Written by Sarah Hendrickx


Turning Portuguese?

In her regular column, Sarah Hendrickx shares with us what it’s like living part-time in Portugal. This month, Portuguese Time is turning her and Keith into optimists. Well, nearly…

Hard at work being Portuguese.

Hard at work being Portuguese.

We’ve been learning about ourselves this month. More specifically, when it comes to relying on other people to get things done out here, we always think the worst, and we’re always wrong.

Whether this comes down to cultural differences between the relaxed, we-can-plan-BBQs-whenever-we-want Portuguese and the if-it’s-not-raining-today-it-will-be-tomorrow Brits or simply the fact that it’s just Keith and I who are not so distant relations of Eeyore and live and breathe pessimism, I’m not entirely sure.

The Euro football final last month tells you everything you need to know about the Portuguese. With their one magical player injured in the first 20 minutes and playing a team considered superior, Portugal waited until almost the last minute to score, thereby taking the title. The Euro final, it transpires, was operating on what is widely known by foreigners in these lands as ‘Portuguese Time’.

Now, if only I’d realised that, I wouldn’t have lost 20 quid betting on Portugal to win the game during normal 90-minute play. What was I thinking? Portuguese Time is a little more leisurely, but it does get there in the end. Getting there in the end is the essence of our enlightenment. The Portuguese, it turns out, are masters of going with the flow.

Our natural way to facilitate ‘getting things done’ is to operate with communication, precision, organisation and certainty. We have increasingly come to wonder if these words exist in the Portuguese vocabulary. If they do, they probably mean something more closely related to sitting on a plastic chair by the side of the road with a beer, wearing a hat and knitting. When you are seen doing all four of these activities simultaneously, you are awarded immediate automatic Portuguese citizenship and given a small barky dog.

“Some kind of magic exists in Portugal where against all odds, stuff happens; and often with added kindness too.”

One such occasion of an ethos clash involved the purchase of some water tanks for our garden. We found some in a yard and engaged in the purchasing arrangements with the Portuguese-speaking vendor. He made vague plans with someone on the phone about delivery, which would take place at some undefined date the following week.

Our house is up a track with no sign on a road with no name. The driver spoke only Portuguese and we had no idea when he was coming. We handed over the cash – no receipt – and went on our way.

The drive home was silent, with neither of us admitting to the other that this all felt like a really bad idea, and that we’d probably just kissed goodbye to €200, knowing that, if this were the case, there was little we could do about it, our language skills not being sufficient to have an argument about water tanks, or anything else. We were doomed.

A couple of days later, the phone rang. A Portuguese voice shouted a number of things down the line including the word agua (water) and I guessed it must be our tanks. Fifteen minutes later, he’d been and gone and our tanks were in the garden. We actually high-fived each other as though we had played any role in this success apart from fretting.

Keith looking disproportionately pleased with his water tanks.

Keith looking disproportionately pleased with his water tanks.

More recently, our car wouldn’t start and we had to call our breakdown service. The first call was answered in the UK, the second from France and the third from Madrid. It was she who said that someone would come from Madrid to sort out the car. Madrid is a six-and-a-half-hour drive away. Keith did his best to give directions to our numberless, roadless house to a confused Spanish operator and we gave up hope.

Ten minutes later, a breakdown truck pulled into our garden. The driver jump-started the car and was gone in less than five minutes. This time, we were too shocked to high five. We had a cup of tea instead.

Some kind of magic exists in Portugal where against all odds, stuff happens; and often with added kindness too. On another occasion when our car broke down, some strangers got us going and then offered us some figs for our journey. Because everyone needs figs.

Even the neighbour’s cat is on Portuguese Time.

Even the neighbour’s cat is on Portuguese Time.

Not everyone appreciates this life full of dawdle, fig-giving and mysterious breakdown truck arrivals. An English neighbour of ours was complaining about the pace of Portuguese industriousness. She said: “The trouble with the Portuguese is that they just do enough work to earn enough to pay for what they need, and then they stop.”

This, clearly, is not necessarily the best way to run a country in a difficult economic climate, but for a lifestyle choice, it’s pretty good. We’re learning that our bleak outlook on life is not necessary.

Stuff happens, people turn up, we get there in the end. I can’t say that we will mutate into ebullient optimists from here on in, but if you need me I’ll be working on Portuguese Time so I might be a while. I’ll be the one in the plastic chair.

Read all of Sarah’s Portuguese adventures here


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Written by Sarah Hendrickx

Sarah Hendrickx is a writer, author, autism specialist and occasional standup comedian. She lives part-time in rural Portugal where she tries to make friends with geckos and grows broad beans. Her book about moving overseas, How to Leave the Country is available on Kindle/e-book. She blogs at www.bicyclesandbiscuits.com.