Written by Sarah Hendrickx


Turning Portuguese?

In her new column, Sarah Hendrickx shares with us what it’s like living part-time in Portugal. This month, she deals with the tricky business of making new friends through the medium of dance.

Bring on the Dancing Queen.

Bring on the Dancing Queen.

My beloved, Keith, and I have been in Portugal part-time for a year now and we figure it’s about time we made some friends. Given that we’re not very good at making friends in our own country where we can speak the language and have something in common, this makes things tricky, but we will not be deterred.

We live in a very rural location and the local bar is all there is apart from dogs and geckos, and we’ve already tried to make friends with them: dogs are more up for a natter than geckos.

We go to the bar in a bid to meet someone else to talk to apart from each other. We’ve been quite happy with only having each other for now, but that might not always be the case. It’s always best to have a contingency before one us ends up stuffed into the old flooded mechanics pit in the garage.

Keith’s new BFF.

Keith’s new BFF.

The other week, such an opportunity arose: the proprietor of the bar invited us to their Festa da Pinha which we agreed to attend without knowing what one was. We spent some time debating whether a pinha was a pineapple or some kind of fish; turns out it is a pine cone. We never did quite work out the relevance to the event. It’s probably just an excuse for a knees-up.

The Portuguese tend to kindly resort to English when confronted by a foreigner struggling with their incomprehensible language, but, due to my persistent efforts to speak it and dogged refusal to speak any English to our bar owner, she has given up trying and now speaks to us only in Portuguese, which constitutes a success in my book. Not so much in hers, I suspect. We’re practically family now, for sure.

We showed up to a packed bar of waltzing couples, all doing their moves to the sounds of a fella on a keyboard and one on an accordion. I never said it was Bestival. Mothers danced with sons (my son would require substantial financial reward and/or alcohol to entertain such a prospect), friends danced with friends and couples danced together in perfect synchronisation but without a smile – this dancing lark is clearly a serious business.

Keith does not do dancing; it is just not his thing. We sat watching, me nursing the largest ‘pequeno’ gin and tonic known to man, happy to be there.

Unfortunately, this state of affairs was not deemed acceptable by one local gentleman who came over to gently admonish Keith for not dancing with me, before offering me his hand to hit the floor. I happily agreed, partly due to the monumental quantity of gin now sloshing around my blood system, and partly because I thought I might get the chance to inflict some Portuguese on him.

Now, I can manage a fair boogie on my own, but in combination with a partner following a bunch of steps that I don’t know and you have something resembling contemporary dance on your hands. Add to that a pair of size 9 feet, in a pair of old boots at the end of a naturally uncoordinated, gin-soaked woman and you can be assured that the call from Strictly won’t be coming my way any time soon.

“We’ve been quite happy with only having each other for now, but that might not always be the case. It’s always best to have a contingency before one us ends up stuffed into the old flooded mechanics pit in the garage.”

With Keith unable to contain his mirth, I was led enthusiastically around the floor for about a minute before my dancing partner escorted me back to Keith, thanked me politely and walked away.

I had been abandoned by my one and only new Portuguese friend. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, on two more occasions the same gentleman came over and with increasing passion and force told Keith that he must dance with me, before twice making further attempts to show me how to behave on the dancefloor.

Each time lasted no longer than the first before he shook his head and dumped me. I was clearly a lost cause. Why he persisted three times, I cannot say, but we left quickly before he could do it a fourth.

These boots are made for dancing. Not.

These boots are made for dancing. Not.

Luckily, the gin protected me from any feelings of humiliation. I suspect this to be true because I went home and tried to feed cake to Colin the gecko who lives behind the boiler in the bathroom. I had no recollection of this until the next morning when I was heard wondering aloud why there was cake behind the boiler.

So with a heavy heart I realise that it’s not only the Portuguese language that I have to contend with to fit in round here; I also need to learn to dance. And I’m really not sure which one is the toughest. Next time it’s a ‘grande’ gin, obrigada.

Read about how and why Sarah decided to become a part-time ex-pat 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.