My Portuguese: Neighbourhood Watch

As I am new to Portugal, and as I do not speak the language apart from a few basics, I had expected that there would be times when I would feel lost or be at a loss as to how to approach certain things.

I had also anticipated a fair amount of anonymity and had certain expectations — false ones it turns out — about how I would be able to live my life in and around my house and how I would be able to carry out my everyday business and chores such as shopping, banking and other vital necessities.

I had to do a rapid rethink — my man has been in the area for over twenty years and knows everyone and their families and their dogs. I soon lost count of who was who, who did what and when.

I had to get used to stopping every four paces in the street and being introduced and greeted whist out doing the simplest of errands. A simple run to the small supermarket would take four times as long as it should because everybody knew “him” and now “us.”

This was all very useful when setting up the necessities, fiscal numbers, VAT numbers, bank accounts and accountants as such but when it extends to my whereabouts at any given moment, who I have staying with me at a certain, time it gets a little creepy because when you and your business are known — you are owned in return.

Take our nearest closest neighbour, “M.”

He comes to tend our animals every morning, which is exceedingly useful especially as we travel quite a bit, and can work some very unsocial hours. He will also help out with gardening and building projects when Mr P needs an extra pair of hands; BUT and it is a very big BUT he also has a tendency to drop in unannounced to borrow this and that — usually our tools or our tractor — or for no particular reason at all. I have had to get used to him looming around the corner and appearing out of nowhere. “M” also has a bit of a problem with alcohol. Alcohol is his currency of choice. Sunday is pay day and the bottle is usually collected at 7.30am and gone by the time he gets home at 7.45am.

“M” likes to turn up when we have visitors. I am sure he sees a strange car driving down the road and then follows it to see where it is going, who it is carrying and what is going on and of course see if he can scrounge a glass of the “good stuff” rather than the cheapest bottles we can find for him!

He also randomly delivers buckets of apples, potatoes, oysters, cabbages, onions or peppers for which he expects another bottle. A bucket of goodies will arrive on the outside table and Mr P will say.  “’M’ has run out of wine again.”

I love the friendliness and the sense of community — just wish I did not feel so uneasy about being the object of gossip or feel I was providing so much entertainment for the locals.

22 comments

  • This is such a rich tapestry of a story, Nicola! We walk with you down the street, trying to fit in while sticking out. We feel the tension and eyes on you. Such is life in a small town!

    You will always be the perpetual outsider — but that isn’t always a bad thing. People will look out for you by default just because they won’t be able to stop looking, or listening, to you! SMILE

    I love the worker who is paid by the bucket in wine. He’s certainly the sort of characters of which great writing spins out from the core.

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    • I am much more used to it now and I know nothing is malicious – it is natural curiosity and everyone is very friendly. I have been unofficially adopted by them as their token Englishwoman. “M” is a real character , there may be more from him later!

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  • Gordon Davidescu

    The bucket neighbor could be in a Hemingway novel! I love this. Thanks!

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  • Glad you enjoyed Gordon ……………. I am very blessed to be able to live this kind of life

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  • On the bright side – at least you know your neighbors and they will probably look out for you. M sound like an interesting character, I have a feeling there will be more stories with him as the center. I also love the photo you included here. It really evokes feelings of homeyness AND business. Who is the artist?

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  • How I wish I could produce something like that ……….

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  • I love your post. It reminds me of the wit and charm of Mayles’ A Year in Provence, except set in a town in Portugal.

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    • Thank you – sometimes it feels more like “My family and other animals” , it is full of colour and richness which I love to share .

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      • Such a beautiful, vivid slice of life — I smiled as I read your story. I also sympathized with you on the lack of privacy. Too much local color when you’re close-up, living it daily. But, hey, you two get to travel a lot! :)

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  • We do – wish I had done it years ago ………… but maybe I was not reaady then – I sure am now.

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  • I love these insider descriptions of community life. Your life almost sounds like a TV show. “Nicola Takes Portugal”!

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  • maybe I should get some of those google glasses and constantly upload a live stream ! Shhh dont let David here/see that!

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  • I very much enjoy your description of your neighbors. I also enjoyed when you spoke about how it takes longer to get to the market than it should. It reminded me of living on campus. It always takes me longer to get to class or across campus because it is so small. I always end up talking to someone.

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  • do you build in extra time like I do – so you get there on time ?

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