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Answers, Free for the Taking
What do we do for work? Have we made any friends? Do we feel like we belong yet? ...and more reader questions
I’d like to begin with an apology to my regular readers, because it’s been a minute. It’s been five weeks, actually. And though this newsletter doesn’t come with the promise of regularly-scheduled installments, twice a month is the usual cadence.
The last five weeks have been an overwhelming deluge of one thing after another after another after another, not the least of which was our move from the flat in the Troino neighborhood of Setúbal to a country house in the shadow of Palmela’s ancient castle. Honestly, I haven’t felt this stressed since we left our lives in San Francisco last year. I have wished, more than once, that I didn’t need to sleep at all because then perhaps I could pay attention to all the things that need doing—and maybe even finish a few of them.
I know you likely weren’t refreshing your browsers waiting for a new post, or worrying about whether I was suddenly deceased. But still. Five weeks of silence feels like an abdication of duty, or like I failed to turn in grade-altering homework. Hence the apology appetizer.
Last time I wrote, I asked for your questions—whatever you wanted to know about our life in Portugal. You delivered some really great questions, and finally I’m showing up with your answers.
Thank you for responding with your thoughts and questions, thank you for your patience these last weeks, and most of all, thank you for reading.
NOTE: This post is a long one, so if you’re reading via email, you’re not going to get the whole shebang—email providers cut it off when it reaches their character count limit. Not to worry though: Click on the header/title of this post above to read it on the Substack site so you don’t miss any Q&As or photos!
Q from Margaret & Tamara (and several other people):
What will you do with the “city house” now that you’ve moved to the country? Is it going to be an AirBnB?
A: We are keeping the “city house,” which is a 4-bedroom, 2-level flat in old town Setúbal. Right now, some friends are staying in the apartment while they look for a more permanent home. They’ll be there for a few months, and then we plan to transition it into an AirBnB. So if you’re planning a visit to Setúbal later this year, keep an eye out for Casa do Pêssego (The Peach House).
Q from Michelle: What do you and Marido for employment?
A: I’m still doing what I’ve always done—writing—just with freelance spin. I have a degree in journalism and worked as a newspaper reporter for three years right out of university. I loved the storytelling aspect of that job, but not the ambulance chasing, so I switched over to copywriting. I began that version of my writing career on staff at a couple different ad agencies in Illinois and then California, but after the (first) dot com bust during which I got laid off four times in a single year, I switched to in-house creative departments.
I followed the track from copywriter>senior copywriter>copy manager>copy director>editorial director, with a few bumps and consulting gigs along the way. (Writers get laid off a lot.)
During my 20 year tenure in California, I worked at 11 different companies, swerving from tech to fashion to food to tech again. This broad range of experience has gifted me with a huge network of contacts. So when I closed the door on the full-time, 40+ hour a week version of my writing career, pivoting to freelance wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might.
I took last summer off to adjust to our new life in Portugal; then in September of 2021 I hung out my freelance shingle. Thanks to my network back in California, I had requests for writing work rolling in before I was even ready. The ramp-up didn’t take long.
I typically write for 2-4 clients at any given time, which makes my goal of a part-time schedule rather tricky. One of the many motivations for the move to Portugal was the opportunity to slow down our work lives and put in less hours. For the most part, that has been our reality, but as any freelancer knows, work and life don’t stay in neat little boxes—they spill over and get mixed up. When you get paid by the job instead of drawing a steady salary, saying no to work is nearly impossible—it’s feast or famine. But the feast usually happens at the most inconvenient times. (Like when you’re moving to your dreamy new country house and all you want to do is hang paintings and fuss with the placement of books on your bookshelves and visit the ostrich next door, but you have a metric shit-ton of client work beating a steady drumbeat of stress in the background. I have a very persistent dream of not needing to make freelance money at all and having the freedom and brain space to tinker around with MY words, writing my own books and poems—but that’s a reality that has not quite arrived; not yet anyway.)
One solution to this overfull schedule is to take breaks. This new way of living gives me the freedom to do that—I’ve never before had the ability to just stop working for any length of time.
My plan is to pause all freelance work whenever Filha has a break from school. So for two weeks in April, I’ll take spring break with her. And when school wraps up for the summer, I’ll wrap up my client work until the fall. I’m hoping that not only will this strategy give me quality time with my daughter; it will also give me space to sink into my own creative flow and rack up an impressive word count on my memoir.
So that’s me.
Marido is still doing what he’s done for two decades now—various forms of event production, from video and tech work to full-on producing. The only difference now is that most of his work is in the EU (Spain, Germany, the Netherlands) instead of the US. He’s been lucky in that one of his long-time clients from the States has a European branch, so that transition has gone pretty well for him. As live, in-person events begin to resurface after a two-year COVID-induced hiatus, he’s been spending some time in Amsterdam and Madrid.
Follow-up Q from Michelle: What does Marido do in his furniture shop?
A: Just as I have a dream of writing books of my own, Marido has a dream of creating custom wood furniture. Over the last decade or so, he’s built pieces for us and for friends—and some gorgeous walnut tables for a café in San Francisco. He enjoys the craft, and he’s really good at it. Back in San Francisco, he’d just use the garage for his work and the car would be banished to street parking for a month or more. But here in Setúbal, he has been able to purchase a warehouse that’s perfect for wood-working.
He had to clean it up first and build out his workbenches and order tools—some to replace those he left behind in the States (he didn’t bring anything that plugged in) and some tools he always wanted to own but never before had the space. It’s in pretty good working order now, and he just built us a gorgeous dining room table for our new house.
It’s seriously swoon-worthy, just look at it:
Marido built that bookshelf in the background, too. It’s my favorite—we brought it with us from San Francisco because I love it so much.
This shelf is another one of his pieces:
He hasn’t yet gotten to the place where he’s taking furniture orders from other people. We’re all still a bit overwhelmed by change—not only the move to Oliveira do Paraiso, but also the move to Portugal.
Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that we’ve only been here for nine months. We have done a LOT in that time, but we are nowhere near settled.
Someday, when we are settled, he would like to make a real go of the wood shop and gradually grow that into his business instead of his hobby.
Qs from Annyse & Karen: Did you start learning Portuguese before you moved? If so, was it through apps or in person in San Francisco? From your experience what would you recommend, apps etc.?
A: Once we made the decision to move to Portugal, we downloaded a couple of apps to start learning. (One important thing to note if you’re at the beginning of this process: Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese are NOT the same, rather the way British English, American English, and Aussie English are not the same. Make sure you’re using an app or translator that’s switched to the correct kind of Portuguese.)
Filha really loved Drops, which associates an image with a word to help you remember. My favorite was Memrise, which includes video clips of native Portuguese speakers so you can practice your accent and listening comprehension.
We used these apps pretty religiously for a few months, but once the actual move logistics ramped up, our Portuguese practice fell by the wayside. For about three months right before we left the States, Filha was meeting regularly with an online Portuguese tutor through Preply, which was really great.
But nothing can compare to learning the language in-country, when you are surrounded not only by native speakers but by the need to communicate to get things done. I have continued to use Memrise, but my habit has been sporadic and is one of the many things on my to-do list that I want to elevate to a daily practice.
Filha has had a once-per-week Portuguese tutor since last November, a young woman from Setúbal named Alexandra. She’s cool and Filha adores her, so is very motivated to work with her. And since Alexandra’s in her 20s, she keeps Filha up-to-speed with conversational Portuguese, learning to speak the way young people here really talk to each other. More recently, as Filha’s school situation changed (I’ll write more about that when I answer a question about her schooling, below), she has been getting Portuguese instruction five days per week. I am now seeing a marked difference not only in her vocabulary but in her comfort with Portuguese and in her motivation to learn.
Of the three of us, Marido is doing the best. That’s because he just gets out there and TALKS to people. He looks things up and uses translators on his phone—both Google and Deepl, but mostly he just tries and messes up and gets laughed at and corrected and tries again. He is speaking and understanding far more Portuguese than Filha and I. (Although he did have a fairly solid base in Spanish before we moved here, so that helps.)
Once you’re here, just talking to people and trying out your language legs is the best practice you can get. I’m getting better at doing that, and my accent is pretty good for things I say all the time like, “Precisa de ajuda” (I need help) and “Pessa desculpa” (I’m sorry/Excuse me) and “Eu não fala português muito bem” (I don’t speak Portuguese very well).
Qs from Jeremiah: What is the tax situation like for US emigrants to Portugal?
A: We have not completed the tax submittal process here yet, as we’re still within our first year. So I definitely do not have my head wrapped around all the ins and outs, but here’s what I understand thus far:
Back in 1994, when Bill Clinton was President, the United States and Portugal entered into a tax treaty. If you want to read the original document, you can check out this pdf from the IRS. It’s titled: CONVENTION BETWEEN THE GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND THE PORTUGUESE REPUBLIC FOR THE AVOIDANCE OF DOUBLE TAXATION AND THE PREVENTION OF FISCAL EVASION WITH RESPECT TO TAXES ON INCOME, TOGETHER WITH A RELATED PROTOCOL.
Basically, if you live in Portugal for 183 days or more in a calendar year, you are considered a resident and need to pay income tax on your worldwide income. If you live in Portugal for fewer than 183 days, you’ll only need to pay on income earned within Portugal.
Here’s what expatica has to say about it: “Portuguese residents are taxed on their worldwide income on a scale from 14.5% to 48%… Income tax rates for residents in Portugal are progressive, meaning you pay more tax the more you earn. Non-residents are taxed at a flat rate of 25% of income.
Some expats living in Portugal can take advantage of the Non-Habitual Residency (NHR) tax codes, which provide substantial exemptions for the first 10 years of residence.
NHR status is available for workers in qualifying professions and has two main benefits. Firstly, you can live as a Portuguese resident but not pay tax on your earnings elsewhere in the world (including employment and capital gains), effectively giving you non-resident status. Secondly, you’ll pay income tax on Portuguese earnings at a flat rate of 20%, rather than the standard progressive rates of up to 48%.”
Of course, if you are still a US citizen, you are also required to file a US tax return each year. There are deductions and exclusions you can claim to offset your US tax liability for “foreign earned income” if you qualify as a resident.
Q#2 from Jeremiah: Do you ponder renouncing your US citizenship?
A: Have I thought about it? Yes. Will I do it? Not likely. Here’s why:
Part of our motivation for this move was to give our daughter more opportunities than she would have if she stayed in the States. For this reason, we are pursuing dual citizenship—we will keep our US passports, but we will become full-fledged citizens of Portugal, as well.
As Filha grows up and makes her own choices about where she wants to be educated, work, and live, she will have so many more options than we ever did. With dual citizenship, the entire European Union will be open to her, as well as her motherland.
There are many, many things about the United States that deeply trouble me. I personally never want to or plan to live there again in my lifetime. But I have family there. I have friends who are like family there. And should there ever be another global pandemic or unforeseen calamity, I don’t want to be barred from reaching them simply because I gave up my claim to the nation of my birth.
No matter how I might feel about my country now or in the future, the fact remains that I am an American. I have been an American for 40-mumble years. I might aspire to be a citizen of the world, but my roots as an American run long and deep and I do not think they would be easy to tear out—should I even want to do that.
My daughter, on the other hand, has a real chance to be a bonafide citizen of the world. She has spent only 10 years living as an American. I am hopeful that during the next 10 years, she will become a Portuguese citizen. And then she will be, as my friend Val once described to me, “a Third Culture Kid.”
Val moved from the US to Mexico with her family when she was 9. They returned to the States later, but she still looks back on her time in Mexico as one of the defining experiences—and one of the best experiences—of her life. We talked a lot about her memories of that time as we prepared for our move to Portugal because I was worried, of course, about how the transition would affect Filha.
“There is now a name for how living in Mexico changed me,” Val told me, “it’s called being a Third Culture Kid. Lewis & Clark College even has an admissions track for TCKs, and maybe other organizations recognize them, too. The idea is that you have the culture you were born into and which is probably always the culture inside your house. Then you have the culture of the place your family moved to, which is everything that goes on outside your house. And out of those two, you, the child, create a third culture, especially if you move back to, in Filha’s and my case, the States. For me, by the time we moved back, the US was a place where everyone kept saying, ‘Welcome home!’ even though it didn’t feel like home at all. So I created this third culture/identity, and that’s why I say it was one of the defining experiences of my life.”
Q#1 from Rosangela: Is Filha happy to move to Oliveira do Paraiso?
A: Is she ever! She loves it here. She climbs out her bedroom window to run around barefoot looking for weird bugs and nesting birds. She lolls in the hammock with FeeBea, reading books and chewing on sour grass stems. She has chosen a quiet corner in which she plans to plant a “tea garden” with blueberry bushes and strawberry plants. She helps me weed out the stinging nettles with leather gloves and wild abandon. Filha is in her element. (So are FeeBea and Vila, to be honest.) Everyone is adjusting to country life very well.
Q#2 from Rosangela: Has she settled well in her Setúbal school and is she going to stay there?
A: No and no. Fifth grade in Portugal has been quite a roller-coaster ride.
Since September, Filha has attended two different schools, both of which were private Portuguese schools. In San Francisco, she attended public school and we all loved it. But with the transition to a new language and new country, we were worried about her becoming overwhelmed. She’s very shy with new people and new situations, and we thought the smaller class size and more individualized attention she’d receive in a private school would ease her entry into her new academic life.
I believe this theory would have been proven correct had she been able to stay at the first school in Setúbal. However, the school unexpectedly shut down its 2nd cycle (grades 5-6) and 3rd cycle (grades 7-9) in October, which I wrote about here. We had to scramble to find a new school, and had very limited options. We landed at another small private school (colégio) in Pinhal Novo.
At first, we were encouraged that everything would work out well. The woman I spoke with when we registered Filha seemed to be great. The students in her class were friendly, many of them spoke some amount of English, and the school was encouraging that she’d learn Portuguese and assimilate quickly.
But all was not as it seemed on the surface. Turns out this particular school is run by an incompetent and unreliable person who straight up lied to me multiple times, treated both myself and my daughter with great rudeness and condescension, talked about us disparagingly to other school staff, and a number of other concerning things.
Despite assuring us that they would be fine with an American student who spoke only the smallest amount of Portuguese, they were not actually prepared to do so. There were no other international students in the school, to my knowledge—at least none that needed language help. It seemed the school had zero experience or knowledge with integrating students like my daughter.
For three months, Filha was not taught Português Língua Não Materna (Portuguese as a non-mother language) as we were promised she would be. Instead, she was ignored in the regular Portuguese grammar class (intended for native speakers) because she couldn’t understand what was being taught. She was ignored in most of her classes, actually, except for Inglês (of course), and two other classes in which the teachers made attempts to translate the lessons for her and include her.
I was never allowed to speak directly with Filha’s teachers, indeed, I never met them—any requests for meetings that I made were deflected or commandeered by the school director. When I was finally able to have an in-person meeting with this director in January, she agreed to provide Portuguese language lessons twice a week for Filha—at an additional cost. This pitiful carrot was extended magnanimously, as if I was being granted a special favor.
The whole thing was, simply put, a very bad experience. Filha was miserable every day, always begging to stay home. Forcing her to go to school was absolutely gut-wrenching. She’s always been a child who loves learning, loves school. To see her sour on it was deeply concerning. We wanted to pull her out and leave the school—but then where would she go? Once again, our options were limited not only by the actual selection of schools available but by Filha’s lack of Portuguese language skills.
In many ways, it feels like education here (in general) is about 20 or 30 years behind the times. I don’t mean that you can’t get a good academic education in Portugal, because you can. I mean that the education system and practice is formal. Students are treated as a monolith instead of individuals. Children are mostly viewed as small versions of grown-ups. There isn’t much attention paid to the actual psychology of child development, to cognitive abilities, language usage, or the necessity for emotional intelligence. Much of the philosophy, especially in this most recent colégio, is threatening and punitive by nature.
Filha, by contrast, has always attended progressively-minded schools, first her nursery school from age 2-5 and then her San Francisco public school, where her teachers were well-versed in modern child development theories. In these environments, being a shy, sensitive, creative kid was never a barrier to connection or learning.
But here, it is. Very few teachers know what to do with her. They either get aggressive and try to force her to participate like a good little soldier (which makes her withdraw even further and shrink down into a tight little self-protective ball), or they give up and ignore her altogether.
The one bright spot in all this mess was a teacher named Lilly. She taught younger students at the Pinhal Novo school and wasn’t assigned to any of Filha’s classes, but she had lived in London for several years and speaks English fluently. When the other teachers couldn’t communicate with my daughter (which was quite often), they’d pull Lilly from her own class and ask for help. I received a lot of phone calls from Lilly via the school, and over the weeks she and I (and she and Filha) became friends.
One day in February, exhausted from my daughter’s misery and the duplicity of the school director, I told Lilly: “I’d rather give you my money to tutor Filha instead of pay it to this awful school.”
She called me later. “Did you really mean that?” she asked. Because Lilly, much like Filha, was also unhappy at the school, suffering under the director’s volatile regime. When I assured her I did mean it, wheels began to turn.
Long story short: Lilly quit her job at the colégio, started her own tutoring business, and now teaches Filha on school days from 9am-1pm. In just four weeks since they began working together, my daughter has made more progress—and learned more Portuguese—than in the four months at the terrible school.
Even better, she is thriving. Her innate curiosity and love for learning has returned full force. Sunday nights aren’t tear-streaked anymore because she looks forward to “Lilly school.”
Lilly is thriving, too. She’s a natural born teacher, and she’s pouring so much energy and creativity into Filha’s lessons. There have already been field trips for science and history classes because, Lilly says, “I don’t believe children should just learn from books. They need to get out into the world and see how things work.”
Instead of just reading about Portugal’s history, for example, Lilly and Filha are taking the train into Lisbon to visit war memorials and museums and talk about what happened and why. (A bonus to these field trips: Filha will learn how to take the train.)
One day last week, I walked by during a history lesson and the two of them were in the midst of an intense discussion about dictators. “Can you be a bad leader but not be a dictator?” Filha asked.
“Yes,” Lilly said, and launched into some examples as Filha listened, nodding, her brow furrowed in thought as she readied more questions.
It was a beautiful thing.
I don’t know yet what we’ll do for 6th grade, or where Filha’s academic adventures will lead us from here. But for now, she’s learning and she’s happy and that’s all I ever wanted.
Q from Sylvia: I am currently debating whether to look for a house in the Algarve or Setubal area. Comparing weather charts, the somewhat cooler temperatures wouldn’t bother me, but is it most often clear and sunny in fall/winter or rather on the overcast side?
A: I have not yet lived through a complete cycle of seasons, as I arrived just last June. In my experience in California, you needed a few years of seasons under your belt to really be able to talk about the weather with any sense of true authority.
So I am not an expert, but I can tell you what my experience has been thus far.
The winter was fairly dry and very sunny this year. I’m told by locals this is not normal, that it is usually much rainier in January and February. However, after one rainy week in December, we didn’t see rainclouds again until March.
The temperatures were pretty mild—50s during the days and 40s at night, generally. In the past few weeks things have warmed up to 60s/70s during the day and 50s at night.
March brought a couple of weeks of rain, but it was rare that it ever rained all day long. Often it would rain in the morning and then clear up in the afternoon, or vice versa. There were some cloudy days like the one pictured below, but in general blue skies are never too far away.
Having grown up under the omnipresent gray skies of the American Midwest in the fall and winter, I can tell you that the Setúbal region doesn’t even compare. Sure, there are days that are gray and cloudy, but they never linger long enough to feel oppressive.
Qs from Linda: What were your biggest challenges during the purchase of your new home? What are some things to consider in buying a home in Portugal compared to buying a home in the States?
A: Whew. This feels like it could be a whole other lengthy post, but I’m going to try to keep it brief. The biggest piece of advice I can give to anyone looking to purchase a home in Portugal is this: Do not expect it to work like it does where you’re from. You’re not buying a home in the US, or the UK, or Canada. You’re buying in Portugal. The rules, the norms, the eccentricities are different. If you come in comparing it to what you’re used to, you’re going to be very frustrated. So just let it be what it is and learn to roll with it.
For me, the biggest challenge during the purchase of Oliveira do Paraiso was patience. I found the house online in July, but we didn’t get a real estate agent involved or go to look at it until October. We made an offer and negotiated with the owner* until we reached an agreement in November, which is when we signed the purchase agreement/promise contract and handed over 10% of the selling price. But we didn’t wrap it up and move in until the following February.
The owner was elderly, and needed to find a new place to live, so he wanted to use the full 90 days allowed by the promise contract. During this time he also suffered from some medical issues and was admitted to the hospital more than once. So we literally used every single day of those three interim months—we didn’t sign the property deed and close the deal until the 90th day. One more day and we would have had to sign an addendum to extend the contract to keep it legal.
In the end, it all worked out. Senhor A found a new place to live, and I got to live in my dream house. But there were some dark nights of the soul when I wasn’t sure there would be a happy ending to this story.
One more word of advice for those planning to purchase in Portugal: If you are going to get a bank mortgage, give yourself lots of time and take lots of deep yoga breaths. The lack of urgency that is the norm in this culture also applies to banks. Don’t assume that when all is quiet, all is well. If you are not hearing back from your contact about progress in the mortgage-securing process, by all means follow up, because the silence quite probably means nothing is happening.
We were loath to take a large chunk of change out of our savings, so we initially planned to finance half of the purchase of our new home. After a lot of misunderstandings, delays, miscommunications, and bank fiascos, we ran out of patience and yanked the cash out to pay for the property in full, just to be free of bank nonsense.
Paying cash for anything here—vehicles, properties, whatever—makes the process MUCH easier and MUCH faster. If you do not have the option of this luxury, plan on it taking longer and being more complicated than you’d like. You can absolutely do it, and it will be fine in the long run—you just need to be prepared for the loooooooong run.
*This in-person negotiation was something I love about the differences in process here. In the States, you never see the seller of the property you’re purchasing. It’s all very cold and efficient. Here, we sat down with Senhor A. and his cat on a sunny October afternoon and talked it out in the shade of an olive tree. After the purchase was complete, he and his son came over and spent hours walking us through the property, telling us which key went to which door and giving us the history and personality of every single tree he planted. We shared laughter and a few tears and so many stories. It was honestly beautiful. And just a few weeks ago, Senhor A’s son stopped by on his way to Spain—his father had just found the missing handle to the fireplace door and he wanted to make sure to give it to us. This entire part of the purchase was so much more human than I ever expected, and I truly cherished it.
Q from Harriet: I am very interested in the psychological and emotional aspects of this move to a new country. When and how do you feel that you "belong"? Are there things you can do in advance or add to your routine that strengthens those ties?
A. I love this question, because I’m very interested in the psychological and emotional aspects of a move like this, too. I cannot do this topic justice here, so I’m planning a solo post on this topic in the near future. But here is the preview:
I do not feel like I belong, yet. And I fully realize that I might never feel that I belong, not 100%. There are multiple reasons for that. For one, I’m an Enneagram 4 and we don’t do belonging the way most people do. For another, I’m in my 40s. I lived five decades in the United States. There are aspects of this culture that I will never fully understand or acclimatize to because I am not from here. I will never be from here. And that’s ok. I am not trying to be Portuguese so much as I am trying to be a better, more open-minded and flexible version of myself.
I have made friends here, which helps a great deal. And I am definitely feeling more comfortable here as I begin to become familiar with the surroundings and the systems. Now, more often than not, I know what to do in most situations. Nine months ago—even six months ago, I did not feel that way.
The familiarity is comforting. The belonging, however—that’s going to require more time.
You asked if there are things you can do in advance or add to your routine, and I’m not really sure how to prepare yourself to belong. I think the best thing I can say here is to be as calm, as flexible, as humble, and as curious as you can possibly be. All those things will serve you well as you transition to a new country.
Q from Michelle: Have you met any American friends and/or people you feel could be friends with?
In fact, Americans are in no short supply in Setúbal. It seems the word is out about this little gem of a town and it feels like more Americans are arriving here all the time. (I struggle with a bit of possessive “But I liked that band before they were ever popular!” angst, but I’ll get over it.) Marido tells me my feeling that there are Americans everywhere could also be the phenomenon that happens when you buy a new car and suddenly see that car all the time.
I met Shanna shortly after I arrived. She’s a fellow Californian (and fellow writer), and had already been living in Portugal for more than two years. A few weeks after I arrived, she started an informal, twice-monthly social gathering of expats, immigrants, and locals that she calls the Setúbal Social Club. I’ve met quite a few people through that connection, and have even become friends with a few of them.
Facebook groups for foreigners who’ve moved to Portugal have given us another point of contact and helped us meet people from all over the world. Sometimes it feels like you’re going on friend dates. You connect with someone on Facebook, you set up a time to meet for coffee, and then maybe you keep talking and maybe you fade away.
I met a woman from Texas-via-Michigan this way (we’re still talking!) and Marido took a Dutch gentleman up on his offer a beer and a chat shortly after our arrival. Now Larry (said gentleman) and his dog Cody are part of our friend group. We also recently became friends with a family from Ukraine who fled the war and are temporarily settled in Setúbal—and our first connection with them came through a Facebook group.
Most of our new acquaintances live in or near Setúbal proper, but we’ve also met some American families who live in Lisbon. That’s been fun because they all have kids near Filha’s age—although all those kids are boys. For about six months, Filha refused to even speak to any of them because, “Boys are gross.” But eventually one boy, a fellow book and dragon nerd, won her over and now they talk all the time. She takes great pleasure in “roasting” him—which basically means insulting the heck out of him. He takes it like a champ and sends a few insults back her way when he can. This is the way pre-teens befriend each other, I guess.
Best of all (that sounds weird b/c it’s not a friend competition, but I hope you understand my delight), we’ve become friends with some locals. There’s Germinia, who runs the café outside our Setúbal flat. There’s Claudio, who helps Marido out with some construction projects. (Germinia and Claudio don’t speak English, so we get to practice our Portuguese with them.) There’s Liliana, Filha’s teacher. And there’s Elda, who we met even before we moved to Portugal.
Elda originally hails from Angola, but moved to Portugal when she was younger. She works in Setúbal as a real estate agent, which is how we met her. She helped us purchase our flat in town, Marido’s workshop, and now Oliveira do Paraiso.
But Elda is much more than a professional contact. Over the hours spent talking about real estate, hours which often turned emotional (as anyone who’s ever purchased a home will understand), we crossed the line into friend territory and there’s been no turning back.
Elda and I often meet for lunch to talk about our families, our kids, our work, our parents, our childhoods, our home countries, our lives in Portugal, and everything in between. She is a kindred spirit and I feel very lucky to have her in my life.
Another Q from Harriet: Have you met any Canadians who've made the move?
A: Yes! T and D emigrated from Vancouver, BC to Setúbal with their super-cute Frenchie, Gruntle, last summer. We met each other at one of the expat/immigrant get togethers and quickly became pals. If you want to know more about them, T started The Bon Vivant blog to document their adventures in Portugal.
Q from Margaret: What are you most looking forward to growing?
My friend and former San Francisco neighbor, Alison, is arriving with her family for a week-long visit this Saturday. We used to garden together all the time back on 46th Avenue. When I asked her what she wanted to do when she came to visit, she said, “I want to do some gardening with you!”
So we are going to plant some stuff together. Tomatoes, definitely. Filha’s blueberry bushes. Maybe some lettuces. I’ll report back and let you know!
That’s all the questions! This post has been a long one. Thanks for reading all the way, if you made it this far. I promise not to wait five more weeks for my next installment. (Mostly because the looming sense of I NEED TO WRITE SOMETHING was killing me.) I’m very grateful for all of you, for your interest and your eyeballs and your kind words. Thanks for joining me on this adventure.
A housekeeping sort of P.S.—You can now read Word Salad Newsletter in the new Substack app for iPhone, if you’re into that sort of thing. If you don’t have an Apple device, but you want the app, there is an Android waitlist here.
The app provides a dedicated inbox for my Substack newsletter and any others you subscribe to. New posts won’t get lost in your email filters, or stuck in spam. Longer posts (like this one) will never get cut off by your email app. It’s supposed to be fabulous. I’ve just downloaded it myself but haven’t used it yet. I prefer to read long things on my laptop, but I realize I’m in a shrinking minority there. If you do most of your reading/internet-ing/email opening on your phone, then… this app’s for you. Yay?!
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