Much of what I like most about the King James Version is the beauty inherent to its prose. Whether Psalms, Proverbs, Peter and Paul, or Prophets, I almost always find the version’s way of saying things – even when (mostly) inaccurate—poetic. Which version of the 23rd psalm can compare with the beauty and eloquence of the King James?
My undergraduate education was at the University of Madrid, during the days when Francisco Franco reigned. The world was a frightful place with Vietnam, Watergate, civil rights marches and riots, assassinations of beloved leaders, Khrushchev banging his shoe on a table at the United Nations while threatening “We will bury you!” and campus crusades ending in pools of blood.
In Franco’s Spain, however, the armed civil guard stood sentry on every street … ready to shoot first and (not) ask questions later. Especially when it came to students—university students—who were considered radical rabble-rousers causing trouble.
Young and old, many of us took up the arts for solace—playing music, painting, writing—to quell the anguish in our souls.
Some 50 years ago, I worried these words out in Spanish:
O, mi dolorosa verdad que evade los ojos …
Te buscaba entre las espinas de la vida.
¿Es que has muerto en un siglo cortísimo?
O, que, ya vives,
pudriéndote cada dia?
Roughly translated, my words mourned about the search for a painful and elusive truth, asking if it had died in a short, bygone era … or whether it still lived, albeit diseased and decaying, every day.
I think of my Spanish poem often these days.
Somehow, it seems even more relevant now than then.
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I wish I could find a doctor to treat – and fix – my algorithmea in the same way s/he deals with my allergies and arthritis.
Here in Portugal and Spain, that usually means a medical consult followed by lab tests, more consults, and meds.
If only it were so easy dealing with the algorithms causing my algorithmea!
Like the “Bogie Man” and “El Coco,” they’re invisible (to me, at least), yet have taken hold of my life. Sarting with Facebook:
I realize that every single bit of data about my personal profile – age, income, locations, friends, preferences, politics, education, what I like (or don’t) and follow – is mixed and mingled by Facebook’s manipulations. So, whatever I see on my feed is custom-tailored for me. And, perish the thought that I click on a “sponsored” link! Within minutes, I’m deluged with ads for similar services or products that last for days. Sometimes after a hiatus, they return to haunt me again.
The good news, I guess, is that I’m only receiving promotional messages which, supposedly, will interest me, instead of other junk scattered through the great commercial diaspora.
(The bad news, of course, is that I’m not interested. If I want to buy something or learn more about it, chances are that I’ll be more responsive to my own Google searches than anything that Facebook sends my way.)
Which brings up another symptom of my algorithmea:
I am absolutely certain that these pillars of the Internet’s most powerful platforms collude somewhere in back rooms filled with smoke and mirrors, shaking hands and hand-me-downs of yours truly.
What makes me suspect this conspiracy of complicity against little, old me? Simple! No matter which “social” medium – Amazon, YouTube, LinkedIn or even so-called customer service websites that supposedly provide price comparisons and reviews for whatever I want in my geographical area, they’re almost instantly followed, cloak-and-dagger, by successive posts on Facebook. Heck, even weather channel sites are involved. Whenever I check on the forecasts, wouldn’t you know it that appropriate clothing and accessories for the climate crises appear, ipso facto, on my Facebook feed.
Amazon is just as bad. It keeps records and reminds me of what I bought (when), acknowledging my (good) tastes and encouraging me to reorder. And if I don’t want to, because I’m looking for something else? Presto: Amazon provides slews of suggestions. Next visit, it anticipates my needs and wants, recommending that I take a look-see at the products it recommends. To think, this bazaar, the whole enchilada, started as an online bookstore!
Netflix knows what I like to watch on the screen and is always there – even when the action is paused for a potty break – to recommend others it presumes I will like. Gee, how I miss my school librarian who got to know me and my favorites (genres, authors, styles) before doling out book recommendations.
Maybe it all started with radio?
Pandora, a subscription-based music streaming service owned by Sirius XM Holdings, was founded in 2000 (as Savage Beast Technologies) focusing on recommendations based on the “Music Genome Project” — a means of classifying individual songs by musical traits. The service originally launched in the consumer market as an Internet radio service, which would generate personalized channels based on these traits and songs liked by the user. In 2017, the service launched Pandora Premium, an on-demand version of the service more in line with its competitors: Spotify,YouTube Music, AccuRadio, and a bunch of others that allow you to choose a constant stream of music based on your favorite singers, styles or genres, or even topics.
Let’s say I want to hear Christmas music. Even “Jingle Bells,” despite its huge number of versions and singers. All fine and good. Of course, my one or two cringe-worthy crooners play repeatedly, over and again. Is there a way I can further fine tune my settings so that I get Christmas music including Jingle Bells—except for when performed by Singer X (and Y and Z)?
Consider my car. In addition to telling me when my fuel or tire pressure is running low, it also warns me when it thinks I should up-shift, slow down, correct course, and/or if I’m getting too close to something behind (or before) me. It decides when to turn on my windshield wipers — even if there’s no rain or condensation – and fog lights. I have no desire whatsoever for a self-parking (or -driving) car. Lord, have mercy!
Nor do I want a refrigerator that probes the condition of its contents and informs me of what foods are rotten and should be tossed. Or, somehow, knows what I’m running low on and creates a shopping list for me—complete with suggested menus.
Please don’t misunderstand: I do appreciate, even value, some features of certain “smart” appliances. For instance, my washing machine and dryer. It’s good to know that they’ll compensate for the weight of my load and adjust water levels, spin speeds, and drying time as needed.
“I think; therefore I am” was the end of the search Descartes conducted for a statement that could not be doubted. He found that he could not doubt that he himself existed, as he was the one doing the doubting in the first place. In Latin (the language in which Descartes wrote), the phrase is “Cogito, ergo sum.”
Nowadays, I no longer need to think, as algorithms crunch my data, analyze the findings, and direct my paths accordingly.
“I input, therefore I am output” may be our new mantra.
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No country’s population can summarily be described or branded by words—regardless how precise or generalized the terminology. Only by engaging and interacting directly with people do you get to know them, observing how they behave in given situations. And so it is with the Portuguese, a people long associated with a sentiment (saudade) and a song (fado). Yet the Portuguese are smart, motivated, progressive, eco-friendly, compassionate people.
Many Portuguese have a better handle on English than we do on their language. In school, they’re required to study English not as a “foreign” language, but as part of their core curriculum. With certain people, I’ve learned that it’s best to engage with them as they prefer – in English – rather than to insist on practicing our Portuguese.
By no means am I an expert – neither sociologist, anthropologist, nor psychologist – but, in some offbeat ways, I have come to understand a handful of habits and willful ways of these western Iberia inhabitants.
While scientific reasoning objects to reaching collective conclusions about a people based on the experiences of one person from another country, perhaps such indigenous “tendencies” might be better ascribed as cultural. We can better understand Portuguese behavior – and react accordingly – if we are aware of cultural norms and traits.
Our initial encounters with Portuguese people took place online: Facebook. I received a message from the son of the woman we purchased our property from in Lousa — a village of about 550 in Castelo Branco that gets confused with Lousã in Coimbra — informing me that it had been raining quite hard for over a week and, now, the wind had pushed open one of the doors on our second floor balcony. Who knows how or why it happened, but the point was to get that door firmly closed asap. We put out an emergency call for help to members of several local Facebook groups we’d joined–using Google Translate, of course. Shortly thereafter, we heard via Messenger that a man and woman from the village had taken a ladder and toolbox to our house. The soaked wet senhor climbed up onto our balcony and succeeded in securing the door. Unfortunately, trying to leave, he discovered that the front door had been locked from the inside. No key was found. So, he went back to the second floor living room and let himself out, securing the errant door behind him before retreating down those slippery ladder steps.
Alex and Olga are among our closest friends in Portugal now.
While friendly and caring, the Portuguese are essentially private people. They’ll make you feel welcome by bringing baskets of fruits and vegetables from their gardens, ironically, they will never intrude. It’s highly unlikely that they’ll even step inside your house, no matter how long you are neighbors. Knocking on the door and conversing outside is one thing … but coming inside is quite another. It’s just not done.
This isn’t the case only with “foreigners”; it’s how the Portuguese treat each other. Of course, they get together for meals and camaraderie, but such festivities usually take place in a café or eating establishment—not in their homes.
Like many of us, Portuguese people are “caught up in the moment” and totally focused on whomever they’re dealing with or speaking to, often keeping us waiting for their attention. Go into any supermarket and you’ll see workers talking to customers (or other workers). They won’t even make eye contact with you until they’re finished with their current interlocutor. Curiously, however, there are some Portuguese who will disregard etiquette and break into line or interrupt a conversation.
Supermarkets bring up food and another interesting aspect of Portuguese customs: their time in restaurants. Unlike the USA (and elsewhere?) where – miraculously! – everything takes the same amount of time to prepare and cook so that everyone at the table is served simultaneously, dishes in Portugal are brought out helter-skelter, independently. You can be finished your meal before your tablemates get theirs. A classic case of eating alone, together. Good thing that wine is so cheap and bread plentiful!
Food and meals are taken quite seriously in Portugal—at least as regards their times allotted. Lunch time, especially, is revered. No matter what they are doing, it stops between 13h and 15h (1:00-3:00) or 13h30 and 15h30 (1:30-3:30). After all, we need a half-hour to get where we’re eating and another 30 minutes to return. Those 60 minutes sandwiched in between are necessary to be served and eat with gusto (gosto). To savor and digest the food slowly, with beer or some wine.
Our expectations don’t always jive with the Portuguese’s when it comes to work being contracted. They will perform their jobs meticulously … but if it’s not in the job description or contract, the Portuguese don’t believe it’s necessarily their responsibility.
Example? We had the electric wiring throughout our house upgraded, which necessitated the installation of a new circuit box, as called for in our contract. After days banging and chiseling out the old cement surrounding our antiquated panel to accommodate the space required for the (larger) new one, the circuit box was installed. But all the plaster and dust settling everywhere following the wall surgery? Not their problem. Nor was the awkward frame of new, off-white plaster which stood out like the proverbial sore thumb needing rendering and painting to match the beige wall. Another time, Portuguese workers installing new windows and doors in our house (accidentally) cut the door bell wires. Our problem to fix it, not theirs. They’re installers, not electricians.
Of course, many Portuguese tradesmen and contractors clean up after themselves and go the extra mile in their work. Point is, don’t take it for granted or expect it to be done. We’ve learned that old ounce of prevention is more than worth a pound of cure by spelling out our expectations precisely when negotiating contracts and agreements.
Whether forgetful, negligent, or devil-may-care, some Portuguese people take days to answer an email … if they respond at all. Immediacy just isn’t that important. Promptness or priority isn’t often the issue; it’s just that the Portuguese often don’t see any reason or need for responding. To their credit, sometimes we foreigners don’t know when enough is enough: I send a digital greeting card to family or friends. They reply, thanking me for the card and thinking of them. I reply with a thumbs-up or smile emoticon. They feel obliged to respond in kind. And, so it goes …
On the road, the Portuguese may be daredevil (or slowpoke) drivers, but they actually stop at pedestrian crossings, yielding way to people. It’s a lesson in civility (and safety) that many of us should take more seriously.
Like Covid, the Coruna virus.
It says something special and relevant about the people of Portugal that the country has one of the world’s highest vaccination rates. So far, Portugal has administered at least 19,476,353 doses of COVID vaccines. Assuming every person needs two doses, that’s enough to have vaccinated about 94.8% of the country’s population–with booster shots not far behind. People wear masks and follow directives issued by the state’s national health department. Not only do they care about themselves, they’re concerned about others.
Often considered the “Canadians of Europe,” there’s one thing capable of angering the Portuguese: They don’t appreciate being compared to the Spanish.
And, why should they?
All nationalities have quirks and idiosyncrasies that set them apart; that’s part of the charm of the people and the place. After the initial culture shock, you’re sure to find the Portuguese welcoming and wonderful people!
Bruce is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine.
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Sesame Street characters, athletes and other celebrities, politicians, health care professionals, bots, government spokespeople, misfits and the marginalized, and ordinary, regular people share this in common: They’re victims or perpetrators of prejudice, hatred, lies, and deliberate misinformation.
Like Covid, malice and fear-mongering know no borders. Those of us who tried to escape the lunacy by moving to another country have learned history’s quintessential lesson: no matter how far we go, there’s no place to hide. Especially when complacency and discord blind us from recognizing the foes and fears that follow us.
Part of dealing with the challenges of our new lives abroad is coping with unresolved tensions we may have thought we’d left behind.
Or the insidiousness sprouting in hitherto peaceful places, as natives are infected by an onslaught of newcomers with nasty habits and not-so-hidden hubris.
While most of us were supported in our decision to relocate abroad, some of the people we know and don’t know – families, friends, even strangers – take issue with us for leaving the homeland. Their reasons are varied, but essentially boil down to certain considerations:
● Loss and Estrangement. Family and friends, especially, are disappointed that we’ll no longer be as accessible to them as we had been. They’re right! Despite connecting on social media, person-to-person audiovisual chats, phone calls, and occasional trips back to visit, our lives, thoughts, and activities increasingly are focused on our current – not former – environment. Sometimes, the emotions and logistics of planning visits are complicated, causing consternation and conflicts. Although some expats and immigrants have no second thoughts about returning to the country they left, others are so repulsed (and scared!) by the emotional climate and turmoil of their homeland that they ‘d rather not set foot there again. Trying to explain our resistance is an ongoing process.
● Situational Complications. While many of those closest to us would love to join us and live abroad, they can’t, due to reasons ranging from family commitments or entanglements to employment, education, health issues, etc. Their motivations and tugs-of-war with significant others in their own spheres aren’t as imperative as are ours. Genuinely happy about our decision to leave for greener pastures (cost of living, health care, safety and security, etc.) elsewhere, there’s a wee bit of apprehension and jealousy that we’re doing something they can’t. These scenarios are rife with opportunities for misunderstanding and/or miscommunication that can threaten the status of even the most well-meaning relationships.
● My Country Right or Wrong “Love it or leave it” may have been replaced by “stay and defend our rights” in the face of intolerable autocratic abuses, but the passions embodied by such catch phrases can be strong and and offensive. Other citizens can’t always understand how we do make our voices heard and votes count from abroad by contributing our time, talents, and resources to people and organizations we believe can make things better “over there.” We write letters to the editors of newspapers, magazines, websites, and blogs. We send emails and faxes to elected “representatives,” informing them of our perspectives regarding matters of consequence. Posting, commenting, responding, and sharing diplomatically on the “social” media, we join and participate in expat groups that represent our interests … maybe even marching and rallying to show our solidarity with others who believe as we do. We’re involved “back home” as registered overseas voters, encouraging others – wherever they live – to register and vote.
●Divisive Politics Arrogance and intimidation – the sincere belief that “we’re right and you’re not” – cannot be constrained by borders. These tears in the fabric of our social conscience and affiliated responsibilities have broken the ties that bound families and friends … regardless if an international move was involved or at issue. As we learn the language and culture of our new country and, in the process, become more involved in its welfare, we become aware that the politics of division – especially as fostered by the alt-right – permeate peoples everywhere. For now, however, despite the ticks and pricks of ultra-conservatives, the freedoms and benefits we enjoy in left-of-center countries appear to be strong and pervasive. Yet here, too, we must be vigilant and persevere.
● Belligerence and Retribution Throughout history, there always have been haters, people who resent others for whatever their reasons. But the access to unfettered podiums in Internet town squares reaching millions, and ability to hide behind social media’s anonymity – or, increasingly, not to – have given rise to attacks from people whose lives revolve around chaos, supremacy, conflict, and their crippling effects. They are resentful, hawkish (even if “Christian”), and waver between autocracy, anarchy, and annihilation. Hitherto fringe elements of civilized society, they are intent on making their way into the mainstream. Some are byproducts of others who seek to spread lies, misinformation, and other tactics designed to bring down democracy … even as others are real, repugnant, and reprehensible whisperers whose malevolent behavior creates havoc.
These aren’t the pleasant thoughts we want to dwell on as we plan and proceed with our international relocation; yet they are troubling concerns that – sooner or later – we will face in some shape or form, going hand-in-hand with the “new normal” that’s undermined civics and ethics and most everything that these words connote.
Be aware. Be polite. Be prepared.
Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine.
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While public, media, and government attention was riveted by the emotional distress caused to teens and young women by Facebook subsidiary Instagram, most lost sight of the bigger crime committed:
“[M]illions of small businesses weren’t able to reach potential customers … around the world,” testified Frances Haugen (aka the “Whistle-blower”) on October 5th to a Senate Commerce subcommittee.
Facebook exacts a far greater toll on the myriad businesses that trust and follow the oversize social medium´s suggestions to bolster their businesses by creating and promoting “Pages” … with Facebook’s guidance, of course.
Pages are far more profitable for Facebook than users and user groups.
Follow the money, and you’ll easily see why …
Maintaining a presence on Facebook is a perceived marketing requisite for major brands and big businesses to build loyalty for these well-known names; but a Facebook Page for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and paperback writers boosts Facebook’s income with a continuous feed of revenue streams.
I don’t have thousands of pages of internal research and documents at my disposal to prove my point, but I do have extensive experience(s) to share—come-ons and addictive snake oil which have impacted countless businesses besides mine.
It starts by Facebook engaging you to create a Page for your business online. With Facebook, of course. While not every business can afford the costs of building and maintaining its own website, what better place to advertise than the largest online people portal of all? And Facebook promises to help you, every step of the way.
After all, Facebook knows who we are and targets us (specifically), even as it’s able to pinpoint precisely the people we want to reach.
Once you’ve completed its questionnaire with information Facebook can use in its enormous data base-driven marketing machine … and added some attractive graphics … you’re set up and ready to publish your Page.
Don’t forget that publishing implies distribution, as well as a product.
So, Facebook tells you to begin promoting your new Page by inviting all of your friends and acquaintances (on Facebook) to *Like* and *Follow* your Page, urging them to *Share* it with all of their Facebook contacts.
Not unlike a Ponzi scheme, as the number of people who like your Page grows, you’re drugged by that rush of adrenalin and anxiety … to attract more people, always more, to the product.
The question now becomes, what’s the product: your Page or Facebook?
It’s here that Facebook begins with its financial inducements, tagging you with a plethora of ways to promote your Page through Facebook advertising. You can spend money to *Boost* a popular post on your Page. You can spend money to convince new people—people you don’t know – to like your Page. You can spend money to make people click on an ad and be linked directly to your website, where they can conduct business with you. There are plenty of opportunities to pay the Facebook piper, over and again, especially since this online platform offers the most precise targeting to reach prospects in your preferred audience. Besides, you can augment your reach through Facebook subsidiaries—like Instagram!
Ultimately, I spent nearly $2,000 promoting my Page through Facebook’s daily $5 to $25 promotions for five to seven consecutive days.
It adds up quite quickly.
Like Citizens United, Facebook treats Pages (businesses) as it does people. Pages can join groups and post to these groups as the Page, not the person. Pages get their own, internal news feed based on the groups you’ve joined, other Pages you like, and any other entity Facebook thinks is appropriate. Moreover, Facebook will send you messages when it thinks there’s a post elsewhere on its platform that you should read. It will continue to suggest groups, media, and Pages to add to the favorites appearing on your looped news feed. And it makes it relatively simple to share a post from your Page’s news feed (which only you can see) with others who follow your Page.
Facebook has helped you survive through increased recognition (growth) and applause (reactions and comments to the posts on your Page).
Until, one day, it happens: Facebook’s algorithms turn against you, making it virtually impossible to use your Page. Those posts from others you’ve shared? You can’t anymore. Facebook times you out, no longer permitting you to share posts on your Page … or even to post directly on your own Page!
Click the “Share” button once too often, and you’ll get messages like this one when trying to share something on your Page: “Your message couldn’t be sent because it includes content that other people on Facebook have reported as abusive.” You’ve got to be kidding, right? Nope!
Try posting something directly—not by sharing but be entering it directly to your Page. It’s your own content you’re publishing … or trying to, at least. Now, you’ll get this kind of message courtesy of Facebook’s algorithms: “We limit how often you can post, comment or do other things in a given amount of time in order to help protect the community from spam. You can try again later. If you think this doesn’t go against our Community Standards, let us know.”
Try again later? Define “later,” please: An hour or two? A couple of days? A week? It’s been six weeks now and I’m still waiting … although I did try to let them know that, in no way, did my posts violate their community standards.
Have you ever tried to contact Facebook to let them know something’s wrong, not working, needs immediate attention? LOL! Their phone may be answered, after a fashion, but it’s not connected to anyone. Click on that hyperlink under “Let us know” (not even a “please” of common courtesy). Yeah, right. Whatever you send ends up somewhere in that black hole of cyberspace. Facebook doesn’t want to be bothered with our problems; instead, it has Forums for this, that, and the other thing.
But still no answers to my conundrum.
I did mention that I tried contacting Facebook through the Community Standards link included in its “You’ve been a bad boy” comment under whatever I tried to publish on my Page? (Eight times!)
Finally, I tried to outwit the system and its algorithms. I had been paying to promote my Page. There, in the Ad Center section, was a “Need Help?” button. Queued up, I awaited someone to appear on the chat screen. Finally, someone did. Felicia from Facebook Concierge Support.
I reviewed in agonizing detail – down to the screen shots – what I’d been experiencing (or not) on Facebook for the past six weeks.
“We greatly appreciate your patience while waiting for an update and for your cooperation on this case,” Felicia began. “We have received an update from our Internal Team and we would like to share with you the update below: We have limits in place to prevent abuse of our features and to protect people from spam and harassment. For example, if someone is sending out a lot of messages to people they aren’t friends with, they may be warned or temporarily blocked from sending messages. Limits are based on different factors, such as speed and quantity, but we can’t provide additional details on the rate limits that are enforced. Our team concluded that the issue should now be resolved from your end. If this is not correct or if you are not satisfied with the resolution provided, please feel free to reply to this email and I will get in touch with you as soon as possible.”
Immediately, I opened my errant Page and tried to post. Nothing … but those same messages contained in the screen shots above. I reread Felicia’s response. Her “Internal Team” must comprise even more algorithms. No information could be provided about the “rate limits” imposed and enforced. Yet, the “team” concluded that the issues should now be resolved from my end. Double entendre? Was she saying that Facebook had resolved my issues and I should no longer experience the problems? Or was the implication that it was up to me to find and fix the problems?
Certain that Felicia was a bot, artificial intelligence working for Facebook, I replied, nonetheless, to her email, saying that I continued to experience the same Page problems that I’d contacted Facebook about time and again.
Her response came within hours:
“Thank you for responding and sharing your concern with us. We can understand how important this can be for you. Please be informed that we are re-coordinating again with our support team and they are investigating on this case. Rest assured that necessary steps and follow up are done to emphasize the urgency of this case and as soon as we have an update, we will coordinate with you through this email thread. Until this case get resolved, we will keep this ticket number open and keep you updated.”
I no longer am certain that Felicia is a bot, artificial intelligence, or that her algorithms are appropriately aligned. “We are re-coordinating again?” The support team “are investigating on this case?” And one of the longest run-on sentences of Donald Trump double-speak?
This is whom I had entrusted with my Facebook future and livelihood?
Meanwhile, I noticed that my own personal posts on my personal profile’s feed no longer were receiving the usual reactions or responses that they’d cultivated since I joined Facebook. Whereas I typically received about a dozen or so emojis in reaction and at least several comments, now I’m not receiving any (of either). It’s as if the algorithms are teaming up to conspire against me personally, as well as my Page(s).
It’s already been almost two months since I’ve been locked away in Facebook prison, unable to add feed for my followers.
Without fresh, new, content, people stop visiting your Facebook Page. You’re old news, about which they no longer care.
Facebook’s nonchalant, devil-may-care attitude and irresponsibility — perhaps even malfeasance — have caused me and many others to suffer grave injustices. For some, like me, we have paid good money to Facebook only to receive damages and losses as a result.
We desperately need legislative reform of Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook.
Facebook is bigger and more powerful than most nations. It starts wars, takes sides, and spreads misinformation. In the process, it kills the very businesses that – once upon a time – it helped to establish.
Now, it’s the world’s biggest monopoly and money pit that’s stifled and absorbed any real competition. There’s nowhere else to go, nobody to listen, nothing but what Facebook allows to be told.
Facebook has outgrown its own britches and needs to be cut down to size.
That’s the response I get from the naysayers, those who don’t believe that Portugal is a land of milk and honey, even if its streets aren’t lined with gold. After all, almost everything they read these days paints Portugal as the best, the most, the friendliest, the warmest, the cheapest, absolutely an ideal place to live—nirvana—especially for digital nomads and foreign retirees.
And, in many ways, it is!
But, let me get this off my chest upfront—because I know there will be those mocking and taking issue with whatever I say here:
I love Portugal.
Please, reread that:
I. Love. Portugal!
Still, despite all the hype, hoopla, and fanfare about how this Iberian country is the closest to heaven on earth–calm, peaceful, friendly, welcoming, beautiful, easy on the wallet—there are some things that are bothersome here or incur a hard time getting used to.. Of course, my likes and dislikes probably differ from yours … so, what annoys or frustrates me may be perfectly acceptable to you and others. For some, these queixas aren’t applicable. And, sooner or later, we come to grips with this stuff.
I share these stories of our experiences not to complain or seek sympathy, but because we are North Americans acculturating to another country’s norms, traditions, and expectations. Information such as this typically aren’t found in tourist or relocation guides … nor asked about and answered in most Facebook groups. Hopefully, some will learn from these anecdotes and be better prepared for the grit and grist, the grain of living abroad. We love Portugal for what it is, not what it isn’t, and have no intention of leaving. And, certainly, not all “foreigners” have difficult dealing with what I may consider nuisances.
Again, let me be clear: Just because I may not like something doesn’t diminish my love for the country.Some things we get used to; others we just don’t get.
So, here’s my list of what irks me in Iberia …
Allergens. Never in my life have I had allergies—until moving to Portugal. I don’t know what’s in the environment, the air, but I cannot stop sneezing and sniffling or rubbing my itchy eyes. Perhaps it’s related to what our veterinarian warned us affects non-native dogs (and cats), requiring periodic medications. Or, more likely, it has to do with all the dust. Good heavens, you can dust something—a mirror, furniture, countertops—today and it will be back within 24 hours. Spontaneous generation? Included in this category also are heavy-duty smokers. While smoking is on the way out in many countries, it still is quite common in Portugal. If you’re coming from the USA, especially, smokers in Portugal can be very shocking. There’s no stigma attached to the unhealthy habit here.
Bureaucracy. Yeah, it’s here … and lots of it. More often than not, however, is that you never really know which form you need (or forgot to bring) and whom is the person to speak to when trying to resolve or work something out. Portuguese people tend to be friendly and, after giving you their once-over look, they’re helpful … if not happy. Despite the hoops you may have to jump through over and again — often because things are done one way in this region and another in that, while the letter of the law is interpreted differently depending upon where you are — it helps to remind yourself of how efficient transactions are with the Multibanco, how practical using the Finanças portal online is, how prudent ways exist for consumers to resolve complaints apart from suing those we believe have wronged us.
Ants, Flies, and Creepy-Crawlers. Ants are almost everywhere here in Portugal. Big ones that you find crawling along your steps and landings. Medium ones going about their business. Most of all, though, are the little ones that suddenly appear out of nowhere —entire armies—near doors, windows, and other entry points, or marching across your counters. Then, there are the flies. And gnats. And hovering predators that insist on following, needling, and targeting us … playing catch me if you can. I swear, they’re sadistic! The big, fat flies that buzz the loudest are the lamest, not lasting long against our arsenal of mechanical and chemical weaponry. It’s the smaller, quicker ones that are the nastiest. Darting around, playing hide-and-seek, they’ll find you, wherever you are—especially the loo! They last the longest and are the most persistent. Like the gnats buzzing in your ears as you’re trying to sleep … no matter how many times you slap yourself in the process of trying to say good riddance. More often than not, they swim and die drowning from overdoses of alcohol while floating in your (tinto) wine. How the Portuguese aren’t bothered by them in this café culture of outdoor dining, is beyond me. We cannot sleep with open windows without screens. Spiders, centipedes, and other common critters may creep me out; but I can deal with them. Not with the dreaded processionary caterpillars, however, whose venomous entanglements scream, “Danger, danger, Will Robinson!” to us and our furry family. My word, even if I could pronounce Leishmaniose, it’s another parasite I don’t want our dogs to encounter.
Banking It just doesn’t seem fair that we have to pay banks here for the privilege of holding and using our money to invest in their ventures, especially when coming from a country that pays us interest (however minimal) each month for the right to speculate with our hard-earned deposits. If it’s any consolation, the few euros deducted each month from our Portuguese bank accounts provide benefits (like discounts on petrol and limited health care insurance) and don’t compare with the €45-90 per quarter some Spanish banks charge to non-residents … even if you own property there!
Climate Most people associate Portugal with beaches and sunshine. Yet Portugal can be cold and damp in the winter–especially along the Atlantic coastline and north of Porto. Portugal is a long country and regions like the Algarve and Alentejo have different climates. For that matter, you can drive just ten or fifteen minutes and find yourself surrounded by completely different weather. That’s outside, of course. Inside the house is another matter entirely. Slippery cobblestone streets are very pretty — some with really cool designs — but be very careful: they’re quite slippery and dangerous when wet. (From the cobblestoned and hilly streets in the big cities to unpaved paths in the countryside and lots of sandy walkways along the coast, wearing proper shoes is a must. By all means, bring your heels too, but walking shoes will be much more useful.)
Cost of living Inflation has hit Portugal, just as it has other places worldwide. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for many Portuguese people to afford the cost of living in places like Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve … along with their suburban towns and villages. No matter where you live, however, electricity, petrol, and propane (or butane) are more costly in Portugal. Per kilowatt, Portugal is one of the most expensive countries in Europe. It’s one of the most expensive countries for taxes and fuel, which leads to a lot of people who live near the Spanish border driving across the border to fill up. (Guilty!) Other items that, at least, seem expensive here are cars, furniture, appliances, and international brands. And although you’ll sit down at a restaurant table laden with bread, butter, and cheese, some eateries will charge you for it … unless you don’t eat any. Soon enough, they’ll take these niceties away.
Customs and Deliveries The challenge of getting things delivered — albeit an online purchase, a package or letter from overseas — is a constant complaint among expats and immigrants. It’s something frustrating that you never get used to (but a small price to pay for what you get in return). CTT, the public postal service, receives more complaints than any other “service.” As for customs, the fees charged for anything imported from outside the EU are so high that it’s not unusual for import charges (taxes) to equal the value of the product purchased (or gifted) and sometimes much more. Even gifts clearly handmade by family members abroad are stopped, searched, valued at more than they could ever be sold for, and slapped with stiff import charges. And, even if you agree to pay these charges or they have been prepaid, it can take weeks — and even months — to get your deliveries released from Portuguese customs.
Domestic animals Many of us love dogs and cats. Except when we step in their discharges. Poop in the streets is the most common problem, followed by noise. Dogs barking through the night can be an issue in the countryside, as well as in residential areas, where it’s not unusual for people to leave their dogs on their apartment balconies or chained up somewhere outside.
Employment Portugal traditionally attracts older expats, especially retirees. There’s a reason for that: People don’t usually come to Portugal to work; salaries are low even by European standards … and there are only a limited number of job opportunities here. The good news is that, even though salaries are still a long way from catching up with other western European countries, there are an increasing number of jobs in Portugal. Many people are bringing work with them — whether digital nomads or working remotely for clients outside of Portugal — and young or middle-aged foreigners are cultivating the land and selling its produce or starting a growing business of their own: food-related or beauty salons.
Home construction—primarily concrete and cement—leaves much to be desired in terms of insulation. Think drywall (sheetrock/plasterboard): Remember how easy it was to hang pictures and whatever on our walls? Better tool up with a drill, lots of drill bits, a hammer, and pliers! Most houses throughout Portugal have strong interior cement walls that are rough and textured … making painting and wall-hanging time-consuming challenges. Portuguese houses can be extremely cold in the winter, as most properties don’t have central heating (or, sometimes, heating of any kind), so you may find yourself bundling up, layering, and wearing gloves inside in an attempt to keep warm. That’s not an exaggeration! Of course, you can find warm properties–especially newer builds and houses with insulation and central heating within central cities. If there’s any prejudice or distinction at all among the Portuguese, it’s based on where one lives: in the city or the “campo.”
Mold Regardless of the barricades used to keep it away, come the colder months of the year, you’ll do constant battle with mold. Typically, it appears looking like nothing more than damp shadows on your ceilings and walls (Brits refer to it as “the damp”); but then it gets dank and darker. Mold multiplies and spreads almost everywhere—even inside closets and wardrobes, attaching itself to our clothes. It’s definitely not healthy. Opening windows often to the cold, wet, and wind increases ventilation and helps to minimize mold. Nevertheless, you’re going to need a step ladder (or larger), spray bottle, cleaning rags, and face masks to tackle what’s stubbornly intruded and settled in. Many stores—groceries, supermarkets, hardware shops, even the ubiquitous Chinese bazaars—sell products to spray on, rub in, and remove the mold … but diluted vinegar and elbow grease work just as well.
(Some) Portuguese Drivers. Once they get their licenses, all hell breaks loose. About half of native Portuguese drivers are courteous and follow the laws in their roadside behavior. The remaining 50% are divided, again, in half: About 25% are speed demons and road hogs, kissing your car’s butt—regardless of whether (or not) they ultimately decide to pass you. The other 25% are slow pokes who drive 50 km/h in 80 km/h zones and 80 km/h on highways designated as 120 km/h Both types of drivers – speed demons and slow pokes – straddle more than one lane and typically drive in the wrong lane through roundabouts … sailing from the inside (left) lane to exit right, cutting you off without so much as a signal. Whether it’s people flashing their lights because they’re desperate to overtake, driving under the influence, or leaving a few millimeters when parking between their vehicle and another, driving in Portugal is über frustrating. Signal indicators are rarely used, touch parking is common in the cities, and everywhere in Portugal people often park — our double-park — diagonally across two or three spaces. Roundabout ramifications need more explanation.
Roundabouts, Parking, and Lack of Consideration. Some people swear by roundabouts and their greater efficiency over traffic lights. Others, like me, dislike them—especially the big ones with traffic coming at you from nine different directions simultaneously and nary a driver courteous enough to let you in. Panic attack territory is when there’s a series of these circles from hell … one after another. Even my GPS with its brilliant British accent can’t keep up. Before you know it, you’ve missed the seventh exit and find yourself lost along the way. And to add insult to near injury, there are pedestrian crosswalks within meters of the exit—an accident waiting to happen. Similarly terrifying are Portuguese parking lots—often with tight, awkward spaces between concrete posts that make it almost impossible to open your doors, let alone back out. They’re breeding grounds for inconsiderate parkers. Is there any reason why two cars must take up three parking spots? Park horizontally in vertical spaces? Or for drivers to park diagonally in well defined areas, often sticking their vehicles dangerously into the traffic lane, where cars are traveling in both directions, even though arrows clearly indicate which (one) way they’re supposed to move?
The flip side of the “what I don’t like about Portugal” coin is what I can’t seem to find (yet) here—stuff that’s probably no big deal to some, but important to me. Maybe these eccentricities are here hiding, just waiting for me to discover them:
• Vacuum cleaners that really can clean carpets and rugs. No matter what shop you go in or search for on Amazon, a reasonably priced vacuum cleaner that picks up the dirt and dust in carpets (especially thicker pile ones imported from elsewhere) is almost impossible to find. Ironic that upscale vacuums here are referred to as “Hoovers,” which are available online. So are Sharks, Kirbys, and Dysons. But they cost a friggin fortune—some more than 400-500 euros. In Yankee dollars, that translates to between $500 and $600. For a bloody sucker-upper! (Update: We found a vacuum cleaner that really works! It’s the Amazon Basics – [AB500] 3L 700W Bagless High Efficiency Motor Upright Vacuum Cleaner with 2 Dust Filters. But, of course, this heavy-duty appliance — for which we paid about 139€ including shipping — is “temporarily” out of stock.)
• Yard sales, estate sales, auctions, flea markets, thrift shops, and antiques malls. Yeah, I’ve been to a few “boot” sales … but, “Meh!” For intrepid bargain hunters and collectors, we wait with baited breath for those Saturday or Sunday open air markets hosting a fair share of memorabilia merchants. Sorry, online vendors: Facebook’s Marketplace, OLX, CustoJusto, and the periodic items for sale that pop up in our Facebook feeds or Portuguese second-hand groups just don’t measure up to the thrill of the hunt.
•Bagels. Yes, I’m aware that “bagels” are available in Portugal, in the bakery cases of supermarkets, padaderías and pasteleirías, and the frozen food aisles of Lidl. Sorry, Charlie, but they´re too doughy or pasty … blander than biscuits without jelly or jam. I grew up in New York, where–along with seltzer–it’s said that nowhere else can produce the same quality bagels … because of the water. Don’t believe me? Go ask Jerry Seinfeld!
• Crushed Red Pepper For the most part, pizza in Portugal is delicious—whether you prefer thin crust or deep dish, and whatever toppings you want. Except one: crushed red pepper. It’s just not served here—even when requested—in Portuguese pizzerías. Some like it hot … Piri Piri just doesn’t make it.
While we can get good pizza almost anywhere in Portugal, what we can’t (by and large) get is savory Tex-Mex or its essential ingredients (except online, through a retailer like The Chilli Experience). What the Portuguese consider tacos, burritos, tamales, and enchiladas here just don’t fit the lingo. Maybe Tex-Mex is better and more plentiful in bigger, coastal cities, but it’s sadly lacking elsewhere in the country.
So, there you have it: my big, bad list.
Ironically, my good list about Portugal is much, much longer … but can be summarized in a single paragraph, stringing words working together. We love Portugal because of its friendly people accepting of foreigners. Its diverse landscapes with a variety of climates, scenery, and topography. “Temperate” weather. Abundant arts and architecture. Safety and security. Quality of life . Strong expat/immigrant communities throughout the country. Fairy tale towns and villages. And, definitely, among the best bakeries and pastry shops in the world.
As a Boy Scout, I memorized the “Be Prepared!” motto. Now you are ready, as you prepare for your relocation to Portugal … or, as a resident already, to find whatever comfort you can in this communal balm.
I’ll end this soliloquy where I began, repeating that—despite these minor challenges and inconveniences—we love Portugal and have no intention whatsoever of moving away.
Nevertheless, there are those who are going to find fault, complain, and deplore me and my words with a variety of curious, finger-pointing comments … like, “Go back to your country!”
I am an American living in Portugal, splitting time — with my spouse — between small homes and villages in the country’s core (Alcains, Castelo Branco) and the Alentejo (Vila Boim, Elvas).
We live in the suburbs of a major city, a comfortable if not upscale vila of mixed housing–most are row houses of all shapes and sizes, although there are plenty of upscale properties with huge houses and landscaped gardens behind magnificent gates (not fences) around the town. We moved here from a smaller village (aldea) of about 500 people, down from 1,200 or more during its glory days. Today, one corner market, two cafés, and a beautician who visits twice each week comprise its commercial corps. Except for three tremendous but decaying manor homes, still grand and stately, all of the other dwellings are attached. No, that’s not quite right: around the village’s outskirts are a number of quintas inhabited by daily commuters who work for the government (elsewhere) and dirt-poor people.
After almost four years, we’ve come to know what we like most about living in Portugal, as well as a few things that frustrate or confuse us. It has nothing to do with our love for Portugal and the Portuguese, but because we grew up in another land and culture, and can’t help but see life (for the moment) through a different lens and viewpoint.
That’s not a criticism, just a fact we’ve come to understand.
Some things can’t be taught to us; we need to learn them by experience. Answers aren’t to be found in the fine print of guide books and manuals, or in the files of some Facebook group. Only time here will tell and reveal.
Who knew that Portuguese pharmacies would refill our prescription(s) from the USA – before we have a local doctor or our SNS number – simply by showing a bottle or box containing our existing medicine … or, better yet, a Rx from our American doctor? Or that, unlike the USA, right turns on red (after pausing) aren’t legal here? Who do you call if your car should break down on the road? And how long does it take until that “Eureka!” moment when we realize that gasóleo and diesel fuel are the same?
Moving from one address to another in Portugal brings its own load of lessons. After all is said and done, you remember that your mail needs to be forwarded. Should be simple enough … until you learn from the post office that it costs €20 per month for the service. Apart from the flyers and junk mail, our mailbox receives so few pieces that it’s better (suggests correios), if not simpler, to contact those postal patrons who connect with us through CTT and fill out the forms to change our address.
The same goes for Finanças, a legal requirement.
Changing addresses also means stopping by EDP (several times) to disconnect and stop service, as well as to resolve any billing issues. Are we the only ones who didn’t know that the country’s energy provider has us all on annual contracts? Sure, you can cancel your contract … but through its legal end date, you’ll continue to be billed monthly service charges.
Then, there’s shopping: We’ve been used to being able to return stuff we bought and get full refunds, as long as we bring the receipt, the item is in its original packaging, and the return is made within a designated timeframe. One major hardware and household supply chain in Portugal advertises, “Don’t worry! If you buy it here and find a lower price elsewhere, we’ll refund you the difference plus 10%!” Plenty of merchants will give you a refund in full if you return something, for whatever reason, no questions asked. But don’t ass-u-me that’s the rule everywhere. Stores aren’t required to post their returns and refunds policy, whether at the point-of-sale or on the receipt. So, before buying something, especially if it’s costly, you’d best ask about the store’s return and refund policy.
Did you know that, from the moment SEF exchanges your temporary visa for a residency permit, you’re eligible to vote in Portuguese elections? That’s right: legal residents, as well as citizens and Portuguese natives are entitled — and encouraged — to vote in local elections.
Nonetheless, Portugal’s politics, elude us … probably because there are more than two intransigent political parties. But that’s a good thing, as partisan politics here don’t appear to put party before people. Instead, coalitions are formed to move things forward—unlike certain countries where nothing progresses because of unrelenting forces meeting intractable objects.
“But it’s a socialist country,” some homelanders insist, confusing politics with economics (capitalism).
“And you don’t think there’s socialism at work in your country, too?” we reply.
Trumpism had yet to transcend the 45th president of the USA; but we saw the handwriting on the wall. The Republican Party no longer was the GOP, standing for small government and fiscal restraint. Increasingly, “regular” Americans were exhibiting hatred, vitriol, and self-serving prejudice, encouraged by the cartoonish candidate. Donald Trump was inaugurated on 20 January 2017; we left the USA with no plans to return two months later.
Despite owning a vacation bolt in Andalucía, Spain, for 15 years, Portugal beckoned and was more welcoming … in every sense of the word.
Economically, Portugal is poor, at least compared to the competition. The national minimum wage jumped this year by 6%, going from its steadfast €775.83 per month to €822.50 per month. Yearly, that amounts to US $9,052 (“international currency”), with an average hourly rate of sixteen euros.
We love Portugal for its neutrality. It’s not one of the big G7 nations … or even the G20, for that matter. Rather, the country is an active (if errant) participant in the European Union, whose most recent president was Portuguese. Portugal is also a member of NATO. It’s a safe and peaceful place; to the best of my knowledge, there’ve been no mass murders, gunfire, attack weapons, or daily violence.
It doesn’t take much (again, compared to other EU countries) to be granted a visa followed by legal and tax residency in Portugal. Doing all your homework correctly — being sure to cross every “t” and dot every “i” — will prepare most everyone for dealing with Portugal’s notorious bureaucracy. Forget to bring a document, legal identification, a signature required somewhere, and you’ll be sent to “jail” without passing “Go” and collecting your $200.
We adore the Portuguese people, some of who are our closest friends, even when they’re standing outside our house after midnight talking, without using their “inside” voices.
Yet Portugal remains somewhat of an enigma, an evasive paradox … which might explain that sense of “saudade” shared by so many of its inhabitants—increasingly including immigrants like us, who have come to experience much the same feeling.
Especially when it comes to dealing with the dust, flies, and mold!
Bruce is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. Back in the USA — before relocating to Portugal — he worked as a university professor, church pastor, public relations executive, book and magazine publisher.
“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down and still somehow, it’s clouds illusions I recall … I really don’t know clouds at all.”—Joni Mitchell/Judy Collins
Clouds have always been a metaphor.
On the one hand, we have people—entire populations—scratching the earth and cursing the “clouds” for their woe begotten perils and perishing resources. On the other, big tech companies own and reside in the clouds, as their titans fly high above them … quite literally, thanks to the likes of Sir Richard Branson and Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos.
It’s increasingly the double standard: the haves and the havents, the sick from the healthy, people and their preferred politicos, conspirators v. resisters, demagogues and/or uniters.
Call it a bipolar dichotomy, if you will, where even the bad guys (i.e., ransomware attackers) are considered Robin Hoods by some, stealing from big business and the powers that be, shutting down their usury.
But it’s more than that …
How can some people have such unquantifiable riches that they take joy rides with clouds, while others—entire countries, in fact—are victims of deadly forces beyond their control?
Some blame it on Covid, which helped the rich get far richer and the poor even more destitute. The virus has strangled us all—economically, physiologically, politically, socially, morally, and even spiritually. We’re tired and anxious, because of all the ever-lasting limitations.
Turn on the news, any channel, and we’re besieged by chaos in different places: Haiti, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Lebanon, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, South Africa, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Turkey, Nicaragua, India. And the list goes on …
… including higher prices and inflation, making an unwelcome comeback, as we dig deeper to pay for our lives.
Consider the scapegoating, the unprecedented violence in cities and towns everywhere around the globe.
How often that word is now used: A condominium building in Florida collapses, while another in Hamas-occupied Israel is deliberately obliterated. Flash flooding in New York and London put these cities under water, while more hurricanes approach, ever stronger and more furious. Record high temperatures, hitherto unthinkable, are being reached in the most moderate climates … with unquenchable flames igniting hell fires and damnation.
Plagues: Water turning on the blood of droughts, flies, livestock pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and the killing of firstborn children. The question of whether Bible stories can be linked to archaeological discoveries has long fascinated scholars.
Symbolic of the universe’s moral law, the preacher in me believes that the ancient plagues represent the Almighty’s expression of justice, as well as judgments upon those who refuse to repent of their evil, self-serving ways.
According to the New York Times, Republicans in more than a dozen states are seeking to limit ballot access and increase partisan control of elections. GOP legislators want to make it more difficult for people to vote, paradoxically leaving Democrats to object and flee—impeding a vote (without a quorum).
Will partisan politics and the puerile need for power ever be replaced by an emphasis on the greater good? Or, are we to be the epitome of Darwin’s survival of the fittest?
As one of our last vestiges of the USA in the EU – more precisely, Portugal – we really wanted to like and follow you, CNN. Of course, we realized that you’re not Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, but still …
You’re everywhere, all over the place, trying (too hard) to be liberal.
Even if (like Netflix) you’re a hybrid version, feeding us different programs and personalities than those available in the states, you’re still the closest thing to a USA-branded newscast that we receive here.
So, I should warn you not to take viewers like us for granted. Here’s what I mean:
I enjoy having my morning java with soothing voices and visages. Like Rosemary Church and Kim Brunhuber, who air here in Portugal at 8:00 AM and 9:00 AM, respectively. Trouble is, except for their calm demeanor and attractive wardrobe, all of the “news” they share are video clips I’ve already seen already–several times on different programs, earlier.
Maybe I should skip watching your programs the day before and watch them, instead, the morning after … with Rosemary and Kim?
Actually, I’m not particularly enamored with your evening line-up here … even when you’re juggling the timeslots. Let’s say that I sit down with a glass of wine at 5:00 PM (17H00), a reasonable time to “relax” with with Christiane Amanpour … even if the woman I see now sits behind a desk and anchors a talk show, rather than out in the trenches or hobnobbing with all the high-highfalutin dignitaries and diplomats you show when promoting her show.
(Speaking of promotions, do you realize how many times over the course of an hour, you promote Stanley Tucci’s “Searching for Italy” series premiering here on June 20th, although it’s already been shown in the USA months ago? Dozens! It almost makes me yearn for those spots of that Gambian woman who eats oysters for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on Melmac dishes … or the country’s only female professional Kora player teaching her son to bang a mean xylophone.)
If dinner is late, Amanpour morphs into Hala Gorani, who I used to like. Really! Now, she’s sloppy—easily distracted, stumbling over her words, and barely able to connect the dots when it comes to making sense out of stories playing over and again. For this, you dropped Brianna Keiler? Why bring back a lackluster has-been, when creative talent such as Keiler and Ana Cabrera are tried-and-true winners?
We turn off the tube for dinner when Richard Quest (who claims to mean business) airs. The man is downright irritating and uncouth. He doesn’t listen to his guests, but interrupts them incessantly. He slathers and spits. Those bonus 20 minutes recently inserted for Quest’s World of Wonder program is a total waste of time. Yours and mine. But what I dislike most about Richard Quest is his gravely, overworked voice—something between a grimacing growl and a rumbling roar.
Yeah, voices can be a big turn-off. You should know that, CNN.
Maybe then, you wouldn’t air so many promotions for Connecting Africa’s screeching Eleni Giokos, whose diction is fingernails against a blackboard heard throughout our house. You want me to sit through an entire hour of her (along with all your other Africa-related programs)?
While some of your reporters can speak clearly and consistently, others — especially your White House correspondents — pack more words per second into a two-minute monologue than Portuguese sardines in a can. Don’t they need to come up for air?
Sorry to tell you that I’ve also lost patience with “Breaking News” Wolf Blitzer on The Situation Room and conspiracist-charging Jake Tapper on The Lead. The former makes my blood pressure spike, while the latter is so annoying with his incessant whining and putting words in his guests’ mouths. Yet you give each of them hours to whittle away at my weariness.
Except for Fox News and MSNBC, which give you a run for your audience in the USA, it’s said you have little competition in the USA, CNN.
But that’s not the case here in Portugal, where my Internet package includes Fox and Bloomberg newscasts, as well as Al Jazeera. Whenever you (re)run something insipid, I can turn to EuroNews and Globovision, as well English language newscasts from France, the UK, Israel – even Korea and China – for more balanced and qualified opinions.
You boast that: ”More people get their news from CNN than any other source.”
Come on, CNN …
Hyperbole! Or in your case, alternative and fake news?”
Studies show that the majority of people today get their news through the social media.
In 2019, Pew Research concluded that 55% of the American public gets their news from social media. Even though Fox News is the most-watched television news station in the USA, your online presence is more than twice the size of Fox’s. The average USA prime time audience for Fox News is about 2.9 million (Nielsen). CNN’s USA average prime time viewers total 2.7 million. NBC, the current news leader, averages 8.8 ,million and ABC about 8.6 million.
As with most news content providers, you depend upon the usual suspects: The New York Times and Washington Post, Associated Press, Reuters, and United Press International. You also borrow and share from your rivals and reports floating around the Internet. Then, your “experts” — almost always a former-this or secondary official — opine about the issue.
According to your own “fact” sheet:
● Your two dozen branded networks and services are available to more than 2 billion people in more than 200 countries and territories.
● You have 36 editorial operations around the world and around 3,000 employees worldwide.
● Your coverage is supplemented and carried by more than 1,000 affiliates worldwide.
● You reach 90 million households in the U.S.
● Your digital network is the number one online news destination, regularly registering more than 200 million unique visitors globally each month.
● Internationally, you reach more than 402 million households and hotel rooms worldwide.
But I’d be thrilled if my Portugal package replaced CNBC with MSNBC.
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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Apart from all the major stuff we need to know about moving to and living in Portugal — visas, residence, rules of the road, buying or renting property, etc. — there’s a bunch of little things that we learn as we deal with the days of our lives in Portugal.
For instance, unlike most places in the USA, making right turns on red aren’t allowed here.
We’ve compiled a list of random factoids and routine happenstance that’s worth a read.
The Portuguese tend to be passive-aggressive drivers. Either they take their sweet time, driving 20-40 kms below the speed limit on streets, highways, and byways (begging you to pass them, where possible) … or they’re aggressive speed demons who don’t drive the required two car lengths behind you, sticking, instead, on your tail until they can hop-scotch vehicle after vehicle. Similarly, always be careful to look in all directions — and then look, again — when walking around the area you live. (Too) many streets have neither yield nor stop signs, and some Portuguese drivers barrel down the roads without even slightly slowing down.
Here are some other things you might not have heard about the ins and outs of Portugal living:
●Parking lots are good news and bad. The good news is that shopping carts often require a deposit of a 50 cent coin or a euro one to ensure that carts are returned to their corrals, rather than left wherever in the parking not. The bad news? Portuguese drivers often don’t take the time to straighten their vehicles and park within the lines, rather than helter-skelter, diagonally, across two or more spaces. Including parking spots reserved for the handicapped!
●Watch where you step while walking around your area. Many dogs are allowed to roam and run through the streets where they take care of their “business.” More often than not, it’s not picked up. Pedestrians beware!
● It’s illegal to use the outside lane of a roundabout to travel straight through unless you are exiting the roundabout.
●Speed limits in Portugal depend on the both the type of road and vehicle. In “built-up” areas, for instance, the speed limit is 50 kph–approximately 31 mph.
● Pets must wear special seat belts when out with you in the car. It’s the law!
● A good rule of thumb is to remember that 80 kms is the equivalent of 50 miles–whether in distance or speed. Similarly, 80ºF is midpoint between 26-27º measured in Celsius.
● You are be required to exchange your driving license within 185 days of getting a residence certificate in Portugal. Woe to you if you don’t! You’ll be required to suffer through Portuguese driving school which includes learning to use a driver’s school vehicle with manual transmission, being tested on all the rules — and signs — of the road, and demonstrating your ability to understand the mechanics of how vehicles operate by changing a tire, draining and adding fluids, and troubleshooting minor mechanical problems.
● Plan on filing your annual Portuguese income tax returns first, and then filing those with your home country. Typically, you’ll need two accountants: one to file your Portuguese taxes, the other to file what’s due elsewhere. Most accountants filing USA taxes for foreigners in Portugal, for instance, automatically request an extension until October, so that Portuguese taxes can be taken into account when preparing client tax returns for Uncle Sam.
● Forget about personal checks in Portugal and most EU countries. They’re a relic of the past. Most people use plastic these days. Checks sent from stateside to Portugal for special occasions and gifts won’t be accepted for deposit by Portuguese banks. Even if you have an app from your USA bank to conduct your banking online, you will also need an American sim card or chip.
● When cashiers ask you for our “número contribuinte,” they’re asking if you want to provide your fiscal number (NIF). That way, the money you’ve spent on purchases will be reported to the tax authorities and you’ll receive (income) tax credits for your spending.
● Offered the option of paying in dollars or euros with a credit or debit card? Always choose euros. You’ll be shown the exchange rate–how much in dollars you’ll pay for your currency exchange from euros. From time to time, write down that amount. Then, when you’re in a more personal space, check to see how much actually was charged to your credit or debit card. Invariably, you’ll find that you get a much better deal by opting for your transaction to be in euros.
●Tips aren’t expected, but they are very much appreciated. Especially in restaurants, snack bars, and cafés. Most people leave the loose change on the table when ordering coffee or a tinto. Some Americans used to tipping 20% or more are astonished that 5% is the general going rate for tips in Portugal–especially for tabs up to 20€.
●Municipalities in Portugal are measured from small to large. The smallest is the aldea (village), followed by vila (town) and cidade (city). Towns and cities are governed by juntas and cámaras (councils), while official business in villages is overseen by their fregusías (parishes).
● Speaking of sizes, don’t forget to bring some of the smallest things with you–especially pharmaceuticals, like aspirin or eye drops. They can be hard to find in some parts of Portugal and much more costly than you’ve been used to paying.
Certainly, there are more things you may have wished you’d known before putting boots on the ground here in Portugal. Can you think of others, besides what we’ve posted here?
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