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Going with the Flow

Laundry drying on a clothes rack on a terrace, with apartments in the background.

Going with the Flow

Going with the flow is a nice platitude until you’re forced to do it. 

After arriving in Portugal a couple of weeks ago, Jackie shook off the jet lag and settled into the time difference much faster than I did. And it took me roughly nine days to get into the swing of being seven hours ahead of our family and co-workers at home.

We spent much of our first two weeks here shopping for big and small items to furnish our empty flat. Being in a less touristy area means fewer people speak English, which has provided frustration and levity, as we speak very little Portuguese. After we mispronounced too many of the items while pointing at the menu, our server finally took mercy on us and his eardrums and asked, “Do you mind if I speak English?” We’ve nailed the basics (well, maybe not the pronunciations yet) like bom dia (good day), obrigado (thank you), and ciao (yep, the Portuguese borrowed this nugget from the Venetians). We’ve found it curious how many people have apologized for not speaking fluent English. Each time it happens, we remind the other person that we’re in their country and thank them for making it easier for us to communicate while we’re making it more difficult for them. 

Jackie and Clay taking a selfie outside Homy Casa.
Our Homy Casa salesperson, Flavia, has been incredibly patient with us, which has brought us back to shop with her several times.

We were here almost a week before we got our washing machine set up and were able to do laundry. We didn’t buy a dryer, preferring to live like the locals do. That became less precious when we realized the rain and humid environment meant everything took several days to dry.

Our friends Courtney and Bryan Kramer made the move to Lisbon last year, and Bryan recently posted about the need to remain humble and patient as they’ve adapted to living in Portugal. We couldn’t agree more. We’ve given ourselves plenty of grace, remained humble, and, as much as possible, stayed patient and gone with the flow when things went awry. 

For example, I ordered breakfast at the mall where we were shopping and was certain I’d asked for coffee and toasted ham and cheese sandwiches. It didn’t occur to me to double-check the amount I paid to see if it matched the menu, as the food is very reasonable (coffee and a pastel de nata will set you back 1.50€, about $1.65). Jackie got a chuckle when I arrived at the table with coffee and four slices of thick, buttery toast, which I could have made at home. At another restaurant, we weren’t given menus, even though we were making the universal hand gesture of opening and closing our palms to look like a book. We ended up with chicken and potatoes, which were amazing, but then we noticed the regulars had burgers and fries, so we’re planning to return because they looked delicious. We bought our first pastel de nata at the same restaurant, which is also a bakery (the cakes, pies, and other baked goods were gorgeous). 

We’ve been fortunate to meet terrific salespeople at the stores where we’ve purchased appliances, furniture, electronics and home furnishings. We’ve also met a few Uber drivers who’ve shared their expertise about the area. One driver let us know how much rent to charge for our flat when we head back home. Another cracked us up when he shared his perception of how different Spanish and Portuguse are. When he compared English and American, he cracked us up with his “What’s up motherfu*#%r?” Yet another driver told us about a buffet restaurant in our neighborhood that sells food by the gram (frozen yogurt has met its match). 

Giant bridge over a river with a city in the background
The Douro River is a visible reminder of the importance of going with the flow.

Receiving calls on our Portuguese mobile number has been another adventure. The companies where we’ve purchased large appliances and furniture subcontract the deliveries. The delivery personnel call 20-30 minutes before they arrive (usually), and hilarity ensues when we try to explain that we’re at home and confirm our address (which neither of us has been able to memorize yet). We imagine the hilarity is only on our side of the phone, and the conversation on the other side goes something like, “Can you believe these idiots?” 

There have been a few times we’ve had to return things to the shelf, as the store only accepted cash, though most stores in our area accept touchless payments. We’ve saved ourselves a lot of frustration by accepting that we’re going to make mistakes with the language, some purchases and directions. 

The Douro River runs east to west through the country and separates Vila Nova de Gaia and Porto, before emptying into the Atlantic. The Douro serves as a gentle reminder for us, literally and figuratively, to go with the flow. We feel so fortunate to be here, and complaining about any small annoyances seems pointless and, quite frankly, entitled. 

The reasons we wanted to live here still hold: the people are kind, the food is delicious, and the weather is terrific (even when it’s raining).

Clay has worked with advertisers and marketers to find unique solutions to their business challenges. His insight informs clients’ choices across several mediums, including direct mail, print, branded merchandise and digital advertising.

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