All the Time in the World

It’s cold and rainy today. Like fall decided to show up. I lit a fire in the fireplace in August. Yes, AUGUST. It’s a humid hell-scape in Valencia right now. In el compartimento the a/c would be blowing day and night. Here we are keeping the windows open on a normal day. Mosquitoes are our biggest pest if it’s not windy.

A fire in the grate

When we moved to Spain our lives slowed waaay down. Compared to the US, we were sleep walking. But some old habits die hard. The dentist told me I have ‘American teeth’. I thought she meant it as a compliment, surely. They are straight, white and shiny, but I was wrong.

‘You have nodules in your jaw bone from grinding your teeth for decades. You probably do it during the day, as well as at night, but you don’t realize it. Yours is pronounced from stress, maybe even from when you were small. We never saw this in Spain before the last 5 years – but that’s changing now, too. I see this in my American patients all the time. Too much stress in life.’ she told me. I didn’t take it as a badge of honor. I have to wear a new mouth splint now, to stop myself.

I should have been prepared for the pace of life where we will live now in Portugal, but I wasn’t. It’s even slower here, and not just because we’re near the beach. The stores keep much reduced hours compared to Valencia – and we thought those were slim compared to the 24 hour grocery stores and Home Depots open at 3am back home. Here, the local Aldi Supermercado closes at 8pm. The Brico -Marche (mini-Home Depot) closes at 8pm, too. For those who grew up with the ‘one-day sale’ commercial jingles on tv from the Bon Marche department store in Seattle- you can sing it with me. ‘One day only at Brico-Marche.’ Jeff and I laughed in the car because we were silently singing it our heads before I decided to belt it out.

Coffee in a time of Covid

Our cafe opens at 10am. I don’t have my coffee maker so it makes for a long morning waiting for them to start brewing espresso. Jeff was lamenting the hours.

‘I thought it was tough in Valencia when we moved there.’ He told me over coffee.

‘You don’t appreciate what you’ve got until it’s gone.’ I reminded him.

The grocery stores here are much more American in size and diversity of the products they carry. The Continente is like a Fred Meyer or Frys in the US. And they have my Manteiga de Cabra or mantiquilla de cabra in Spain (goat butter) right there with the other butter! We feel very at home here walking the aisles. Aldi carries Trader Joe’s brand food products. But while I was more than a little frustrated with the ballet de Mercadona back in Benimachlet, the grocery store here – in the 6 times I’ve been to one – seems to bring out the worst in my American impatience. I’m sure there was more than a little teeth grinding going on in the past week.

At the Carrefour at the Centro Commercial de Arena – near our apartment in Valencia – they have one line and direct you to the open register via the ding of a bell and a ‘Caja de numero 6’. Sort of Pavlovian. You salivate on queue and step forward to the belt. Here, that is not the case. And it’s a total nightmare for social distancing based on the volume of people using the store at a given hour. I’ve learned you never go to the store before 2pm. Never. Or you’ll be packed like sardines at the check out – even though they try to limit the number of people in the store in one go. Between 2-5 it will be a ghost town.

In my limited experience, in general, Portuguese people seem incredibly friendly and helpful. Wonderful. Except in the line at the grocery store. They tell each other what to do, with abandon- me included. Pointing, directing, and self-managing the lines. And I’m not sure what the deal is, but every time I’ve gone to get food, there will be one person in front of me checking out their loaded-down large shopping cart with 5 or 6 different transactions using different cards, including coupons. And the checker is as patient as a saint as all this goes on. I left the house to get food our first day and came back 2 1/2 hours later.

‘I was getting worried you’d gotten lost or had an accident.’ Jeff told me meeting me at the gate so I could pull the car in.

‘Nope. I was in line for an hour. I’m not kidding. Our frozen is soft now.’

I know he doesn’t trust my driving and was pretty sure he didn’t believe me, although where else would I have been? On a joy ride thru the Portuguese countryside driving 100km an hour, round and round one of a thousand round abouts laughing like a mad woman, mask-less with my windows rolled down? But then he went to the store with me and it happened, yet again.

‘What’s the deal? Is she getting her taxes done?’ he asked, pointing to the woman who was clipping her 6th very looong receipt into a binder clip – like this was totally normal she was apparently doing the shopping for her entire neighborhood or small village, and she’d come prepared. ‘Maybe getting legal advice?’

‘Oh no. This is just how it goes.’ I assured him. ‘They’ll think you’re weird if you go all American on them with your industrial engineered organized grocery loading scheme that you do in Spain, complete with swift bagging, and ready payment. There is no rush. If you do this its self-imposed stress. Last time it took 3 minutes for the receipt to come out of the printer and I only bought 5 things. You could order a coffee in the middle of the transaction and the checker will go get it for you. And the people in line will just wait while they shout at each other to even out the lines.’

He just shook his head. Probably grinding his American teeth, too.

But we will adjust. As we did in Valencia. I’m pretty sure I’m not in danger of being yelled at by the checker in a store here, just other customers. I need to adjust my expectation, wear my new Spanish mouth splint, and chill out. There’s no where to rush off to on this rainy day. We’ve got all the time in the world.