assortment of charcuterie, and coffee (or tea) are delicious. Tasty and fulfilling. The first day (and maybe the second). But lacking distinction in this all-too-important meal, day after day, can become tiresome and ritualistic. There’s truth to the adage that, “variety is the spice of life.”

Lighting and Electrical—By all means, have enough. Some is good … more is better … too much is just enough! Many of us like to read in bed. A light – even a clip-one to the headboard – is essential. Who wants to get up to turn off the overhead light(s) just when we’re ready to close our eyes and fall asleep, because there aren’t any lamps on the nightstands on the side of the bed? Then, too, some of us travel with quite a few contrivances: computers, laptops, devices, irons, whatever. Outlets providing 110/220-AC/DC are essential!

Slipping and Sliding—Having suffered a broken a leg (and currently saddled with five pins around my ankle and a titanium rod in my shin), I have no desire whatsoever to repeat the experience. So, please – please! – consider your flooring … especially in the bathrooms. Shiny surfaces (aka “glazed” tiles) may look wonderful, but they can become sheets of ice when wet feet come in contact with them. Especially when trying to reach for that towel at the other end of the bathroom! How much safer and simpler are those tacky plastic mats for inside the bathtub, a rug and a utilitarian hook close to the shower for hanging the towel! Similarly, you may have gorgeous marble staircases … or ceramic or tile. Remember that they can be slippery. We’ve heard more than one sad story about a top-of-the-line b&b where a guest accidentally slipped down the steps.

Hot H20—Honestly, is anything worse than running out of hot water when you’re in the middle of taking a shower or about to begin shaving? Fortunately, today’s technology can provide hot water, continuously, courtesy of relatively inexpensive, on-demand water heaters. If you’re thinking of turning your place into a b&b, please be sure your guests don’t get a cold shoulder without continuous running hot water.

Computers—They may be called “laptops,” but sitting in bed with a computer on your lap is awkward at best and doesn’t work (at worst). Better bed and breakfasts provide a desk (and chair) where one can work online conveniently and comfortably.

• Je ne sais quoi–When push comes to shove, it’s the congeniality, the ambience, the undefinable yet unmistakable personality of your place that guests will remember and why they’ll come back again and/or recommend your hideaway to others. Those teeth-gritting exercises in being pleasant to people arriving four or five hours before check-in time … the tasty treat or homemade snack … the continued cleanliness of your rooms and gathering spaces distinguish you from the downtown hotels and near-to-the-airport facilities.

Each of these little comforts and conveniences add up to a BBB: a Better Bed & Breakfast!

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.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

It’s those seemingly little frustrations while living in Portugal or Spain that can make you angry and disgruntled, wanting or needing to rant.

Like going to the dentist.

I’m not referring to being treated by the dentist, which sometimes can be painful, but the whole series of complex procedures involved. Especially if you have dental insurance.

It had been a while since we’d had our teeth and gums cleaned, and wanted to check that off our bucket list. Cleaner teeth are easier to wrap your tongue around and actually feel smoother after brushing.

Our dentist, mind you, is great … it’s the bureaucracy, finger-pointing, and “not my responsibility” attitude involved. Plus, of course, all the time waiting.

Step #1—We log on to our insurance company’s network of affiliated providers, choosing “Dental” rather than “Medical,” “Well Being,” or “Hospitals” from the options. With the pull-down menus, we select our province, district, concelho, and specialty (general dentistry).

Step #2—We’re delighted to find that the clinic where our medical doctor practices tops of the list of three area providers that accept our insurance.

Step #3—Appointments are made, rescheduled, rescheduled again, and rescheduled once more. Internal matters at the clinic, you know.

Step #4—We show up on time (the scheduled hour, not the Portuguese one), check in with the receptionist, fill out a couple of forms, and wait for about 45 minutes before I’m called – the first patient in a full waiting room – into the dentist’s office. My partner will have to wait.

Step #5—The dentist and I exchange small talk as I’m seated in the curvy horror chair with all those awful attachments. Turns out, he’s just recently relocated to Portugal from Cuba. I feel somewhat better, knowing that, whatever else may be wrong in Cuba, its health care is known to be outstanding. The receptionist is role-playing dental assistant now, getting everything ready for the dentist (and me). She speaks Portuguese, not English or Spanish; the dentist can speak Portuguese, but prefers talking to me in Spanish. Throughout my 15-minute cleaning, he speaks Spanish into my right ear, while she speaks Portuguese into my left. Apart from all the head movements and rotations required, my head is spinning from trying to sort the two languages spoken simultaneously into my orifices. The cleaning completed, I’m told to rinse out my mouth with the water in the paper cup held by one of the chair’s many tentacles. I’m escorted back to the waiting room. It’s my partner’s turn now.

Step #6—As Russ undergoes an intensely long cleaning, I attempt to deal with a very flustered man seated in the receptionist chair, trying to find and/or organize records and documents scattered all around him. I hand him my insurance card, telling him to save us both time by billing of our cleanings so we can leave as soon as Russ is finished. After pecking at the computer, he pulls out binders full of papers and folders full of files. Nowhere can he find what he’s looking for. He picks up the phone and uses the intercom button to summon the receptionist (aka dental assistant) up front. Speaking a mile a minute in rapid-fire Portuguese, she returns to the dentist as the man behind the desk turns to me. “We don’t accept this insurance,” he says. Fortunately, I have printed out the dentists covered by our insurance plan, pointing out the clinic at the top of the list. He shakes his head, obviously at his wit’s end. “I’m sorry,” he shrugs in Portuguese. I hand him my Portuguese debit card and pay the 80 euros — @ 40€ per cleaning – figuring I’ll take the matter up with my insurance representative. Russ comes up front saying, “The dentist can’t do a full cleaning … my teeth are too tartared. We’ve got to come back.” We leave and head home.

Step #7—As soon as we’re home, I send an email to my insurance representative, explaining what had happened and asking him to, please, deal with it for us. Knowing all too well that it would be a while before receiving a response, I take care of some business and then return to the clinic the next day with Russ. He is seen by the dentist immediately.

Step #8—Half an hour later, Russ is back in the reception area. Turns out he has had more than a dental cleaning, but a tooth extraction as well. I don’t bring up the matter of insurance with the receptionist (last night’s dental assistant); I just hand her our debit card . At this point, I have three invoices and three receipts documenting my payments. We’ve paid €120 out of pocket to the clinic.

Step #9—Back home, I look to see if my insurance rep has responded. He hasn’t. I scan copies of the dental invoices and receipts, attaching them to the earlier message I had sent. I await his reply, I repeat.

Step #10—He replies, stating that the dental clinic is, indeed, a member of the insurance provider’s network. He attaches a file from the clinic showing all the insurance coverages it accepts. Ours isn’t there; but the rep says that our insurance company is part of another insurance company which is listed. “You will need to resolve this with the clinic,” he says, matter-of-factly. “The problem is with them, not with us.”

Step #11—We return the next morning to the clinic, assuming that – with insurance documents in hand – everything will be easy-peasy and we’ll be refunded our payments on the spot. Yeah, right. According to the very sweet receptionist, maybe four or five years ago, with a different dentist, the clinic accepted the “other” insurance (the one our insurance company alluded to) … but certainly not – ever! – ours. Who knew that insurance follows the doctor (or dentist), not the clinic? I hand her the email from my insurance agent and ask if she would be so kind as to call him while I stand there. She does, arguing with him over the phone for about twenty minutes. Smiling at me, she then says everything has been taken care of and that I should have a nice afternoon. “So, who is going to reimburse me the €120 I paid?” I ask her. “You’ll have to talk to your insurance agent about that,” she replies.

Step #12—Home again, I check my emails once more. Still no response from my insurance agent. I send him a new email asking him how this can be resolved: I’m between a rock and a hard place, out €120 because the dental clinic insists it’s not affiliated with my insurance provider and my insurance agent claims that it is. Really pissed at this point, I end my email reminding the agent that the signature line of his email shows his title as “Client Customer Service” and that customer service means more than paying bills and processing payments.

Step #13—Not much later, I receive the agent’s response: “Thank you for your email. Regarding the insurance company’s dental obligations, our agreement with the dental clinic is done through the company I mentioned,” he begins. “According to the clinic’s website, they have an agreement for dental treatments with that company—see the clinic’s insurance agreements on its website. As you can easily confirm, we provided you the same information that is mentioned in ours and the clinic´s records … which is that the clinic belongs to our dental network.”

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

##End of Rant##

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. You can read the current issue and subscribe, without cost, online: https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue/

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Shoo, Fly

They’re back.

Already.

And it’s only early February.

Maybe they never really left?

I’m talking about flies, gnats, buzzy buggers, and hovering hoodwinks. Not to mention ‘squitos, dive-bombers, and flying ants.

They land on our food, swim in our drinks, nest down our drainpipes, lodge in our eyes, sing trebling love songs in our ears.

And no matter how we try, we can’t get rid of them.

Invest what you will in window fly screens, swatters, battery-operated boomerangs, electric gizmos or gadgets that zap them, hang sticky strips that grab and hold them, or buy old-fashioned “natural” aerosols that claim to remove them in an environmentally friendly way.

The only sure-fire way to get rid of them – one at a time – is to have someone as talented as my partner, Russ, around. (Except, perhaps for David and his Goliath slingshot, I’ve yet to meet anyone else who can precisely target flies with rubber bands, hit them with bullseye precision, and watch them drop. One of these days I am going to shoot a video of his perfect aim and conquests, then post it on YouTube or submit the vid to America’s Got Talent.)

Like cockroaches and rodents, the swarming wings of insect brigades — or even an errant fly out of season — refuse to surrender. Ever notice how the bigger (older?) ones don’t have the get-up-and-go of the smaller, swaggering, bolder ones? The latter always seem to get away, staying around to tease us again and again. Their fatter friends are easier to smash as they languish lazily on a windowpane, drawer, or refrigerator door.

Heaven help us when those invasive Asian tiger mosquitos descend!

Of all the places we lived before Portugal and Spain, only West Virginia came close to the number of flying demons and little lady bugs – Japanese beetles – that committed collective hari-kari on the inside tracks of our sliding doors. What a stink, sweeping them up or emptying the vacuum cleaner bags. Mountain folk wisdom was to hang a clear plastic bag full of water on your entry door. That would keep them out. Curiously, it often did.

But not here in Iberia, where they’re everywhere we want to be. Basically, our choices boil down to being oblivious and ignoring them, as the natives do (even when the darned nasties are crawling all over their skin). Aren’t you tempted, honestly, to reach out and smack that litter bugger crawling up and down the cheeks of the person sitting opposite you, his or her tearful sweat creating swimming pools for flies?

If you can’t – or won’t – learn to live with them, you’ll need to live without them. You know what that means …

In my role as a public relations executive, one of our accounts was a homeopathic bug spray company that promised to do away with the bugs harmlessly and recycle them back into the earth. Their packaging and cans were idyllic—using pastel colors and lyrical wording to make shoppers feel less guilty about destroying the predators. But, despite all good intentions, customers weren’t buying it. My job was to find out why. We used focus groups. Here’s what we learned: When it comes to killing these stealthy pests, people bypass the pretty cans in grocery store aisles and head for the skull and crossbones, instead.

RAID: KILLS BUGS DEAD!

That’s the message most consumers like me want to hear.

Because bugs make themselves at home with us (not contributing to the mortgage or rent) in our kitchens and dining rooms, or – worse – our bedrooms and bathrooms. Can there be anything more annoying than sitting down to take a wiz or do a #2 … only to discover that you’ve got insatiable company in the loo? Or, for that matter, more satisfying than smashing their innards out with a magazine, newspaper, advertising flyer, or paperback book in hand before taking care of your business?

Except for a mention, I’m not planning to discuss the flying bombasts that cling for dear life to our car grilles, mirrors, bumpers, and painted surfaces. Florida calls them “love bugs,” probably because they love to hug and kiss these objects of our desire … leaving their residues behind to clog the namesake lattices and bumpers of our vehicles and ruin the luster of extra-cost metallic paints with their kindred clusters.

Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me is *a minstrel show song from the 1860s that has remained popular since that time. It was sung by soldiers during the Spanish–American War of 1898, when flies and the yellow fever mosquito were a serious enemy.

I’ve got news for *Wikipedia: they still are.

Whether in Portugal or Spain, this American is tempted to scream these words in his war against the flying, hovering whizzes from hell, marauders that would make me their prey:

Shoo fly, don’t bother me!!!

Bruce Joffe is Publisher and Creative Director of Portugal Living Magazine. You can read the magazine’s current issue online and subscribe at no charge:  https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue/

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Welcome to Portugal Living Magazine

With the steady increase of Americans and other English-speakers in Portugal, it became evident — while living in the country’s interior — that news and commentary was focused on one region (the Algarve) with nods to Lisbon and Porto … and presuming that all English-speakers here are British.

Something more than fragmented Facebook groups and online “expat” forums was needed to cover stories of interest throughout all areas of Portugal to people residing here or in the process of relocating to Portugal … from the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Belgium, South Africa, and other English language countries.

That’s why we created Portugal Living Magazine.

Layering a variety of engaging features, integrated departments, continuing columns, commentary, photos, and original artwork, Portugal Living Magazine presents a wide variety of stories about people and places, invaluable information, and answers to questions about living happily in Portugal.



Offering free digital subscriptions and promoting a national community orientation for expats and immigrants, Portugal Living Magazine took root and flourished. In addition to growing issues from 48 to 70 pages, the magazine hosts this popular Facebook Page, a website, and a new YouTube channel.

Different in content and purposes than Facebook groups and online forums, Portugal Living Magazine is delivered directly to subscriber email inboxes. Our Facebook Page is updated daily with dozens of news stories and a wealth of irresistible pictures, while our website includes everything from current and future issues to blog posts, linked resources, and advertising or sponsorship information. Our YouTube channel with original content premieres 1 February.



Read our current issue and subscribe at no cost–for all future one. Complete past issues are also posted on our website, as is a peek at upcoming issues. Some of the best blog posts about Portugal living are conveniently grouped on our website. Adverting data and details, links grouped categorically to indispensable resources from our sponsors and supporters, and complete contact information for reaching us are all on Portugal Living Magazine’s website.

Our continuing commitment is to provide free subscriptions to everyone who wants to read Portugal Living Magazine, with advertising covering the publishing costs of production and distribution. Alas, we’re not there yet. Deficit spending has been funded from the pockets of our founder.

We’ve created ways that you can help: Our Patreon page encourages donors to contribute one, three, or eight euros monthly. Prefer to make a one-time gift? Deposit it directly to our bank account at this IBAN: PT50.0036.0136.99100034067.63.

Felicidades from our team to you and your loved ones!

Upcoming

Bruce H. Joffe
Publisher/Creative Director

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Of Prophets and Poets

Much of what I like most about the King James Version is the beauty inherent to its prose. Whether Psalms, Proverbs, Peter and Paul, or Prophets, I almost always find the version’s way of saying things – even when (mostly) inaccurate—poetic. Which version of the 23rd psalm can compare with the beauty and eloquence of the King James?

My undergraduate education was at the University of Madrid, during the days when Francisco Franco reigned. The world was a frightful place with Vietnam, Watergate, civil rights marches and riots, assassinations of beloved leaders, Khrushchev banging his shoe on a table at the United Nations while threatening “We will bury you!” and campus crusades ending in pools of blood.

In Franco’s Spain, however, the armed civil guard stood sentry on every street … ready to shoot first and (not) ask questions later. Especially when it came to students—university students—who were considered radical rabble-rousers causing trouble.

Young and old, many of us took up the arts for solace—playing music, painting, writing—to quell the anguish in our souls.

Some 50 years ago, I worried these words out in Spanish:

O, mi dolorosa verdad que evade los ojos …

Te buscaba entre las espinas de la vida.

¿Es que has muerto en un siglo cortísimo?

O, que, ya vives,

pudriéndote cada dia?

Roughly translated, my words mourned about the search for a painful and elusive truth, asking if it had died in a short, bygone era … or whether it still lived, albeit diseased and decaying, every day.

I think of my Spanish poem often these days.

Somehow, it seems even more relevant now than then.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

What’s Not to 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 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 these 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 may consider 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 just don’t get.

So, here’s my list of what irks me in Iberia …

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? Included in this category also are heavy-duty smokers. While smoking is on the way out in many countries, it still is quite common in Portugal. If you’re coming from the USA, especially, smokers in Portugal can be very shocking. There’s no stigma attached to the unhealthy habit here.

Bureaucracy. Yeah, it’s here … and lots of it. More often than not, however, is that you never really know which form you need (or forgot to bring) and whom is the person to speak to when trying to resolve or work something out. Portuguese people tend to be friendly and, after giving you their once-over look, they’re helpful … if not happy. Despite the hoops you may have to jump through over and again — often because things are done one way in this region and another in that, while the letter of the law is interpreted differently depending upon where you are — it helps to remind yourself of how efficient transactions are with the Multibanco, how practical using the Finanças portal online is, how prudent ways exist for consumers to resolve complaints apart from suing those we believe have wronged us.

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 provide benefits (like discounts on petrol and limited health care insurance) and don’t compare with the €45-90 per quarter some Spanish banks charge to non-residents … even if you own property there!

Climate Most people associate Portugal with beaches and sunshine. Yet Portugal can be cold and damp in the winter–especially along the Atlantic coastline and north of Porto. Portugal is a long country and regions like the Algarve and Alentejo have different climates. For that matter, you can drive just ten or fifteen minutes and find yourself surrounded by completely different weather. That’s outside, of course. Inside the house is another matter entirely. Slippery cobblestone streets are very pretty — some with really cool designs — but be very careful: they’re quite slippery and dangerous when wet. (From the cobblestoned and hilly streets in the big cities to unpaved paths in the countryside and lots of sandy walkways along the coast, wearing proper shoes is a must. By all means, bring your heels too, but walking shoes will be much more useful.)

Cost of living Inflation has hit Portugal, just as it has other places worldwide. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for many Portuguese people to afford the cost of living in places like Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve … along with their suburban towns and villages. No matter where you live, however, electricity, petrol, and propane (or butane) are more costly in Portugal. Per kilowatt, Portugal is one of the most expensive countries in Europe. It’s one of the most expensive countries for taxes and fuel, which leads to a lot of people who live near the Spanish border driving across the border to fill up. (Guilty!) Other items that, at least, seem expensive here are cars, furniture, appliances, and international brands. And although you’ll sit down at a restaurant table laden with bread, butter, and cheese, some eateries will charge you for it … unless you don’t eat any. Soon enough, they’ll take these niceties away.

Customs and Deliveries The challenge of getting things delivered — albeit an online purchase, a package or letter from overseas — is a constant complaint among expats and immigrants. It’s something frustrating that you never get used to (but a small price to pay for what you get in return). CTT, the public postal service, receives more complaints than any other “service.” As for customs, the fees charged for anything imported from outside the EU are so high that it’s not unusual for import charges (taxes) to equal the value of the product purchased (or gifted) and sometimes much more. Even gifts clearly handmade by family members abroad are stopped, searched, valued at more than they could ever be sold for, and slapped with stiff import charges. And, even if you agree to pay these charges or they have been prepaid, it can take weeks — and even months — to get your deliveries released from Portuguese customs.

Domestic animals Many of us love dogs and cats. Except when we step in their discharges. Poop in the streets is the most common problem, followed by noise. Dogs barking through the night can be an issue in the countryside, as well as in residential areas, where it’s not unusual for people to leave their dogs on their apartment balconies or chained up somewhere outside.

Employment Portugal traditionally attracts older expats, especially retirees. There’s a reason for that: People don’t usually come to Portugal to work; salaries are low even by European standards … and there are only a limited number of job opportunities here. The good news is that, even though salaries are still a long way from catching up with other western European countries, there are an increasing number of jobs in Portugal. Many people are bringing work with them — whether digital nomads or working remotely for clients outside of Portugal — and young or middle-aged foreigners are cultivating the land and selling its produce or starting a growing business of their own: food-related or beauty salons.

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. Portuguese houses can be extremely cold in the winter, as most properties don’t have central heating (or, sometimes, heating of any kind), so you may find yourself bundling up, layering, and wearing gloves inside in an attempt to keep warm. That’s not an exaggeration! Of course, you can find warm properties–especially newer builds and houses with insulation and central heating within central cities. If there’s any prejudice or distinction at all among the Portuguese, it’s based on where one lives: in the city or the “campo.”

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. Whether it’s people flashing their lights because they’re desperate to overtake, driving under the influence, or leaving a few millimeters when parking between their vehicle and another, driving in Portugal is über frustrating. Signal indicators are rarely used, touch parking is common in the cities, and everywhere in Portugal people often park — our double-park — diagonally across two or three spaces. 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! (Update: We found a vacuum cleaner that really works! It’s the Amazon Basics – [AB500] 3L 700W Bagless High Efficiency Motor Upright Vacuum Cleaner with 2 Dust Filters. But, of course, this heavy-duty appliance — for which we paid about 139€ including shipping — is “temporarily” out of stock.) 

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.

Ironically, my good list about Portugal is much, much longer … but can be summarized in a single paragraph, stringing words working together. We love Portugal because of its friendly people accepting of foreigners. Its diverse landscapes with a variety of climates, scenery, and topography. “Temperate” weather. Abundant arts and architecture. Safety and security. Quality of life . Strong expat/immigrant communities throughout the country. Fairy tale towns and villages. And, definitely, among the best bakeries and pastry shops in the world.

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 this communal balm.

I’ll end this soliloquy where I began, repeating that—despite these minor challenges 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 … like, “Go back to your country!”

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.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

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).

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 are 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.


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 in local elections.


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.

Trumpism had yet to transcend the 45th president of the USA; but we saw the handwriting on the wall. The Republican Party no longer was the GOP, standing for small government and fiscal restraint. Increasingly, “regular” Americans were exhibiting hatred, vitriol, and self-serving prejudice, encouraged by the cartoonish candidate. Donald Trump was inaugurated on 20 January 2017; we left the USA with no plans to return two months later.

Despite owning a vacation bolt in Andalucía, Spain, for 15 years, Portugal beckoned and was more welcoming … in every sense of the word.


Economically, Portugal is poor, at least compared to the competition. The national minimum wage jumped this year by 6%, going from its steadfast €775.83 per month to €822.50 per month. Yearly, that amounts to US $9,052 (“international currency”), with an average hourly rate of sixteen euros.


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.

It doesn’t take much (again, compared to other EU countries) to be granted a visa followed by legal and tax residency in Portugal. Doing all your homework correctly — being sure to cross every “t” and dot every “i” — will prepare most everyone for dealing with Portugal’s notorious bureaucracy. Forget to bring a document, legal identification, a signature required somewhere, and you’ll be sent to “jail” without passing “Go” and collecting your $200.


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. Back in the USA — before relocating to Portugal — he worked as a university professor, church pastor, public relations executive, book and magazine publisher.

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.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

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.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.