A couple of months ago, I received a private message from a Facebook friend who had stayed with us for a few days about four years ago, when we first moved to Portugal.
I had almost forgotten how much he got on our nerves back then, despite being a rather friendly, outgoing, boisterous American.
How best to explain how we felt around him? Try this, especially if you remember vinyl records and their players: Since moving to Portugal, our lives have been running at a comfortable 33 RPM; after spending a couple of hours with him, we rotated faster and faster, spinning at 78 RPM.
Anyway, he was returning to Portugal to reconnoiter places he hadn’t been to in planning his eventual relocation here, and wanted to see us and stay with us again.
But we had downsized and our home was too small for someone with such an oversize personality … along with me, my spouse and our three Miniature Schnauzers.
So, I tried to explain (gently) the situation in messages flying back and forth through cyberspace between us.
“I promise not to get in your way,” he wrote in a hodge-podge of upper and lower case letters, with — let’s call them typos — when I actually suspected they were spelling errors and a lack of care (speed was of the essence) that many of us take when writing emails, sending messages, and posting online. “I can crash on your couch, no worries!” he continued.
“No,” I replied. “That just won’t work. But we’ll be happy to find you a hotel or B&B nearby.” There are a couple of really charming small hotels we’ve stayed at right in central, downtown Castelo Branco. But he wanted to stay closer to us.
The offer wasn’t mentioned as he signed off and logged out, telling me that he’d be in touch when the date of his travel approached. I received one email when he landed in Porto from Amsterdam, informing us that he’d come visit us in Castelo Branco either on Wednesday evening or Thursday afternoon. A second email arrived Wednesday afternoon, saying that he was taking the “scenic” route and should be at our place by 18h00 (6 PM).
“Have you made reservations somewhere?” I replied, before informing my partner that we’d be having company for dinner. “No, not yet,” he answered, asking if I could find him either a low-cost hotel or B&B in our town. I knew there were no hotels (yet) in Alcains; so, I researched AirBnB and other sites listing home-style lodging. There were two right here in Alcains that appeared to be clean, comfortable, easily accessible, and reasonably priced (US $49 per night). I sent him links to the properties, along with a “pin” to our house.
A new message from him suddenly appeared: “I’m here!”
Though not particularly tall, he loomed large in our Portuguese doorway, casting shadows from the street light overhead. Reaching in to shake hands, he switched to bear hugs while our dogs tried to sneak past us and out the front door.
“Come on in and have a seat,” I greeted him, pointing to the sofa with chaise in our hobbit house living room. “Can I get you some wine?”
Over the course of the next three hours — including a homemade meatloaf dinner with corn, mashed potatoes, gravy, and biscuits on the side — we learned reasons why we had nothing in common beyond Facebook friendship as he rapidly told us too much about his life:
• This was his seventh trip in four years to Portugal. Two were with his wife. This and four other visits, he had come around to scout areas and properties.
• His plan was to move to and retire in Portugal … four and a half years from now. He expected to live off the rental income generated by two houses he owned in the USA. The four-plus years took into account his wife’s time required before retiring from her job with the state’s government. He still had no idea where in Portugal they wanted to live (except that it had to be considerably cooler in the summers than where we are), but envisioned renting, not buying, for six-months to one-year intervals. Then, they’d move somewhere else. For this he needed to make seven trips four and a half years before being able to move here?
• Not only didn’t he wear a mask in the street (still advised by Portuguese law) or asked if we’d prefer to put them on in our tight dwelling, but he stated, matter-of-factly, that neither he nor his wife had been vaccinated (“Except for my mother taking me for a polio shot when I was a kid, I’ve never been vaccinated for anything–not even the flu.”). Both of them had come down with Covid (“the worst … very painful … aspirin and Ibuprofin only made it worse … still,I went to the gym almost every afternoon to work out, because it made me feel better … until I crashed, later each night.”). My dander was rising: He had had Covid, wasn’t vaccinated, didn’t wear a mask, and was in our faces–literally! Not particularly up on travel conditions and restrictions, I wondered how he had been able to fly from the USA to the Netherlands and onto Portugal, given his history. No idea.
• Although he had booked a room for the night, texting while driving high in the Serra da Estrella mountains, he hadn’t bothered to pull off the road and check the owner’s check-in times and requirements. It wasn’t until nearly 11PM (23h) that we suggested he make the call. Speaking in English to his mobile device, it recorded his voice and saved it as text … which he then used Google Translate to create a Portuguese message that he sent to his host. “No problem,” he recounted, assuredly, saying that the proprietor only wanted to know how soon he’d be arriving there. Russ and I looked at each other and jointly declared, “Within 15 minutes.” We still had to clean up, wash all the dishes, and deal with the dogs, before retiring for the evening ourselves.
“Thank you, gentlemen, for a terrific evening,” he said as he was leaving. “What are your plans for tomorrow … and the day after. I finished the northern part of my journey early, so I’m not in any rush to move on.”
“We’re working!” my partner and I echoed in unison.
“Well, at least you have to let me take you to lunch tomorrow,” he said while re-lacing his shoes by the door. “Just pick a place and send me the link. What time’s good for you two? How about one o’clock?”
We nodded numbly.
Three private messages on Facebook: (1) a thumbs up when we sent him the name and location of the restaurant where we’d meet for lunch; (2) a “sorry, running a bit late …” just as we locked up the house and headed to our car; and (3) “never mind, all is good, I’ll be there at one.” He arrived at 1:25. No big deal. It’s Portugal and we were enjoying glasses of wine.
Translating the nine items offered at the cafeteria-snack bar-restaurant from Portuguese to English, we ordered. Rather, I did. Russ can understand some Portuguese when spoken; but he’d rather that someone else speak it. Our luncheon companion had a hard enough time asking for “mais pão,” after grabbing and grubbing most of the bread in the basket.
Again, the subject came up about our plans for the rest of the day (and the day after).
From there, the final nails of our “friendship” coffin were driven:
• He had voted for Trump (“he’s a businessman, not politician”) in 2016; in 2020, he didn’t vote. For anyone. Blind to the monsters #45 had created, he was right in pointing out the divisiveness spreading around the world, but wrong, I believe, in the reasons.
• The television in the restaurant was showing a caravan of Portuguese ambulances, fire trucks, and other red vehicles headed to support Ukraine. Which opened another can of worms. He didn’t know — or understand — the differences between NATO and the European Union, believing it was up to the European Union to take up arms for Ukraine, not the USA.
• Nor did he understand how impeachment works in the government of the United States, insisting over and again that Trump hadn’t been impeached. Neither once nor twice. Because, he maintained, that when the Senate didn’t ratify or concur with the House’s indictment, it effectively erased those impeachments from the record. “No, that’s not how it works,” I explained. Once impeached, always impeached. It doesn’t go away–regardless of how the Senate votes. His impeachments will always be recognized.” Flabbergasted, he asked, “So that means Clinton also was impeached?” Yes it does.
Russ and I glanced at each other, kicking each other’s shins not to get further entangled.
Anyway, it was about closing time for the restaurant and we were the last ones left seated, as the owners cleaned tables and picked up chairs, sweeping beneath them before placing them on top of the tables. Catching the owner’s eye, I mouthed, “A conta, por favor.” Within minutes, a handwritten receipt showing €27.50 was handed to me (after all, I was the one who spoke Portuguese and did the ordering). Our acquaintance pulled an American Express card out of his wallet and handed it to the proprietor, who shook his head and pointed to a sign taped to the wall: cash only, no plastic cards. Honestly, I hadn’t known. I pulled thirty euros out of my wallet, gritting my teeth in the process. “I would use the ATM and get cash,” offered our (now former) Facebook friend, “but I’m having trouble with my PIN.” Determined to let me know that he wanted to make good on his promise to pay for our lunch, he asked me whether he could pay in British pounds. He had £25 in his wallet. “Doubtful,” I said. Russ thought he’d have to go to the airport to exchange them for euros, while I thought one of the local banks might accept the currency and hand him euros in the process. Whatever.
As we left and said our goodbyes to each other, I could tell that Russ was really annoyed.
“How many times has he been to Portugal? Seven? How do you come to Portugal without euros and only one credit card that’s not working? How did he buy all the junk food that he’s been eating in the car? How many pit stops and mini-mercados accept credit cards, let alone American Express? You can be Facebook friends with him, if you want,” Russ said. “But I’m unfriending him as soon as we get home. My hands are still shaking from the past 18 hours!”
What more could I say? I felt the same way. Catching his hand under the umbrella as we walked the three or four blocks to where we’d parked our car, my heart overflowed with love and gratitude for my partner who always put others first. How fortunate — blessed! — I have been to live with him for 30 years and move to Portugal together.
“I love you,” I said. “I love you, too,” he replied.
It’s good to know that we still have so much in common.