Selling Portugal

First and foremost, let me say that we love Portugal … despite its quirks and eccentricities. There is nowhere else we would want to live, except for our periodic vacations at our pied a terre in Olvera, Spain.

It’s been five years now that we’ve been living in Portugal. Though Portugal hadn’t been on our radar — we´d had a vacation bolt in Spain for 15 years — friends who lived near us in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, urged us to consider the little country between Spain and the Atlantic Ocean where they had bought some property in Alpedrinha, a charming village between Castelo Branco and Fundão.

Why Portugal and not Spain?

As non-EU nationals, the bottom line for us was this: Portugal wanted us and did everything possible to make our residency there easier; Spain didn’t.

Over these years, we’ve seen a lot of hype and disinformation spread about Portugal. For us and many others, it’s a great place to live. But too many people get caught up in all the hype and the hoopla: How many different media and magazines have decreed that Portugal is the top place to be … to visit … to live … to retire?

Do you have any idea how many Americans from the USA (alone) are moving to Portugal in increasing numbers?

Enough to command cover and feature stories from Condé Nast TravelerPolíticoThe Los Angeles TimesCNN, and many others.

Why all the hype and hoopla about this tiny, westernmost European nation?

Lots of reasons … including the selling of Portugal.

“Portugal is a good country to live in,” reports the Goa Spotlight newspaper. “Security, the friendliness of the people, the open and tolerant culture, education, among many other aspects, are factors that lead Brazilians to seek out the country. However, promises of an El Dourado, designed by youtubers from Brazil, are bringing people from the other side of the Atlantic in search of a reality that does not exist.”

The reality of Portugal is framed by what happens on the planet. The war continues to leave its marks on post-pandemic growth, and the economic recession threatens, above all, those who cannot extend what they earn at the end of the month.

In addition, with rents rising – last year they rose by an average of 37%, with the energy bill rising, gas, water, food and transport at more expensive prices, it’s complicated for anyone looking for a better life easier, or at least with surmountable challenges, in Portugal.

Truth be told, Portugal is being oversold.

I suspect that many professionals who can’t find appropriate work (and pay) in the country are pumping up the rhetoric and joining the bandwagon of those selling Portugal. Grocers specializing in food products generally hard to find are shipping them to your doorstep in Portugal. Therapists are dealing with post-expatric syndrome and a host of other unsettling behaviors. Lawyers are catering to the big slice of business that comprises the market of people needing NIFs, bank accounts, and houses. Property agencies are a dime a dozen. Relocation experts promise to facilitate the transition. Packed tighter than sardines in a tin are webinars, blogs, vlogs, and YouTube channels catering to expats, immigrants, and foreigners. We have countless scores of people and groups teaching Portuguese in a variety of formats. Others are arranging round-trip scouting trips to the destination(s) of client interest(s), as well as charter flights bringing people and their pets to Portugal. Customized trips and tours are at your disposal, as are money lenders and currency brokers. Portugal itself is subsidizing numerous public relations undertakings that lure people — as tourists, travelers, and residents — to its land of the fado and saudade.

And, yes, some of them advertise in Portugal Living Magazine. (Think of us as a Portuguese Robin Hood–charging advertisers so we can provide free subscriptions to readers!)

Still, there’s a point to be realistic and not conjure up expectations of cobble stone streets with porto flowing freely. It just doesn’t work that way.

“The sales gimmick of Portugal having the best beaches in Europe, the warm weather, low cost of living, and hospitable people was charming and very appealing. However, as reality set in, I discovered a different picture–more of a western country being operated as a third world country, or an eastern bloc bureaucratic central system,” one critic said.

This particular person itemized his disappointments with and complaints about Portugal:

Regarding responsibility: The irresponsible behavior of the Portuguese citizens exacerbated the (Covid lock-down) problem. For example, the Portuguese government imposed a travel restriction over the 2021 Easter Weekend, so 50% of the country (5 million residents) traveled to the Algarve a day before the travel restriction started to go to the beach, only to spike the covid-19 numbers with this super spreader practice. So, Portugal went from easing the restriction phases of Mar/Apr/May to a delayed roll-out easing rules for Aug/Sep/October plan, with no consequences to law breakers.

Regarding taxes: The Non-Habitual Resident tax system for expats went from 0% to 10% overnight, with the stroke of a pin starting from 31 Mar 2020. Also, that NHR expires after 10 years, leaving expats’ pensions at the mercy of the Portuguese income tax brackets of 14.5%-48%. Another thing that I didn’t learn till later was the effect of obtaining Portuguese citizenship on tax exempt pensions under the current 1994 tax treaty with the US, where federal pensions (from Fed, State, and local governments) would be subject to Portuguese income taxes once the recipient is both a resident and a citizen of Portugal. Thus requiring the recipient to stay under the 183 days per year to avoid being a tax resident, provided that the expat’s primary residence was not considered by Finanças as being in Portugal, a big grey-area open to interpretation, especially if you own a property in Portugal!

Regarding the cost of living: While in general the cost of living in Portugal is lower than most places in the USA, some things just aren’t that much cheaper in Portugal. Many posts rant about how cheap the food is here, where lunch shouldn’t exceed 10 Euros, and dinners shouldn’t exceed 20 Euros, and never tip more than one euro. Well no one tells you that locals have two menus, where an Algarve restaurant owner emailed me his Portuguese patrons’ local-priced menu, but handed his walk-in customers the overpriced touristy priced menu. I ordered a breakfast cheese omelet, a coffee, bread, and water, for which I was charged 17 Euros! The concept of exploiting your expat residents is appalling to me. The grocery stores are not cheap, and are comparable to USA prices, unless you elect to forfeit all “luxury” foods and brands you’ve grown accustomed to back home. Residential electricity cost in PT is 211.4% of that in the USA. The average price a residential customer in the United States pays for electricity is $0.149 per kWh, where in Portugal the average residential rate [with the 23%IVA tax] is 0.262 Euro per kWh ($0.315 per kWh). The gasoline price in PT is 228% of that in the USA: The average price of gasoline in the United States is $3.043 per gallon, where in Portugal the average price of gas is $6.95 (1.527€ per Liter/5.78 per gallon). Even though renting can be affordable in Portugal, the entire Algarve region spikes rents to three or four folds in the tourist season month’s May through September, asking their tenants to pay up or evict them, resulting in the entire expat population in the Algarve desperately pleading for accommodations on expat groups. Cars cost at least twice as much as they are in the USA, simply because of the outrageous taxes imposed on imported cars and the added VAT and road taxes. Used cars are unreliable and are triple and quadruple what a reasonably priced used car should comparably cost in the USA.

(Note: I disagree with several of the points the writer made above. For one, the price of electricity. Numbers can be tricky and used every which way to justify a point. Personally, we have lived from Florida to Wisconsin and places in between, where our typical monthly electric bills were U.S. $300-500. In Portugal, we’re paying €125 on average for two separate properties with aircons, washers, dryers, dehumidifiers, and hot water heaters in use. Our Internet “package” — including a fixed line telephone, a mobile phone with more minutes and data that we’ll ever use, over 100 channels — more with a “Smart” TV — and high-speed broadband is 70€ per month. Compare that to Comcast! And property taxes? For us in the USA, it was well over $3,000 per year vs. €125 in Portugal. All things considered, our cost of living is covered by my monthly Social Security payments–about US $2,000.)

Regarding health care: Everyone touts the great prices of medical care in Portugal. That may be true in emergency medicine (life, limb, or eye sight), which one could very well require if you drive enough in this country, being cut off around every corner at high speeds for no apparent reason. However the public health system is grossly inadequately equipped and understaffed, where my diabetic expat neighbor is waiting over three months to get his eye exam scheduled. I attempted to schedule an appointment with a public clinic doctor to no avail for eight months now; every time I go to the clinic they say it’s not possible or no doctors available in the next month, and refuse to schedule future appointments that are beyond a 30-day window. The fact is that the public health doctors in Portugal moonlight at private clinics during the tourist season for more income, and their staff at the public clinics cover for them. 

(Note: Free, national health care plans — from Canada to the UK and beyond — suffer similar problems. Voilà: enter another money-making service catering to confused and frustrated foreigners in Portugal–the health concierge, whose team helps you navigate the system, make appointments with doctors and dentists, and resolve any concerns you may have. All for a fee, of course. On the other hand, private health insurance is a bargain in Portugal. My partner, 59, and I, 73, together are paying €2,000 for the most comprehensive coverage we’ve had anywhere … and it includes all of Iberia, Spain as well as Portugal.)

Like everywhere these days, Portugal — and the European Union — has its share of liberals and alt-righters. There are robberies, both burglaries and advantage-taking. Not everyone is nice–some people are downright nasty. Fuel is more expensive here, at least three times its cost in the USA. It gets bone-chilling cold all over the country, a different type of cold that we’ve not experienced elsewhere. There’s mold and bugs and flies and creepy crawlers. And lots of houses that continue to be inhabited since they were built (and hardly upgraded) in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Yes, there are some people who have different attitudes about domestic pets than we do. We cringe when we hear of their abuse and abandonment. They may cringe when they see us treating our dogs and cats as children, rather than pets. But, increasingly, I see Portuguese people walking their dogs on leads, picking up after them, buying specialty foods at upscale pet shops, and taking their “familiars” to the vet to be diagnosed, treated, and inoculated.

My friend João (don’t we all have at least one?), whom I respect immensely, responded to a litany of complaints about living in Portugal with these words:

“We describe things as we are, not as they are. As objective as one can be, the overall joy of living in one place cannot be calculated from some parameters on a bullet list. I must say that as a former expat myself, what some considered negative points were truly the things that made me happy. Take into consideration that the grass is always greener … and there will always be people (seeking to) overrate their products–countries included.”

One of the questions asked of would-be members to the largest Facebook group for expats, immigrants, and others interested in moving to Portugal is “What do you like most about Portugal?” By far, the majority of those answering say “Everything!”

Give me a break, please. Most of them have yet to set foot in the country, but they already know that they like everything about Portugal. Yeah, right.

A friend, Rudi, posted this on her Facebook feed today: “I love my little village. I spent this morning emailing and calling four companies to ask if they could send me an invoice for work they had done at my place and materials they had delivered. After four texts from me, the wood guy finally did send me an invoice for wood he delivered the first week of October. I don’t think I ever before had to beg to pay my bills.

That’s the paradox of Portugal.

For some reason, I’m reminded of these lyrics from Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi: “They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.”

Those who come to Portugal because they’ve been sold on it being paradise are in for some surprises and reality checks. But just what is “paradise,” anyway? One person’s paradise may put another in the doldrums.

For us, it’s living in peace–safely and securely. It’s having a diverse group of multi-lingual friends who enjoy being together. It’s marveling at the splendors of the world within driving distance. It’s integrating to the culture rather than making it subordinate to ours.

We experience that in Portugal.

“At the end it’s a wonderful country to experience but it’s not paradise,” commented Jon Collier in a post. “That’s a place you create in your heart.”

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine, the “thoughtful magazine for people everywhere with Portugal on their minds.” To read the current issue and subscribe — free of charge! — please visit https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue/

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Masquerade

I found myself thinking about masks today.

Some people continue to wear them when out walking, shopping, even driving in their cars.

Most people no longer wear them, except where it’s obrigatorio–in pharmacies, health centers, and other such places.

Others should — but don’t — wear them. Like the waitress in the restaurant we ate at on Saturday. Her cough was continuous. Not the dry, hacking kind … nor the wet, sneezing kind that’s symptomatic of colds or the flu with phlegm. Hers was an incessant cough, like something scratching relentlessly at her throat. When she didn’t have anything in her hands — a plate of food, a pitcher of wine, a menu — she’d cough into her hands. Not once did she wash her hands while working or waiting on customers.

“Deves chevar uma máscara,” I told her in my best Portuguese while she stood over our table taking our order. Não, she shook her head. She’d have nothing to do with wearing a mask. Except for her father (maybe her husband?), nobody else was handling the food. And he was too busy moving ice cream around in the freezer to notice or be bothered about the need for good hygiene–especially around food.

Even during the height of the pandemic, most people in Portugal understood the need to wear masks to protect themselves as well as others. It didn’t require a government mandate (although one was issued), nor was it a matter of government interference, intervention, and/or disinformation. Certainly, there were those who believed in government conspiracies and refused to wear masks. But they were few and far between. The same could be said for Spain, where the protective face shields are called mascarillas instead of máscaras.

While there was some grumbling at times, mask-wearing never became the cause celébre provoking country-wide revolutions and demonstrations as has women not wearing face covering hijabs in Muslim countries–especially the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nor was mask wearing (or not) the divisive political issue at rallies and riots in the USA (and elsewhere).

Today when I see people wearing masks, I assume it’s because of common sense: people caring for themselves and others. Although their facial apparel makes them stand out in the crowds, I respect them for going against the grain and taking care.

Russ and I suffered through bad colds, or maybe the flu, for two weeks recently. When not bedridden or staying inside, we wore masks. In the supermarkets. In shops. On the streets.

As Covid restrictions and travel advisories become realities again, mainly because of China’s international travel while cases of this plague-like virus and its variants are surging, it’s well worth remembering that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

When in doubt, wear a mask.

There’s no law requiring you to do so … but there’s no law saying you shouldn’t.

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine, the thoughtful magazine for people everywhere with Portugal on their minds. To read current and past issues … and subscribe — free! — visit https://portugallivingmagazine.com.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Spanish Towns, Portuguese Villages:

Some (Not So) Subtle Differences

After owning a vacation home in southern Spain for 15 years and two properties in Portugal for five, we’ve started to notice and track a variety of not so subtle lifestyle differences between the two countries.

When or if comparing your experiences with ours, please bear in mind that we live in towns and villages – not coastal cities – where our neighbors are natives, and many don’t speak English. We’re comparing typical suburban standing, not urban ubiquities, between the two countries.

For example, shopping centers and supermarkets are closed on Sundays (and holidays) in Spain; they’re open in Portugal. For the most part.

With every purchase made in Portugal, merchants are required by law to ask for your fiscal number (NIF in Portugal, NIE in Spain). It’s your choice whether to give it. But if you do provide the number, merchants report the transaction – and the taxes you paid – to Finanças and you’re automatically credited for these tax payments against your annual income taxes. For whatever reason, we’ve never been asked for a fiscal number in Spain. Perhaps, Portugal’s central accounting system is more sophisticated than Spain’s … or maybe Spain simply doesn’t tabulate taxes paid on purchases to offset one’s annual income tax liability.

Trash in most Spanish towns is picked up daily – seven days per week, including holidays – by garbage trucks with door-to-door service. Residents hang their bags of trash on nearby railings or set them out against convenient spaces nearby. A recycling center is centrally located, although there may be a few bins scattered throughout the area for the purpose. In Portugal, however, people take their garbage to trash and recycling bins conveniently grouped together and located every few blocks. Large items – furniture, major appliances, etc. – are collected in both countries by calling and scheduling the pickup.

IVA is 21% in Spain and 23% in Portugal.

The Spanish might assume that all Portuguese women — except for children — are married, as there are no “señoritas” in Portugal. Just senhoras.

Speaking of which, there’s no such thing as gender neutrality in Portuguese or Spanish. Everything that’s named must either be masculine or feminine. Except, sometimes, the two countries and their respective languages can’t agree on the gender. Take “Christmas,” for example. The Spanish call it female (la Navidad), while the Portuguese think of it as male (o Natal).

Houses are comparable in cost in both countries.

Nevertheless, property purchase costs (taxes, stamps, legal and notary services, other fees) are far lower in Portugal—especially on a primary residence costing less than €100,000. Depending on location, figure between 10-14% on top of the purchase price in Spain v. perhaps 1% in Portugal. That’s because the transfer tax in Spain on such properties varies between 6% and 13%, while the same tax in Portugal is a meager 0.1%.

Drying laundry is another matter. In Portugal, all sorts of rack contraptions are used to hang drying clothes from windows, terraces, and balconies. It remains a mystery to me where the Spaniards hang theirs.

Spain, even in rural areas, is much louder, longer … and later. Portuguese people tend to hold their peace and tranquility much longer.

The spirit of Spain is expressed in its flamenco; the soul of Portugal in its fado.

Parking your money in traditional, brick-and-mortar banks – even those with online banking – is a losing proposition in both countries. Portugal charges between four and six euros each month (Montepio and Millenium) per account, while Spain charges many accountholders €45 per quarter (€180 per year). All for the privilege of using our money to invest in the bank’s profitability.

Petrol (gasoline, diesel, LPG) has historically been cheaper in Spain than Portugal. Not so anymore. Portugal is giving Spain a run for its money at the fuel pump, although canisters of propane and butane continue to cost far less in Spain.

Electrodomésticos – especially large screen “smart” TVs – are far more expensive in Spain than Portugal. Take, for example, this 43-inch, 2022 LG Smart TV: It’s advertised at a “promotional price” of €449 at “Electrochollo,” a chain of discount appliance stores throughout Spain. The same unit and model at Worten throughout Portugal, however, costs just €299.99. Even the ads are the same. The same holds true for many other major appliances—washing machines, cookers and hobs, frost-free refrigerators and freezers, even computers and peripherals. I guess it has something to do with the market: Spaniards typically earn more than the Portuguese; Portuguese are poorer than Spaniards.

Maybe it’s the electricity—which also is somewhat higher in Spain?

Curiously, despite Portugal’s pharmaceutical subsidies, Spain is far cheaper when it comes to over-the-counter drugs (not prescriptions). “Baby” aspirin (90 or 100 mgs) for the heart, anti-fungal cream, and pills to fight the allergies in the air everywhere here, cost less than ten euros combined in Spain vs. 25 in Portugal.

For those who savor haute cuisine, for the most part Spanish food is better than Portuguese. I know, I know: all those articles raving about how delicious the food – especially fish and other concoctions – are in Portugal. Perhaps that’s true if you don’t know what you’re eating or see pictures of it in supermarket flyers.

Disculpa, Portugal, but Spanish food looks and tastes better. A lot of credit for that goes to its small plated “tapas” served with bread, plastic packages of crackers, and olives (or, sometimes, peanuts) … all included for €2.50-€3.50 per dish. Add another euro for a large pour of tinto and two people can share a variety of food – croquetas, chicken, meat, fish – for less than fifteen euros, including salad and crisps (fries) that come with the “meal.”

But the bread …

Spanish bread cannot compete with its Portuguese cousins. Dry, tasteless, starchy, and bland, the best that can be said about it is “blah.” For its part, Portuguese bread tends to be hard crusted but moist and flavorful inside, luscious when served warm. The same holds true for pastries and desserts: The sheer variety of sweets in Portugal is mind-blowing, loaded with creams, and succulent—a delicious and delightful way to end a meal. Except for its flan, perhaps, the best to be said about pasties in Spanish towns and villages is “blah” … they’re just not finger-licking good.

I’ve often told friends (so it’s no longer funny) that when my time comes, I don’t want funebre faces or empathetic eulogies. Instead, rent a Portuguese pastelaria and enjoy remembering me for my sweet tooth.

Rather than end this epistle on a morbid note, I share this curious beginning of the most commonplace greetings in Spanish towns and Portuguese villages: Why is it that the Portuguese greet us in the singular: bom dia … boa tarde … boa noite, while the Spanish express such pleasantries in the plural: buenos días, buenas tardes, buenas noches?

Is there something they know that we don’t?

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine, the award-winning thoughtful magazine for people everywhere with Portugal on their minds. He and his partner divide their time between homes in Spanish towns and Portuguese villages—and vice-versa. Read the current issue of Portugal Living Magazine online and subscribe – FREE! – at https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue/

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

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.