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(Lou) Last week was definitely an interesting one. Both Ben and I have work stacked up in front of us, which is great as we save up for the (ever closer) impending arrival of our little bundle of joy later this year.
The alternately cloudy, sunny and blustery weather has suited our indoor lifestyle, which has consisted of working all hours and spending time in the kitchen making the most of fresh produce such as orange-fleshed sweet potatoes and flavourful young carrots.
For me, the routine was broken by my regular monthly check up at our local Centro de Saúde (health centre). The day didn’t start too well, when I got in the car and turned the key, only to hear a click and then silence. However, the resulting taxi that I had to get to the Centro de Saúde meant an opportunity to practice my Portuguese, which is something that always pleases me. (The new car battery that we had to purchase later that day wasn’t quite so pleasing.)
On the way to the health centre, I chatted to the taxi driver about the weather, about the traffic and about the health centre’s services for pregnant women. After a few minutes of conversation, he asked me,
“You’re not Portuguese, are you?”
A simple enough question, but nonetheless a landmark in terms of our settling here. He hadn’t asked if I was English, but instead was uncertain as to whether or not I was Portuguese. It might seem the tiniest of distinctions when under scrutiny, but if felt as though I had taken another step towards true integration into Portugal – something which has become increasingly important to me now that we are expecting our first child here.
I shall ignore the fact that two days later the proprietor of a local seafood shop at the market was utterly incapable of understanding my (I thought) perfectly enunciated request for a dressed crab, lest it detract from the above victory.
After the check up with the doctor (all is well) I took advantage of the combination of carless-ness and sunshine to walk home rather than paying for another taxi. As I waddled my way chubbily along, I was treated to the site of buds and catkins on the trees, while butterflies danced through the warm air. Clearly nature has noticed that spring is on the way.
Another incident occurred when I popped to our local shop a day or so later. After chatting with the shop owner and another customer for a couple of minutes – they were kindly sharing Portuguese tips for how to deal with labour and giving birth – I realised that I was holding up an English tourist and her daughter, who were queuing behind me while we nattered. I paid for my goods and took my leave.
It was only when I got home that I realised the significance of the occurrence – I used to stand behind the Portuguese ladies chatting in the shop, not understanding their conversation and tapping my foot impatiently, waiting to be served while they talked and laughed. Yet suddenly, I had become one of that group of women happily chatting away in Portuguese and caring nothing for things like speed of service – a far cry from the London-fuelled impatience and lack of linguistic understanding that I used to exhibit when we first lived here.
While these may seem like minor incidents, I am left with the feeling that I have, almost without realising it, become more of a local of late. It’s something that has crept up on me unawares. I’m under no illusions that I still have a long way to go in terms of truly becoming Portuguese. My grammar is poor, I find unnecessary bureaucracy maddening and I haven’t yet dared to buy clams from the man with the bucket who sells them in the car park outside the supermarket. Still, it seems that I’m getting a little bit closer with each day that passes.
If you would like to know more about our early days in Portugal and how we got to where we are now, please feel free to check out our book: