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Eyes wide open (92)
Being in a new country is exciting and fun; it’s also incredibly hard. We’re going to speak here a while about some of the parts that we found hard so others can be prepared. Moving to a new country is a big step to take, and it should be taken with eyes wide open.
Much about being here for us has been realizing the culture of the country is flat out different. Sometimes that’s great and sometimes it’s not. The goal is adapting to the new. We think we’re doing a pretty well at that - after a few bobbles!
Let’s take something as simple as going to a restaurant. In the US we went out once or twice a week, and not being wine drinkers and mostly not eating appetizers and dessert, we were in and out in under an hour. Our first several visits to restaurants here were not relaxing. It was all scoping out whether or not other people 1) bussed their own table at a fast/casual restaurant, 2) received the check at the table without asking or went up to the register, or 3) had to get the attention of the waitstaff anytime they needed anything.
Here’s the skinny: at a food court you can leave your tray on your table, but you can also bring it to one of the tall carts that holds full trays. At a real restaurant servers rarely come talk to us unless we seek them out. That includes getting the bill. We can sit there until the place shuts down around us and they’re fine with it. There is zero pressure to turn over the table. Our restaurant visits are most frequently with friends now and last about two hours, which is when we ask for the check. We have to say, it’s a lot more relaxing without pressure to make room for the next party.
We’ll bring up one example: At our anniversary dinner, the waitress was near run off her feet as she seemed to be covering the entire restaurant. Unfortunately, we were located near Ugly Americans who were On The Phone, In A Hurry, Irritated By The Pace Of The Meal, and Talked About How Bad This Poor Waitress Was. All of these used to be normal, but we hadn't seen them since we moved here. We were delighted when these folks - who arrived before us - left.
To continue the pace theme, lines are different as well. Here’s an extreme example that beautifully illustrates this new-to-us culture of customer service: The other day we were in a CTT store (the post office) where there were two clerks on duty. We were A022, the next number to be called.
Only one of the clerks was working with a customer. After a couple of minutes, a woman flew through the door and went straight up to the unoccupied clerk. While we were processing our internal grumblings (hey!), we soon figured out that the clerk had been helping her and she needed a document. So she had run out (presumably to a car?), got it, and brought it back in, and they resumed where they’d left off. We just had one easy question. Could he have answered it while waiting for the customer to return? Absolutely.
The quick lesson: We know we will have to wait. And we also know that when it is our turn, we will have undivided attention until our issue is resolved.
The longer lesson:
One of us Amy has always been the kind of person who gets irritated waiting in line, plays the which line is shorter game. In short, has no patience. We had considerable concern how she, an event planner, would handle this culture of waiting. Turns out, it’s been awesome. All our lives, everything has been doing things as fast as possible, and multi-tasking to the max. Here, you simply can’t. And that is incredibly freeing. After a period of adjustment.
Holidays are a different ball of wax. They can be a surprising challenge, especially for those of us who are family and tradition oriented.
Take Thanksgiving. How many of us would say it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without your mother-in-law’s sweet potato pie, Aunt Phyllis’s green bean casserole, Uncle Tom’s jokes about what name he gave the bird this year or the annual daylong playing of Alice’s Restaurant? And don’t get us started on the cranberry sauce!
Ok, you think, there’s no big to-do about Thanksgiving, you can just have it in your new home. Good luck finding the ingredients! You end up lurking on message boards, chasing down cranberries and turkey. Or you go to an expat/immigrant organized dinner. We hope your restaurant does a better job creating Thanksgiving out of recipes they’ve never used before than the one we went to!
And that’s not to mention family. Unless you’re going to fly back for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, the 4th of July and let’s not forget the most amazing holiday ever - Halloween - you’re going to bump into missing home. It’s part of, well, being away.
These are just a few minor examples of how Portuguese culture may be quite different than what you know. It’s very hard not to want to make changes -
I know, this will make the line more efficient
I’ll get a gourd and carve it and hand out candy to people on the street!
But it’s simply not respectful to change the culture here. It’s like being a guest in someone’s home and saying, oh, why are you only serving turkey for Thanksgiving? My family also served ham. And expecting them to serve ham. What hubris. No, your job is to say thank you so much for the turkey and quietly find a way to acknowledge your loss. You don’t need to disallow your feelings; the challenge is making room for those feelings while respecting your host’s right to do things a different way than what you’re used to.
These are lessons we’re still learning ourselves, eleven months after we arrived. We continue to regularly encounter new experiences. What we’re noticing is that we’re having an easier time now leaning into the differences. As with many other things, time and practice go a long way to smoothing the road.
That’s all for now.
Love from Lisbon,
Amy & Scott