A Bellísima

Whether expat or immigrant – however you see yourself as an English-speaking “foreigner” in a new country and culture – you’re fortunate if you have a local, native friend (or more). Not necessarily a neighbor. Nor a merchant, contractor, or service provider.

I’m referring to someone who truly cares for and about you, looking out for your welfare and “sponsoring” you, without ulterior motives or a hidden agenda. A person who enjoys spending time with you and is helpful when it comes to navigating the ins and outs of the country’s ways and means. He or she is happy to assist in your assimilation, as well as to help with the intricacies of a new language and its usage. Such a friend shares meals, coffee, wine or beer when you’re out together … and may actually feel comfortable passing the threshold of your house to join you in the kitchen, dining room, and the sala.

Sounds simple and convenient, easy enough to arrange?

Think again.

Despite their inherent goodness and welcoming nature, the Portuguese and the Spanish tend to be rather private people. A “bom dia” and “buenas tardes” shared while walking in the street or a passing wave from the car are appropriate as neighbors; but associations more intimate than acquaintances need time to cultivate, which isn’t easy when coming from a different culture and speaking another language. As anywhere, they often are the province of longtime companions.

We have been truly fortunate – blessed, if you will – to have developed and cultivated a friendship with two very special Portuguese people: Olga and Alex: our advisers, advocates and personal ambassadors.

Outgoing and personable, Olga “friended” us on Facebook while we lived in the USA, before moving to her village in Portugal. She’d heard we had planned to open a snack bar, “Tapas Americanas,” in Lousa and shared that information liberally with her village.

Our Facebook page soon had plenty of attention.

It was on this Facebook page that Olga contacted us to inform us that contractors working on our house had inadvertently left the outside doors of our living room unlatched. With heavy winds and rains, there was danger of more than water damage.“But we are here in the USA now, thousands of miles away,” I groaned. “What can we possibly do?”

Olga went into action, sending an “SOS” to everyone in our new town. More than a few people offered to help, but it was Alex (according to Facebook, she’s “in a relationship” with him), who did the dirty work … driving over with a large ladder, climbing onto the balcony buttressing the living room doors, entering the room and securing the doors. Olga messaged us his every step, letting us know in the end that our front door was locked from the inside and Alex couldn’t get out. He had to leave as he came in, off the balcony and down the ladder, shutting the doors tightly behind him.

An artist in every sense of the word, Olga was born in the small village next to ours, but spent part of her childhood in Paris, where she learned French. Returning to Portugal, her family settled in the village where we now live. As with many of her contemporaries who live close to the Spanish border, Olga learned Spanish by watching the TV.

“We had two stations, channels, here in Portugal,” she explains. “With antennas, we could watch more than 40 from Spain: cooking shows, telenovelas (soaps), game shows, and movies made in other countries but then dubbed in Spanish. That’s how we learned to speak and understand Spanish!”

Realizing the shortcomings and awkwardness of Google Translate’s (Brazilian) Portuguese, I communicated with Olga in Spanish and body language, augmented by my expanding Portuguese vocabulary … grateful for her positivism and patience with my pronunciation.

“Veeeeeeeeeee … nyo,” she’d say, holding up a glass of tinto and biting gently on her lower lip, correcting my Spanish tendency to pronounce it “Bean-o” (of course she’ll insist that she said “viiiiiiiii … nyo”).

“Peace and love,” she maintains. “Live and let live,” best summarize her religious views. No longer a practicing Catholic, she still enjoys the intrinsic beauty of some of its rituals, pageants and processions.

Olga loves the heat and dislikes air conditioning … rain, in its season, is just fine with her. As are all creatures great and small—from bees to bulls and everything in between. She embraces life whole-heartedly and loves all living things—even insects and rodents.

“Sou como sou …”I am what I am, she admits. Dozens of previously homeless dogs and cats call her quinta home, along with a gang of geese.

“Salt of the earth,” we say in English about unpretentious people to whom goodness is natural. Olga and Alex personify these qualities.

As Alex does the cooking and Olga the dishes, I wouldn’t be surprised, though, to learn that someone’s goose had been cooked for dinner.

“I hate those geese,” says Alex, complaining about their honking noise and nasty attitude towards him. “They bite!”

He’s the one who first dubbed her “A Bellísima,” a tongue-in-cheek term of endearment used much the way we Americans affectionately call someone a “princess.” Loosely translated, it means “The Truly Beautiful One.”

And that she is!

Olga works for the government, in another cámara (not ours) where she makes the hour-long drive each way daily. She earns 730 euros per month, slightly more than the minimum wage, even though she’s earned a promotion and worked there since nineteen-years-old.

“O governo congelou as nossas carreiras desde que entrámos em crise,” she explains, noting that the government had frozen salaries since the financial “crisis” (in 2008)… until recently.

“After all the accounting, I was left with another five euros—a fortune,” she laughs. “I don’t even know where to spend all that money!”

Knowing her, it will probably be donated to an animal welfare group.

Or, to another cause about which she is devoted.

I hope each of you has a special “bellísima” in your life!

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

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Date Night Duos

I vividly remember our first date night since moving to Portugal.

Of course, this was before Covid-19 intruded on our lives–creating lockdowns and curfews, masks and social distancing. We’ve yet to see if the virus has killed the cinema.

Still, oh, the delicious irony of it all that night:

Together with a (Portuguese) couple watching a top-rated, first-run, American-produced movie based on a Swedish pop group, comfortably seated in a climate-controlled cinema in Portugal … listening to dialogue and music in English, while watching subtitles roll by in Portuguese … and understanding enough of the two languages to consider the accuracy and quality of the translation. Without missing a beat!

But, first, enjoying food from a variety of vendors.

It’s called “Cinema + Jantar” here at the Allegro shopping mall in Castelo Branco. Between Sunday and Thursday, it costs only nine euros per person for the movie and the meal. That’s just about US $10.

Throughout Portugal, restaurants and cinemas in shopping centers are teaming up to offer special deals like this.

It’s a win-win for all!

Where and when can one “normally” see a newly released movie in the USA for less than ten dollars (except for specific senior citizen show times and/or intervals when the theater is otherwise vacant)?

Whoever wrote the advertising copy for this film-and-fest could have worked at my public relations and marketing firm:

“Onde alguns ouvem Cinema e Jantar, outros ouvem encontro romántico, saída com os amigos, ou tempo a sós. A verdade é que ninguém quer ser a pessoa com a barriga a dar horas no momento mais tenso do filme.”

Rough translation: “Where some like the idea of a Movie and a Meal, others are enticed by a romantic encounter, going out with friends, or spending quality time by oneself. The truth is, no one wants to be the one with the grumbling tummy at the most inopportune moments of the film.”

(What’s isn’t mentioned is theseven-minute intermission during the film when you can get something to eat or take care of business, whatever it is …)

Regarding the sponsors:

Four different restaurants – each with great food – have had prime roles in the dining experience: a pizza parlor, barbecue den, hamburger haven, and “piglet border” (leitão beirão)—which is why we never should fully trust Google to handle our translations correctly. At each eating place, choose a main course, side dish, and a beverage.

Between us, we enjoyed some of the best burgers in town, pork bbq sandwiches, and a pretty darned good pizza loaded with lots of fixings. The sides – hand-cup potato chips – weren’t the greatest, but none of us were disappointed with our beer or wine … until our female friend gave me that evening’s Portuguese lesson, correcting my pronunciation of the word for wine (vinho):

“It’s VEE-N-YO,” she demonstrated, upper teeth deliberately touching her lower lip, to correct my hitherto Spanish pronunciation of the word (vino): “BEE-NO,” lips vibrating, but teeth never touching the lip.

Back to the show:

We saw Mama Mia II (Here We Go Again), which was wonderful … despite my frustration that nobody (except me) stood up to sway and swing and clap along with the music. The Portuguese, at least those attending that performance of the show, were much more constrained and sedate—although an elderly couple sitting opposite us sort of-kind of waved their arms in the air.

Showcasing a vintage Cher and Meryl Streep, the prequel-sequel movie ended with us in joyful tears, a moment blissful grace.

Words from the sponsors?

“Let yourself be swept away by the flavors and the plot.”

Climax and conclusion:

“There are happy endings that cost only € 9.”

Exit, stage left. And roll the credits …

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

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Ten Must-Take Items to Pack before Leaving the USA for Iberia

Relocating from the United States to the European Union? Especially Spain or Portugal?

Then consider the items listed below as invaluable traveling companions.

Much back-and-forth already has been written about whether to ship furniture, cars, appliances, artwork, keepsakes, and even clothing from one continent to the other. Ultimately, that’s a personal choice you’ll have to make yourself.

But, bear this in mind:

Once you decide to ship this piece of furniture or that collection of vinyl records, this set of family heirloom dinnerware or (only) all that artwork, their shipping cost can be less to rent an entire 8 X 8 X 20 container than to divvy your stuff, sharing someone else’s container. All things considered, it costs about five thousand dollars ($5,000) to ship that container from the USA to the EU. Prices do fluctuate, so it might cost a bit less … or a bit more.

Nonetheless, that’s not the purpose of my message here. If you want more information about international shipping, please read about our experiences in my post, “A Moving Experience.”

What I want to share with you, instead, are a list of ten little items that you may never have thought about or considered when planning what to pack for your bon voyage. Yet each can make a big difference to your lifestyle once you get here. Why bring them? Because, either they’re not available (i.e., readily accessible) here. Or, the price you’d pay for them is well beyond their prices in Yankeeville. So, sooner or later, you’ll find yourself asking people you know who are traveling this way, west to east, to bring back some of this and a little of that.

Ready to scribble some notes? Here’s my list.

(1) Eye drops like Visine, ClearEyes, “Artificial Tears” or similar store brands for red, dry, and/or tired eyes. Ask for them at a local pharmacy (items like eye drops and aspirin are only sold in pharmacies here) and you’ll, no doubt, be given the local version of “Restasis,” which is prescribed for dry eyes, although no prescription is needed here for it. A drop (or two) in each eye produces an oily-like feeling that brings discomfort, rather than relief. Return to the pharmacy with the last bottle you brought from home and you’ll likely be greeted with a shake of the head by the pharmacist. Such miracle medicinals for allergies, tired, or over-stressed eyes aren’t available in Spain or Portugal. So, be sure to bring a few with you!

(2) Low-dose aspirin. You know that 81 mg or so “baby aspirin” that your doctor will likely recommend you take daily If you’ve had a heart attack or stroke–or have a high risk of one (unless you have a serious allergy or history of bleeding)? A small container of 120 or more sells at most USA pharmacies for under two dollars. In Spain or Portugal, however, you’ll pay the same price and more for a 30-day supply.

(3) Crushed red pepper and/or Tabasco sauce. Some like it hot! I’m one of them. Yet no amount of Piri-Piri can compare with those red hot pepper flakes or that patented flavor that heats up your cooking (and works great in Bloody Marys, as well)!

(4) Duplicate of your state driver’s license. In Portugal and Spain, you’re required to turn in your state driver’s license when exchanging it for one in your new country of residence. In other words, you lose your USA driver’s license. But, what happens when (or if) you return to the states for a visit, vacation, or emergency? You’ll face quite a hassle, as your Spanish or Portuguese license isn’t recognized. Best bet is to contact your state’s motor vehicle department (DMV) well before departing and request a duplicate copy. Just say you lost yours. Or whatever. Then, when you turn over your state driver’s license for a new one in Iberia, you’ll still have a copy or your original one.

(5) Authorized copy of your birth certificate. Of all the legal, apostilled documents we made sure to bring with us (plus made plenty of paper and digitized copies), somehow we forgot to bring our birth certificates. After all, it was never asked for when we applied for our immigration visas … when we appeared at SEF for our residency docs … when we went to Finanças for our NIFs and NHRs … or when we spent the better part of a day at IMT transferring our driver licenses. Who would have thought that Social Security would require a birth certificate? When registering with this service — at least in Portugal — you’re asked to provide (and prove!) your parents’ names, whether living or deceased. A birth certificate (yours) is suggested. If you think there’s a lot of bureaucracy in Portugal and Spain, try requesting and obtaining an apostilled copy of your birth certificate from abroad!

(6) Plastic lids for cans. Granted, you can always use aluminum foil or plastic wrap. But they’re just not the same as those ubiquitous, multi-color plastic lids that “seal in the freshness” of food once you’ve opened the can. Good luck trying to find any in Spain or Portugal. Not even the all-purpose Chinese bazaars (Portugal) or Moroccan markets (Spain) carry them. Bring three or four with you.

(7) List of all the medicines and prescriptions you take. This is an item for your to-do list. Sit down with all of the medicines — prescribed and over-the-counter — that you take. Copy their “generic” (chemical) names, dosage, and instructions for taking them. Not only will your doctor(s) in Spain or Portugal want to know this information as part of your medical and health history, but pharmacists unfamiliar with what something is named or branded in the USA can determine what the appropriate equivalent is here.

(8) English language computer keyboard. Whether connected to a desktop or laptop computer, the keyboards sold in Portugal and Spain have different characters, along with the standard QWERTY keys we’re accustomed to. Sometimes, they’re located in diffeent places; other times, a single key is the source for producing three or more different characters, not just upper and lower case. Sure, you can configure the computer’s system so that the keyboard acts as an English language one; what you see on the keyboard, however, can vary dramatically from what you get on your screen. Regardless of the computer (or pad), it will respond effortlessly to an English language keyboard.

(9) Genuine “Sharpies.” The markers sold here just don’t compare for clarity and precision; few, if any, are “permanent.” If you’re labeling a freezer back with its contents identified and dated, for instance, only a Sharpie won’t smear. For those Sharpie afficionados out there, pick up a pack and pack it in your m/purse, laptop carrying case, or luggage.

(10) “Liquid Nails.” Wimpy facsimiles are available, but none work nearly as well. When fixing a broken ceramic pot, affixing a knob to a door, or holding something firmly for a long time, there’s nothing like this product for strength and durability. The real McCoy is extremely hard to find in Spain and Portugal–even online, where not even Amazon sells it.

Dividing our time between Portugal and Spain after living full-time for three years in Europe, these are the curiosities and, perhaps, oddities that we wish we’d have brought with us.

Maybe you have others … items we’ve overlooked? Please share your list with us!

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

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Say It Ain’t So, Spain & Portugal

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

Image: Mamadou Ba

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ba, who heads the NGO SOS Racismo, agreed: “There has been an obvious escalation in violence – a clear result of the growth of far-right terrorism in Portugal over the past few years.” Last year, the Portuguese commission for equality and against discrimination received 436 complaints regarding cases of racism, an increase of 26% on 2018.

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

Government data show that crime in Portugal has actually decreased steadily by 20% over the past 12 years.

Racism. Hatred. White supremacy. Police brutality. Extremism. Prejudice. Discrimination.

People shout slogans during a demonstration called by SOS Racism organization under the slogan ‘Against institutional racism’ in Madrid, Spain.

All symptomatic of the so-called “alt-right.”

According to Wikipedia, alt-right is “an abbreviation of alternative right, a loosely connected far-right, white nationalist movement based in the United States.”

Except that the white nationalist movement is spreading.

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

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

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

Our status changed from expats to immigrants.

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

Until recently …

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

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

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

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

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

Earlier this year, protesters demonstrated against racism and fascism in Portugal, amid fears over the country’s far-right movement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Portugal so important as to deserve such strategic attention?


Portugal is vitally important because, from the point of view of the international far right, it is the weak link through which it can carry out its attack on the European Union. 

People like to imagine Spain as a liberal paradise with sun, sea, and sangría, but its racism continues to be an open secret, according to the Olive Press.

With approximately one million black people living in Spain, that represents about 2% of the population–much lower than the 13-14% of African-Americans in the USA. While chances of seeing acts of racism are less in Spain, entrenched racism is still very much real.

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

Image: La Sexta

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

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

• Just last year (2019), a Spanish Guardia Civil officer, who killed an innocent Moroccan man after veering him off the road and shooting him eleven times as he fled on foot because he was “convinced he was a terrorist,” had his sentence for the crime reduced;

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

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

Image: The Olive Press

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

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

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

People often ask us about homophobia: do we feel it or are we aware of it in either Spain or Portugal. Not really, I’d respond. Except for an elderly (90+) woman talking to her equally old widowed neighbor in Portugal referring to me with the word “maricon” because she didn’t know any better, we have never felt ridiculed or denigrated anywhere in Iberia. We’re accepted, just as we are.

Others, however, have had different experiences.

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

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

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

Image: The Olive Press

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

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

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

Of Europe’s ten most LGBTQ-friendly countries, according to ILGA-Europe’s 2020 ranking, Spain and Portugal rank sixth and seventh, respectively.

Lisbon Gay Pride

Lisbon Gay Pride, officially known as Arraial Lisboa Pride, is the largest LGBTQ event in Portugal. It’s an important event that aims to shine a light on the various issues of injustice that still affect the LGBTQ community. A much loved and celebrated event, it attracts huge crowds each year – with over 70,000 visitors attending in 2018. Since 1997, Lisbon’s Gay Pride has aimed to bring visibility to the ‘queer’ community. Pride is equal parts celebration and political demonstration of achieving equal rights for LGBTQ people.

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

The Jewish Museum of Belmonte, Portugal, houses an historic stone with this inscription.

Yet Portugal’s government found itself reconsidering the plan to change its ‘law of return’ for Jewish people. The ruling party of Portugal stepped back from an attempt to severely limit applications for citizenship from descendants of Sephardi Jews, a threatened move that Jewish leaders and organizations had charged was anti-Semitic. In mid-May, members of the Socialist Party submitted a draft amendment to change the 2015 law that grants citizenship to people who can prove they are descended from Jews whose families fled the Iberian Peninsula following the Inquisition, a 15th-century campaign of anti-Semitic persecution in Portugal and Spain. Under the proposed change, beginning in 2022, only people who had lived in Portugal for two years would be eligible for citizenship. This change would have sharply restricted the number of people who could apply. Currently, there are no requirements for applicants to live in Portugal or learn the language. Experts brought by the Socialist Party testified that within 100 years, a few thousand returning Jews could swell to 250,000 people and pose a demographic threat to Portugal’s identity.

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

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

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

Carnival float in the Spanish town of Campo de Criptana features uniforms of Nazis, concentration camp inmates, and crematoria trains, in February 2020.
Source: YouTube screenshot via JTA

This year feels different, say immigration lawyers and others who work in the cottage industry of Jews permanently crossing borders. Much of the drive to leave has to do with the prospect of President Trump winning reelection, potentially after a chaotic post-election period in which he or others dispute the results of the vote. American Jews, lawyers and advocates say, are also chilled by a climate of rising extremism and anti-Semitism, some of it stoked or condoned by the president.

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

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

Whether in the USA or Spain and Portugal, enough is enough is enough.

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

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Protesting the Status (Quo)

Across the United States – in Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; Kenosha, Wisconsin; Louisville, Kentucky; Baltimore, Maryland; New York City and Rochester, NY; Minneapolis, MN; Philadelphia, PA; California, Colorado, and elsewhere nationwide – people are protesting, calling for fairness, equality, and justice.

Mainly, they’re peacefully protesting systemic inequalities: racism, economic injustice, government inaction or overreach, lock-ups and lock-downs.

They can’t pay their rent or mortgages, forced to choose between putting food on the table or medicine in the mouths of their loved ones. They’re agonizing over the toll Coronavirus is taking personally and professionally. And they are unleashing their anger and frustrations on others.

Between April and May 1st this year, protests against government-imposed lockdowns in response to the Covid-19 pandemic led to demonstrations in more than half of the “United” States. Shortly thereafter, on June 6th, half a million people turned out in nearly 550 places across the USA for Black Lives Matter protests.

Mass shootings hit a record high last year (2019), violent hate crimes are on the rise, and police brutality continues, prompting increased polarization and protests.

Police – local, state, the National Guard and even the Border Control – are called in, often exacerbating the problems. Violence follows and incites more violence, as hateful White House rhetoric spurs outcries against what the president calls his “law-and-order” platform. The result, however, has been increased antagonism and turf-minding. Apart from verbal incriminations, weapons include gunfire and bullets, tear gas and other chemicals, buildings burned, blazing tempers and imported vigiliantes, vehicles battered and overturned. Lately, more than 104 separate vehicles have been plowing through crowds and injuring protestors.

The bottom line is that people – often neighbors, long-time friends, even family and churches – are taking sides and triggering showdowns, sometimes violently, against each other and the powers-that-be. You’re either with me or against me, depending on who you are voting for.

American citizens are trying to prevent other American citizens from voting. Not just trying to intimidate them into not voting, but physically trying to prevent them from doing so!

It increasingly feels like America is reaching a boiling point, more raging bonfire than flash in the pan. Already beset by a national recession and a deadly pandemic now surpassing 200,000 deaths, this week has stoked new fires, including a Supreme Court battle to fill the Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat, Trump refusing to promise a peaceful transfer of power, mass protests after police officers faced no charges in the death of Breonna Taylor, and the swirling of literal fire tornadoes out West, while hurricane after hurricane pulverize our Gulf Coast . As American anger heats up, it’s incumbent that we bring a fresh lens to its origins and the core beliefs it threatens to topple, along with ways we can work together to douse the flames.

“Enough!” people are pleading, if not demanding. “Fix the problems!”

Trouble is, just as the financial gap between the haves and have-nots is widening, so, too, is the economic crisis. Many of the problems are difficult (if not impossible) to fix, because they’re so deeply rooted and systemic, driven by centuries of loot and looters, masters and slaves, carpetbaggers and indentured servants, inbred privilege and attitudes, government for the people becoming self-serving government, plebians and plutocrats, myriad moguls for whom more and much more are never, ever, enough.

Financial necessity has forced suburban populations to head for inner city food banks and health care clinics … creating a foggy, finite understanding of the implications inherent to why Black Lives Matter.

According to the Institute for Policy Studies, U.S. billionaires gained $565 billion additional dollars since March 18th. At the same time, surging unemployment has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression.

Experts say the top 10% of households own more than 84% of stocks … so a rising market helps people who already are among the wealthiest in the nation. Analysts attribute this widening wealth gap to the stock market, while meager consumers suffer the effects at their local groceries and supermarkets.

If we have never seen such economic instability since the Great Depression, we haven’t seen such social distancing since the Civil War. Or climate change and pollution so quickly creating environmental consequences and our planet’s ability to sustain life.

How can we look at what’s happening before our very eyes and not realize that we’re leading up to an even more deadly Civil War, if not already in the midst of one?

Worse, the riots are occurring all over the world.

At least sixteen countries — ranging from the UK and France to Australia, Brazil, Japan, Kenya, and South Africa — have seen major demonstrations over police violence against Black or minority populations and related issues, such as systemic racism and the legacies of colonial empires. In France and South Africa in particular, the pandemic has served to crystallize the problem of police brutality: authorities enforcing lockdown regulations have used force disproportionately against Black citizens.

But new protests are also breaking out for reasons other than police violence and racism. Some are rooted in how governments have responded to the pandemic. Among them, Brazil and Israel stand out. Ecuador, which faces one of the highest per-capita death rates from COVID-19 among developing nations, recently saw thousands protest the government’s decision to close some state-owned companies and cut public sector salaries, in an effort to close a gaping $12 billion budget deficit.

Citizens in Iraq have resumed protests over corruption, high unemployment, and the violent repression of protesters, with demonstrators in central and southern Iraq clamoring for the removal of governors who they deem to be corrupt. In Mali, tens of thousands have demanded the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar amid persistent intercommunal violence compounded by economic stagnation, a dearth of political reforms, and widespread government corruption. Saudia Arabian women have protested for fewer restrictions on their rights, even as Syrians protest the killing machine of their country’s leader and the Lebanese protest the lack of responsible leadership from their do-nothing government. The separatist movements provoke perennial protests in Spain, even as the second massive shutdown in its capital and biggest city because of Covid-19 stoke the fires of discontent.

Protests, by far the largest and most persistent in Belarus since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, began Aug. 9th after an election that officials said gave President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in office. Opponents and poll workers say the results, in which Lukashenko was tallied with 80% support, were manipulated.

In some countries, governments have capitalized on the chaos of the pandemic to persecute critics, criminalize dissent, ban public demonstrations, and further concentrate political power. Consider China and Russia, for example.

How can society achieve the consensus it needs to function if everyone regards rivals as “Nazis,” “traitors” or “enemies of the people”?

“Trump, the torchbearer, has at times fueled racial tensions and stomped on his perceived enemies, citizens and institutions alike,” writes Nick Fouriezos, senior politics reporter for OZY, an international media and entertainment company launched in September 2013 by former CNN and MSNBC news anchor, journalist, and businessman Carlos Watson and Goldman Sachs alumnus Samir Rao. Ozy describes its mission as to help curious people see a broader and a bolder world.

“Some have become radicalized by the president’s behavior, meeting fire with fire — from erecting guillotines to accosting Senators to defending violent looters as collecting what society owes them,” Fouriezos continues. “Meanwhile, the American Fringes have continually hijacked the discourse, worming their ideas into some of America’s most revered institutions. The loss of civility playing out on the national stage has had ripple effects, reflected in an apparent uptick in nastiness nationwide, with ordinary citizens bickering over face masks in stores, trolling each other on social media and facing off over campaign signs next door. In a multiethnic, multicultural and increasingly crowded democracy, respecting commonality while acknowledging differences has been the surest way of moving forward — but it has become a casualty of rising American anger.”

If political tensions are bringing the USA to the brink of a second Civil War, is what’s happening around the globe a harbinger of something bigger?

Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail.

Stay tuned …

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

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Around the Margins: Property Contrasts in Portugal & Spain

In March 2017, Russ and I sold our modest home in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, and walked away from the house and the USA with $135,000 in proceeds.

We invested the money in two Portuguese properties: one in a small village about 15 minutes outside of Castelo Branco … and the other – 18 months later – in a small village outside of Elvas in the Portalegre district, deliberately near the Spanish border at Badajoz.

(Almost fifteen years earlier, we had purchased a vacation bolt in one of the towns that dot inland Andalucía.)

While “privileged” in the absolute sense of the word, by no means were we rich, entitled, upper-class, or even upwardly mobile. One of us was about to retire on monthly Social Security payments of less than $2,000; the other earned about $1,000 per month as an independent contractor working remotely for a nonprofit organization. Yet, all three properties were purchased, renovated, updated and upgraded, then furnished (where needed) … with cash.

Takeaways from the above are that we believe in the value of real estate investments (at least here and now in Portugal and Spain); we prefer native villages, where learning to speak and understand other languages are de rigueur, rather than more “fashionable” and trendy places surrounded by other expats and immigrants whose language of choice is English; and that it’s definitely possible to purchase perfectly proper property in Portugal and Spain at remarkably low prices. Brilliant!

Each of our homes in Portugal is a study in contrasts, and quite different from our place in Spain.

With some 150m2 spread among three floors separated by a stairwell containing 37 steps, our first Portuguese purchase is in Lousa, a village of some 600 souls adjoined by its partnered “parish” (freguesía), within 20 kilometers of the big city: Castelo Branco. Sited on Rua Nossa Senhora Dos Altos Céus – the main street in town – it’s always amazing how vehicles large and small move in both directions, traversing such narrow confines, with cars and trucks parked on one side.

One of our first neighbors told me (in Portuguese) that people in the village wondered what would possess two American men to move to such a “nondescript” yet typical village in the central core of the country. I tried to explain to her that, perhaps it was the increasingly dark Americanisms devouring the USA that motivated us to move to a place with a slower pace, peaceful coexistence, and tangible tranquility.

Lousa has all the charm one could want in a homestead. Its cobblestone streets, standard blueprint church (igreja matriz) with bells that signal appointed times of our rotes and rituals exude an aura that is truly Portugal. Like every village, it reveres several saints, although paying homage to Nossa Senhora Dos Altos Céus during an annual, four-day festival.

Bespoken are the health care center, primary school, multi-sport playground, senior day care facility, “casa de cultura,” and meeting space for the “junta de freguesía.”

Not quite so obvious, however, are Lousa’s charm and character … a place where everyone knows who you are, if not your name. What the town is missing, however, are retail shops and eateries, either snack bar or restaurant. With two, sometimes three, cafés and two facing mini-markets along the main street, all of the action passes by our house (which, earlier, had housed the village’s most popular café—where lottery tickets were sold).

Our third-floor bedroom has four large windows overlooking the street; so, everything from funeral processions to passing sheep and achingly old diesel engines crunching up the cobbled stones looms loud, up close and (a bit too) personal.

Remember those 37 steps mentioned at the top of this tale? With three dogs but without a backyard, they need to be four times every day (eight separate outings, as only two can be walked at a time). Going up and down that staircase certainly takes a physical toll!  

We do love the property, though.

The former café with its two separate restrooms (the men’s has a working urinal!) is now our gathering space, where we welcome friends and neighbors for food and drink. Behind it is a small patio, off of which is our kitchen and family room combination, where we cook, eat, and relax with our critters and Netflix. Above the kitchen, in that separate wing, is a secluded guest suite with private bathroom. Also on this first floor (as numbered in Portugal and Spain), albeit in the main part of the house, are our offices and an expansive living room. Up 18 steps from the landing is our own bedroom suite featuring an adjoining breakfast room and sleeping areas for the dogs, the master bedroom, walk-in closet, and another full bath. There’s quite a large, covered terrace comprising space for doing laundry, grilling, eating, and socializing. Atop the building is an attic with concrete floor under a new, insulated roof providing plenty of storage space.

All things considered – purchase price; major repairs to walls and floors; a new roof; upgrading the electricity throughout; new appliances: water heaters, four inverter aircon units, washer, dryer, three refrigerators, electric range and oven; and new cabinetry built to spec in the upper and lower kitchens – we spent about US $70,000 (slightly more than €50,000 at the current exchange rate).  Furniture and furnishings (artwork!) were shipped over from the USA.

We had thought about selling this property, as walking the dogs during the incredibly hot and nasty rainy seasons is a royal pain, encumbered by all those stairs. But how could we leave a place that had adopted us, where we’re integral strands in the fabric of the gentry, surrounded by immigrant friends from nearby towns and villages? We couldn’t.

Our other Portuguese property is located in what’s known as the “high” Alentejo: Vila Boim is a village of 1,200 five kilometers outside of Elvas – a UNESCO World Heritage site – which, in turn, is just about 10 kilometers from Badajoz, Spain. Around the corner and up the street are several snack bars, cafés, and an upscale restaurant, along with a bank, pharmacy, and mini-market. Our streets here are paved in asphalt, rather than cobble-stoned.

If our place in Lousa is spacious and plentiful, this property is cute and cozy. The bungalow style, single-story structure has one large bedroom, one full bath, a spacious dining room, intimate living room, brand new galley-style kitchen, and an office … all under roof housed in a tidy 55m2. The bonus “room” is a small, bricked backyard (quintal) where our dogs can take care of their business, and a substantial storage shed. My own, special bonus is a dishwasher in the kitchen (although Russ prefers the side-by-side “American” style refrigerator and freezer). From soup to nuts, we purchased and primed this property for carefree, full-time living at an approximate cost of US $55,000 (€46,500).

Even as novice language learners, we’re aware of slight differences in Portuguese pronunciation and accents between the two villages separated by less than 200 kilometers. In both locations we have guardian angels who watch out for our welfare and help us to better understand the Portuguese people, their language and culture. Similarly, opening our front doors to knocks or the bell, we find neighbors bringing us food from their farms. In return, we take home-made meals to them: classic American cuisine: mac and cheese, franks and beans, meatloaf, cheesecakes, our own ”piri-piri” meatballs and spaghetti.

Unlike our house in Lousa, the layout and build of the Vila Boim bungalow place the bedroom squarely in the middle of the house—cutting down, substantially, on street noise. Exterior walls are at least a meter thick, providing natural insulation and keeping our heating and cooling bills to a minimum. Due to its size, it’s easier to clean, maintain, and use the premises in full than our Lousa lodging.

Besides being next-door to Badajoz, a busy and bustling metropolis, two hours were shaved off our trip each way back and forth to Spain by leaving from our Vila Boim property, rather than the one in Lousa.

(A separate post on  pastorbrucesblog.com deals with our operating costs, living expenses, and monthly budget for all three properties.)

If you’ve been adding up the numbers given here, you’ll notice that we spent $125,000 of the $135,000 received from the sale of our house in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. What did we do with the remaining $10,000? Half we put into savings. With the rest, we added a “fitted” kitchen and replaced our leaky, cast iron bathtub with a walk-in shower at our Olvera home.

But that is another story!

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

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Pissed Off!

We’re pissed off …

… because we are tired of stepping in dog poop on the cobble stones of our streets.

Today, one dog – wearing a collar but no leash attached to a person – followed us as I walked our dog around town. Ours had a collar, along with a leash held in my hand. In my pocket was a stash of poopy bags. Bending over to scoop up my dog’s “litter,” the other dog lifted his leg against the wall in front of us. Immediately, a window opened above and a woman began berating me to clean up after my dogs.

Waving the plastic poopy bag in her direction and explaining that only one of the dogs was mine, “I did!” I insisted. “It’s this other dog who is making the mess … following us and not leaving us alone.

”She slammed the window.

This is the time of year that families and friends visit our village as it swelters in heat and humidity. All those vacated houses shut up for much of the year are flung open again, filled with lives producing lots of litter.

Accompanying the adults are their children and pets.

Suddenly, it’s not just one or two stray dogs meandering and messing on our streets—at times it’s nearly a dozen. Because people open the front doors to let their dogs out and about town to dispense their “necessities.”

I don’t doubt that they love them, but being responsible and respectful of others are other matters entirely … regardless of culture of local tradition.

“We are planning on spending this summer in Portugal and taking our dog,” someone recently remarked online. “He’s not very sociable and doesn’t tolerate other dogs. Everything’s fine if we walk on the street and the other dog is on a leash, too; but things get nasty if the other dog is roaming free with no leash–our dog takes it as a potential attack and goes crazy, barking and pulling unbelievably!”

So, it’s not just a matter of health and hygiene for dogs to be restrained on leashes, but the safety of others as well.

I know it is wrong for foreigners like us to move into another country, imposing our own sets of values and assessing appropriate behavior. But the laws of Portugal are being broken.

Recent legislation requires people to be responsible for their pets. According to current law, it is mandatory to put a leash on pets in public places—like our village streets.

Moreover, every cat and dog “walking” in public places must wear a collar or harness with the name, address, and/or telephone number of its owner clearly inscribed.

Dogs and cats that haven’t been neutered, but allowed to roam loosely on the streets will follow their natural instincts and biology. Which means that more unwanted puppies and kittens will either be abandoned to the streets or dealt with fatefully in a way that makes me cringe and breaks my heart … even though (some) people believe it’s more merciful than condemning them to a life on the street.

Street animals will always be with us. It’s just the way things are. My comments here aren’t about these destitute critters, but directed to people with pets: Not only are they part of your family, but you have responsibilities – legal obligations — to your dogs and cats, as well as to others who live in the community.

Noise is one of the biggest problems between dogs and the people living around them. You’re responsible for ensuring they don’t disturb your neighbors.

Anyone experiencing problems can contact the police (GNR or PSP) and request that they stop the source of the noise. If you don’t, they can alert the council … which will issue a minimum fine of 500 euros! (You’ll also be fined if driving with dogs or cats in the car that aren’t tethered to the seat belt clasps or in carrying crates or “containers.”)

In addition to walking with pets on leashes in public places (and, presumably, picking up after them), and keeping them from being noisy neighbors, Portuguese law requires that you register your pet and have it licensed at the town hall (Junta de Freguesia) where you and the dog (or cat) live.

You’ll need a health report for the animal (with an up-to-date rabies vaccination) and documentation that an electronic identification chip has been implanted by a veterinarian in the left lateral side of the neck. You then have 30 days to register and license your pets(s) … and the registration must be renewed annually.

(Leave it to Portugal to identify dogs and cats as belonging to specific categories: Category A – Pet dog; B – Dogs for your economic livelihood; C – Dogs for military purposes; D – Dogs for scientific research; E – Hunting dogs; F – Guide dogs; G – Potentially dangerous dogs; H – Dangerous dogs; and I – Cats.Category G includes: Rottweilers, Brazilian Fila Dogs, Argentine Dogo, Pitt Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and Tosa Inu.)

People, please respect the rights of others by overseeing your pets. And if you’re planning to move to Portugal (or Spain, which imposes similar requirements and restrictions on pets and their people), be aware of what will be expected of you … and your furry family.

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

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The Bureaucracy Begins: Applying for a Long-Term EU Visa

The Bureaucracy Begins: Applying for a Long-Term EU Visa

Professor/pastor probing media, religion, gender, international living, and allied cultural norms.

These words inscribed on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media sites profile how I imagine myself.

So, there: now you know enough about me.

Reading between the lines, however, would inform you that we had moved around the USA quite a bit – living in New York, Virginia, Maryland, Wisconsin, Florida – as career changes and professional opportunities beckoned. Fluent in Spanish, I traveled throughout Mexico, South and Central America, as a liaison for international adoption agencies.

As mentioned, my better half and I had long considered living in another country and experiencing a different culture. Learning a new language to converse and communicate, we believed, was an admirable goal. Some people are so defensive of their own ways and means that their sense of identity and nationalism is threatened when other ways are engaged in and embraced.

With credentials from the University of Madrid, a vacation bolt in Andalucía, and a growing circle of friends there, Spain seemed a natural first choice for us. But the process of applying for and being granted retirement residency in Spain can be onerous and demanding at best, next to impossible at worst.

Many countries of the European Union are also part of what’s known as the “Schengen” zone. The same Schengen application form is used to apply for residency in any of its 22 EU nations. But the interpretations of myriad functional requirements often vary from country to country.

Take finances, for example.

All Schengen countries want to know that you have the financial means to provide adequately for yourself and your dependents, without being a burden on the country and its economy. All countries seek proof that you have the necessary wherewithal—albeit from Social Security, other pensions and annuities, investments and savings, bank accounts, even credit immediately available via “charge” cards.

Spain dictates specific annual earnings expected retirees must receive: “The minimum income required is 400% of the IPREM (Public Income Index) annually plus the required percentage per each additional family member.” At the time, that meant, for a retirement visa and residency in Spain, one was expected to receive no less than $2,500 per month or $30,000 a year. Add $7,500 more for each dependent. I’m told that now, for some reason, those amounts are slightly less.


How many Spaniards – especially those living in small towns throughout the country – earn that kind of money? Very, very few! For a country where the cost of living is so relatively low, I maintain Spain is shooting itself in the foot by requiring such high income levels from prospective retirees who would likely support the economy by spending money on their homes, food, and lots of leisure time activities.

Consider Portugal, now: €14,000 annually is an approximated income you have to make to get a “D7” residency visa in Portugal. But it can change depending on the number of “dependents” (wife, children, etc.). That amount is basically considered 100% of the minimum wage (MW) required for the husband/or wife (the visa’s owner) + 50% of the MW for his wife/her husband. For each child, it’s 30% of the MW. Portugal’s 2018 monthly minimum wage was 580 euros … although in 2020 it’s almost 700 euros..

Unless it has changed, financial means or financial subsistence in Portugal doesn’t require proof of income, simply proof of access to funds. Savings, bank accounts, investment funds, etc., all count as money to which you have access.

“You can qualify for permanent residency in Portugal simply by showing a reliable minimum income of at least 1,100 euros per month,” U.S. News & World Report reported. “This program is not intended specifically for retirees and is open to anyone. You can apply and qualify at any age, and the income you show can be earned or passive.”

In other words, money in banks … savings and retirement accounts … investments … even a line of credit on your “charge” card will count towards meeting your financial means in Portugal, as long as you have access to the money. The same holds true in many other EU countries: Italy and France are particularly popular, among others.

The process of applying for the right to reside in a Schengen EU country includes completing and/or acquiring much time-consuming paperwork, lots of patience, and more money than might be imagined. Included among the documents (some only available for a fee) required to be submitted with the official visa application: Original passport, a copy of the passport, and another accepted form of identification (driver’s license, state ID, or voter’s registration card). Plus a copy of this. A notarized document explaining why you are requesting the visa … the purpose, place, and length of your stay (and any other reasons you need to explain). Proof of permanent retirement income from an official institution (social security and/or private source) to live without working. Proof of accommodation: either a lease or title deed of property you own. Proof of other sources of income or properties (if applicable). Proof of health insurance with full coverage, necessarily including repatriation coverage. Criminal History Information/Police Background Check, which must be verified by fingerprints. It cannot be older than three months from the application date. The certificate must be issued from either the State Department(s) of Justice from every state you’ve lived in during the past five years. This document must then be legalized with the Apostille of the Hague Convention by the corresponding Secretary of the State. Alternatively, FBI Records, issued by the U.S. Department of Justice and legalized with the Apostille of the Hague Convention by the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC, are acceptable. (A local police background check will not be accepted; but you must also get a police record from the countries where you have lived during the last five years.) A recent doctor’s statement signed by the physician on the physician’s or medical center’s letterhead (not older than three months in) indicating that you have been examined and found free of any contagious diseases according to the International Health Regulation 2005. Married? Your spouse must submit the same documents as you, together with a marriage certificate (original, issued in the last six months, plus a photocopy). Minor children must also submit the same documents as the applicant, along with original birth certificates issued in the last twelve months … and a photocopy.

Quite a list, huh? But, that’s only the beginning!

For Spain, every document submitted must be translated into Spanish … and not just by anyone. Only “certified” translators identified – many of whom charge @ $40 per page to translate – are acceptable. Despite being fluent in Spanish and having taught the language for quite a few years, I wasn’t on the list and couldn’t do our own translations.

But, for us, the real sticking point was the annual retirement income requirement. We owned (without a mortgage) our home in Spain and could live quite comfortably in our small town on my monthly Social Security payments. Nonetheless, $1,700 per month supplemented by a $250 private annuity didn’t come close to the $2,500 Spain required. Especially not when factoring in my spousal dependent.

We could enjoy visiting Spain twice each year for up to 90 days per visit when separated by 180 days … but we couldn’t live there full-time.

Bem vindo, Portugal!

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An Exceptional Language: Portuguese, La Lingua Franca

Unfortunately, Portuguese was never one of the languages offered in most USA schools.

Spanish and French, yes … with some of the more upscale schools including Latin (or Greek) – even Russian! – in their curriculum.

Mas não português.

So, most of us opted for Spanish or French.

Even a limited knowledge of Spanish, especially, can be both a help and a hindrance — a mixed blessing — to learning Portuguese.

Let me be clear: I am not saying that Portuguese derives from Spanish or that peering into Portugal’s language portal through Spanish eyes is what learning Portuguese is all about. Many people have difficulty understanding and speaking Portuguese (though reading it is somewhat easier), not just because of the vocabulary and syntax, but — especially — because of its pronounciation. But, once our ears are attuned to the sounds and rhythm of the language, there’s a nasalized beauty in the poetics of Portuguese.

The communications professor in me wants to know about a language and understand what makes it tick. Peering through the peephole of Spanish, because it’s my familiar tongue, I try to unpack the mysteries of how the Portuguese language works—and why.

But my Spanish also causes obstacles, hurdles, and stumbling blocks. People constantly remind me that I’m thinking – and talking – in Spanish.

When I speak Portuguese, it comes out sounding like a Spanish mish-mash.

“Fala português … não espanhol!” my Portuguese friends admonish and encourage me.

Intent at understanding the “why” behind the language, its psychology, the rules governing its syntax, I’ve embarked on an ambitious adventure to analyze Portuguese, at least as the language relates to Spanish … arriving at a number of “Eureka!” findings in the process.

Some rules hold true rather regularly between Portuguese and Spanish. For instance:

• An “n” in Spanish is usually an “m” in Portuguese, while the Spanish “ie” is simply an “e” in Portuguese. Examples: una/uma … con/com … en/em … diez/dez … sin/sem … tiene/tem … bien/bem … abierto/aberto … también/tambén … alguien/alguem … siempre/sempre … tiempo/tempo … invierno/inverno … fiesta/festa;

• That “ny”sound (as in“canyon”) signaled by a tilde over the “n” (ñ) in Spanish is much the same in Portuguese, with words having “nh”letters: viño/vinho … señora/senhora … español/espanhol … baño/banho … leña/lenha;

• Although also used in Portuguese – most frequently over the letter “a”(ã) – the tilde produces an entirely different (nasal) sound: João … cartão … educação … manhã … não;

• The “ue” diphthong in Spanish becomes an “o” in Portuguese: luego/logo … puerta/porta … puerto/porto … puede/pode … fuego/fogo … fuerza/força … escuela/escola … cuenta/conta … suerte/sorte … juega/joga.

• “O” in Spanish is often “ou” in Portuguese: poco/pouco … otro/outro, while the Spanish “l” often becomes an “r” in Portuguese: plato/prato … placer/prazer … plaza/praça;

• “U” in Spanish can become “ui” in Portuguese: mucho/muito … at other times, instead, it becomes an “o”: gusto/gosto … punto/ponto;

• The double “ll” in Spanish often translates to “ch” in Portuguese: llave/chave … llama/chama … lluvia/chuvia … llegando/chegando;

• Words beginning with “h” in Spanish often switch to an “f” in Portuguese: horno/forno … hacer/fazer … hablar/falar … hijo/filho … harina/farinha … fugir/huir … hablar/falar … harto/farto;

• When you see a word with a “çao” suffix in Portuguese, it probably ends in “ión” in Spanish: relação/relación … informação/información … edição/edición … habitação/habitación;


Wait, the questions keep coming … and we haven’t yet touched upon tenses and sentence structure:

It’s “bom dia, boa tarde, boa noite” in Portuguese, but “buenos días, buenas tardes, buenas noches” in Spanish. Why are the day’s divisions plural in Spanish but singular in Portuguese?

When does “dia” end and “tarde” begin, anyway? Why, after 12:00 PM, of course, you say? Maybe technically. But people in Portugal generally believe that “tarde” begins after one has eaten lunch. But what about “noite”? When it becomes dark … or after eating dinner?

And why are the words for “day” spelled the same in Spanish and Portuguese, while only Spanish gives it an accent mark (día)?

Spanish, like most Latin-derived languages, names the days of our lives: lunes, martes, miércoles, jueves, viernes, sábado, domingo. Except for the weekends (sábado, domingo), Portuguese, instead, numbers them: segunda-feira, terça-feira, quarta-feira, quinta-feira, sexta-feira.

But don’t confuse “feira” (market, as in market days) with “feria” (fair, market, and often, holidays) or ferias: vacation.

Thankfully, many words are identical in both languages: “casa,” “porque,” “tal|vez,” “médico,” “viajar”, “comprar,” “poder,” “vida” … and even “de nada,” to say “you’re welcome.” So, how come cats are cats – “gatos” – in both languages, while a dog is “perro” in Spanish but “cão” in Portuguese? And, for goodness sake, how did “gracias” become “obrigado,” every foreigner’s favorite Portuguese word?

Pronunciation and accents are other matters entirely, as Portugal uses almost every accent mark in existence—and then some! How can anyone other than a native enunciate clearly the subtle differences between “pais” (parents), “país” (country), and “pães” (breads)?

Similarly, verb tenses and conjugations differ in the two countries of Iberia. For instance, consider so-called “reflexive” verbs. More often than not (although not always), their order is reversed: In Spanish it’s “se vende, se trata, se llama,” while in Portuguese we get “vende-se” and “trata-se,” but “se chama” … except when asking a question, used in the negative, and other exceptions: “Se vende a casa?” “Como é que se chama?”

Here’s where turnabout between the Portuguese and the Spanish isn’t necessarily fair play: Some Portuguese people understand spoken Spanish, because they grew up watching Spanish TV.

Spanish people, however, have a hard time understanding Portuguese. Some say that’s a matter of choice, not of ability.

As for me, I don’t think I will ever get used to seeing “Puxar!” on a door and pulling rather than pushing!

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

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The Americanization of Iberia

We’re eating lunch in the food court at one of Castelo Branco’s largest shopping centers. With a dozen or so eateries in a semi-circle filled abundantly with tables and chairs, eateries abound: churrascarias (bbq), fish, soup and sandwich, Italian (pizza & pasta), kebabs and gyros, burgers, ice cream, pastries, and other desserts.

Our favorite is a Brazilian steak house where, for €4.90 – about $5.50 – you can get a grilled flank steak on a roll with a side salad, bowl of soup, French fries, and your choice of beverage—wine and beer included. Other meals are comparably priced. All are served on real plates and dishes, with flatware and drinking glasses.

But many of the Portuguese eat, instead, at the Pizza Hut, KFC, Burger King, or McDonalds next door … tapping digital buttons to order food and then waiting for their LED numbers to flash, summoning them to pick up bags with disposable contents.

Meals at these American franchises typically cost more than Portuguese food.

Hamburgers, chicken, pizza, and sandwiches, of course, are international foods, unlimited by American influence. It’s how the food is cooked and served – slow and savory or fast and furious – that makes all the difference (along with the type and quality of products used).

Why would anyone want to eat such assembly line food with “paper” plates and plastic utensils, when so much better is available in the very same space?

It got me thinking about the influence America – the USA, in particular – is having on Portugal and Spain in Iberia. Is that still called “imperialism?” Good, bad, or indifferent, the USA has affected Portuguese and Spanish cultures in many ways:

• Language. As American English differs from the British, European Portuguese and Spanish differ from their Brazilian and Hispanic cousins. And American lingo is increasingly taking root in both languages. English – accented by American English, by and large – is mandatory learning in Portuguese schools, from elementary grades through secondary school. English speakers seek to practice their Portuguese; but as soon as we open our mouths with mispronounciation, the Portuguese reply in excellent English. Daily, more American expressions and words are imported, even though native words already exist: “take-away,” and “tênis” (sneakers) … along with many other words of common usage: “marketing,” “workshop,” “brownie,” “cupcake,” “low cost,” “cheap,” “check in,” “designer,” “email,” “blog” “clic(k),” “check up,” and “yummy” are just a few examples, along with the universal gadgets and widgets of technology.

Media. If you watch TV’s The Price Is Right or America’s Got Talent, you’d best take their Spanish and Portuguese equivalents with a large dose of salt! As for cinema, we get first-run American movies here upon release. Soundtracks are hilariously dubbed in Spanish, while shown in their original English with Portuguese subtitles.Heck, there’s even Netflix.es and Netflix.pt. American music – current and oldies – is quite popular on much Iberian radio … until interrupted periodically by Catholic masses and Hail Marys broadcast in their entirety.

• Money. Plastic is preferred over cash—especially during the pandemic. Although Americans reach for their credit cards, the Portuguese and Spanish are more likely to use debit cards so as not to incur further debt. The ATM was invented by a Brit (not the Yanks), but their use is everywhere today. In Spain, you can withdraw and deposit money, pay bills and even traffic fines at an ATM. Portugal’s “multibanco” machines do even more! They’re so smart, in fact, that they don’t deem cash withdraws – where we’re assessed fees from both the dispensing and our home banks – as such. (Not so with Spain’s ATMs.)

• Medicine. Although universal health care is the birthright of all Spanish and Portuguese citizens (legal residents in Portugal, as well), locals often opt to supplement their public health care with private coverage. There’s quite a difference (in price!) between the USA’s and Iberian medical plans. While the cheapest and least inclusive health insurance policies can cost thousands of dollars per month in America, comprehensive health care insurance in Portugal runs about $150 per month (all-inclusive) for two people–one 70+, the other almost 60. Spain, too, offers the option for foreigners residing there to buy into the country’s national insurance or purchase comparable coverage through private market insurers.

• Urbanization. How are you going to keep them down on the farm? The Portuguese lament the loss of their younger, educated population who flee the small villages of their birth to elsewhere … other countries, as well as bigger cities in Portugal, where employment opportunities are more plentiful and the proverbial “rat race” appears to be exciting. Buy, sell, spend, borrow, bigger, better … more! After a while, however, keeping up with the Joãs takes its toll. Like the city mouse and the country mouse, there’s a pronounced distinction between city dwellers and their more provincial relatives, with natives dividing lifestyles as either city or country (campo).  Increasingly, however, the Spanish and Portuguese experience that yearning, the “saudade,” to return to their roots … tilling the soil and enjoying a more peaceful, tranquil, less hurried and hectic lifestyle. Wherever the location, however, for those looking to buy or rent property, there’s a local office of the Re/Max, ERA, Century 21, and Keller Williams real estate networks.

• Technology. The globalization of technology certainly can’t be limited to the United States. But silicon valleys across the country are the forbearers and creators of our digital world. The most popular mobile phone in Portugal and Spain? Apple’s iPhone.The preferred computer? Apple’s iMac. The ubiquitous operating systems and tools of computers? Microsoft’s. The go-to search engine? Google. The most popular social media platforms? Facebook and its WhatsApp. The best known computer chips and graphic cards? Intel.

Nevertheless, ignorance and belligerance — byproducts of American polarization — are finding friends in Spain and Portugal. Chanting “freedom,” hundreds of people rallied in Madrid last Sunday in to protest the mandatory use of facemasks and other restrictions imposed by the Spanish government to contain the coronavirus pandemic. And in Portugal, one of the countries most successfully intent on containing and crippling the virus, we are impressed with the fortitude and compassion displayed by the Portuguese people.”It is not perfect here,” states an American expat living in Lisbon. “The police need to enforce mask rules (occasionally meeting violent resistance) in some ethnic ghettos, but the city is trying to increase communications and messaging in those neighborhoods and incidents are rare.” In southern Portugal, “most are following the rules, but still get too close at the grocery, leaning in or reaching around. On the boardwalk, tourists don’t cover when they cough and sneeze.”

American outreach has cribbed many inroads to territories Spanish and Portuguese.

T-shirts glorify alleged American icons and phrases, while shopping carts are filled with brands such as Heinz, Tropicana, Listerine, Johnson & Johnson, Old Spice, Colgate, Oral-B, Coca Cola (and Pepsi), Kellogg’s, Finish, Raid, Vaseline, Woolite, Hellman’s, Vaseline, Dove, Bic, Purina, Pedigree, and Friskies (among others) … outpacing the national ones.

So be it.

But if and when Walmart arrives here, it will be time for us say “bom día” … and “Adiós.”

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

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