A Stranger in a Strange Land

Staying in Portugal, every day we peel back the onion of life here. We have to relearn lessons and navigate. Days are frequently filled with the unexpected. Not bad, just surprising.

The first thing we noticed is that being an American gets you to the front of the line. Why? We don’t know, but it just does. I can’t even fake Portuguese, so I can’t prevent this from happening. I have to self identify my lack of local linguistic skills and tell them I only speak english. It’s just easier for everyone. But it does trouble me when I go to the Dr. and they take me – with no appointment – ahead of everyone. I say ‘No. No. I can wait.’ and they say ‘Its OK.’ And then if other people in the waiting area say something, because they know I got there last, the person who is escorting me say ‘blah blah blah American’ and everyone nods as if to say ‘Oh, well then that’s OK.’

This scenario has played out so many times it’s no longer an anomaly. The bank. Stores. Government offices. It’s weird and disconcerting. I want to say ‘Don’t treat us better than yourselves. We aren’t better. Have you seen the dumpster fire of our country right now? We’re awful. Please feel free to go ahead of me – every damn time.’ But there is a halo effect of Americanism that I hope will someday wear off. Or we’ll learn to pass for Portuguese and will no longer rate the deference. Then, when an American is escorted past me in an office I’ll say ‘Uh, sorry, my friend. Me and my Portuguese mates were here long before you.’ Then I’ll address the person escorting them. ‘He’s happy to wait. Believe me.’

Speaking of health care. Our private Spanish insurance is only good for emergencies here. We will need to purchase a policy – eventually. But in the meantime, it’s a $40 flat fee to the go to the Dr here. That includes the smorgasbord of tests they will perform. MRI, x-ray – anything. Yup – you heard me. Forty dollars. But you have to pay cash because of the other thing we’ve learned. About 50% of the time you can not use your Spanish debit card in Portugal. It will not work in their machines. We have run into this at the health food store, farmacia, and the Dr. office or hospital. We asked the banker about it when we opened our account. He explained that this is very normal in Portugal. We must be prepared. Hopefully, by Monday our Portuguese debit cards will be ready to be picked up at the bank.

As to farmacias – I picked up some new prescriptions at the local farmacia on the way home. They are incredibly helpful and they print instruction labels in english, without me asking, and do the US-style pharmacist consult of explaining the meds, when and how to take them, etc. Very helpful. Made me feel much better about accurately following the instructions. But their machine didn’t like my Spanish debit card so they grabbed one they keep in the back for EU foreigners and took care of me, which was good because the Dr. office got all my cash. But something that would have cost me quite a bit of money back in the US was 15 euros. She apologized that I was ‘paying full price’ since I’m not on the Portuguese Health System yet as we haven’t filed our immigration papers until our move is complete. I told her not to worry and how much I would have paid in the US. She started speaking rapid Portuguese and told all her colleagues who came over to check if what she was telling them was accurate. After I assured them it was, one of them said ‘I bet you’re glad you are here.’ I laughed ‘You have no idea.’

Yesterday, we had the person out to the house that does the inspection so that the sale can go through. They have the papers filed with the local town hall and also the original house plans. I walked them through each room and the property as they took photos. It seems the land is bigger than they thought – as well as some other anomalies. So I’m hoping it will still go through. You can’t sell a property with any unpermitted improvements, so it should be interesting. The person asked me at the end ‘Where are you from?’

‘We’re American’s.’ I told her. ‘But we have been living in Spain for 2 1/2 years.’

‘Americans? Well, maybe it will be OK.’

I don’t want our American-status to be the thing that pushes this sale through. It doesn’t seem right. We want to live here but I want to do it the right way – just like everyone else. For some it might feel like a privilege. For me it just makes me feel like we’re strangers in a place we want to call home.

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