Sunday, January 29, 2012

Portugal- settling down

Long absence from the blogsphere. This has been due to many different things, among which first of all is the lack of a proper and stable internet connection. Another country to which I have to adapt again. Another country and another culture. And this is the seventh time that I change place to live. It starts to be a bit too much. And I want to move North, not South. In any case, Portugal is not bad for what I can see so far.

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS: The food is really good, people are generally friendly and I have a beautiful apartment in front of the Ocean. I can wake up every single day with a view on the Ocean and this re-pays me in some way of the days in which I struggle a lot and I just wish to be somewhere else. The difficult part for me is to be in a country where the mentality of the people reminds me a lot of Italy…..and not in a positive way. If you ever wonder why some countries are doing so badly economically, the answer is there, in front of the eyes. Here, it doesn’t matter that there is a system with some rules. The rules are made to not be followed if this means creating any sort of problem for the single person. An example. My landlord and his partner/wife/whatever are both judges, so they should in theory represent the law. We spent about 2 months debating about me renting this apartment or not because he didn’t want to give me any sort of contract. Why? To avoid paying taxes on the rent. He drives an expensive car, he dresses in a fancy way, etc. etc. And paying taxes doesn’t suit him well. So, why bothering? You can try to explain to him that everything is connected and if people don’t pay taxes, especially the ones who make a lot of money, the country will always face economic problems…..his answer will be “well, everyone does that”…well, exactly my point. The country is sinking. And this is a general example that stands for a lot of other examples. People do not get out of their way for the benefit of the community. Of course. How long since I moved here? Not even a month. So, this is my first impression and it may be totally wrong. But I get the feeling that instead my impression is getting reinforced every single day more and more.

Don’t take me wrong. People are really, really nice and helpful and friendly. But they wouldn’t get out of their way for the benefit of other or of the community. This is my general impression.

THE LANGUAGE: I wonder if I will ever learn to speak Portuguese. To me, this language sounds like a Spanish dialect. I know that it may sound bad and I should appreciate each language in its individuality, but I can understand Portuguese with a minimum effort. And this because it is like a mixture between Italian and Spanish. This is what it sounds to me. So, when I try to speak, what it comes out is Spanish with some Portuguese words. This is not speaking a language. Of course, I would like to learn it….I just wonder on how I can convince my brain to leave my knowledge of Spanish aside and consider this as a new, unique on its own, language.

CARS AND PUBLIC TRANSPORT: After 10 years without a car, I feel that here I will need to get a car. I can go to work by using public transport: the metro and then a bus. It takes me about an hour to go and get back to work, but this is also because I want to walk to the metro, and it takes me about 20-30 minutes to get there. I don’t need a car in my daily life, but a car here is necessary to actually have a comfortable life. It certainly has something to do with the fact that I live in something much closer to a small village than a city, but still, the fact is that a car is necessary if I want to have a normal life. For example. There is not a movie theater here. There is a theater in which one a week they show one movie in the evening. But there is not too much choice. There is not even a place where I could rent dvds. Not even in the next village. And for this, I strongly miss the cultural possibilities offered by Montpellier. If I want to take advantages or not of these opportunities is my choice, but at least I could chose. Here, sometimes I feel a bit stuck. On the other hand, while the need of owning a car represents some sort of problem to me, as I don’t like to be in the condition of needing a car mostly for environmental reasons, people here seem to love driving. I have never seen a place with so many cars as it is here….of course, with the exception of the USA. Everyone here drives. They may even drive an hour and a half just to go to eat some place. Come on, it sounds so much like something that would happen in the USA. But there in many places, things are scattered around, so I can in some way see the need for that. But here things are not so far apart, but it is just that everyone drives and drives so fast that biking to a place may be at your own risk. Bikes are not used for transport. Bikes are leisure. Maybe it will change with time, but I feel that people here love their shiny and expensive cars. Another difference that I notice coming from France. Many expensive cars going around. Don’t ask me how people can afford them with their salaries here. But it is a fact; there are many cars, and many expensive cars.

In any case, people are so used to drive everywhere, even for short distances, that if you ask to a Portuguese how far is to walk to some place, for sure, it is always too far to walk. This happened to me yesterday in Porto. It was a beautiful sunny day, perfect for a walk. I had to go to a garden to meet some people and I asked how long it would take me to walk there from the metro station where I got out. The first two people to whom I asked, they didn’t even know how to get there by walk….walk??? They looked at me like I come from Mars. The third person to whom I asked knew the way. He gave me the indications but he also pointed out that the place where I wanted to go was very, very far away to walk there. At the end, it was just 15 minutes walk.

Cultural differences (well, cultural differences….in some places in Italy, I guess I would experience the same)!

SOCIAL INTERACTION: The hardest part of starting a new life somewhere is the lack of friends in the place where I moved to. I suffer that a lot. I am a solitary person, but I want to choose when to be alone and when to be with friends. Thanks God, there is couchsurf. I am starting to consider couchsurf my life-saver in terms of mental health. I need to meet people outside my working environment. My past experiences taught me that it is healthy to have friends outside work, or at least, also outside work. But of course, it always takes time to meet people and meet the right people, with whom I could get along and become friends and actually want to spend time with. And I find this process always very frustrating. Because I had friends in the previous place where I was living and I had to leave them to move somewhere else where I have to start from the beginning….and I guess that starting a new life can be exciting, but not necessarily if the old life was not so bad after all.

Another thing that makes me wanting to meet people outside the work environment is that where I work most of the people are couples. I don’t mean that they all have a boyfriend and a girlfriend, which would be normal. What I mean is that in my working environment, most of the people there are part of a couple with someone else who works there. There is a kind of closure and of a “big brother” atmosphere that I don’t consider too healthy. So, while I like some of the people I work with a lot, I also feel that for my mental health, it is good if I also do things on my own or with other people. On top of this, I already experienced unfortunately that being the only single girl in a group of couple makes you immediately like a threaten to some other women. Southern European women may be very territorial….and I know this well, being a Southern European woman myself. In my short permanence here, I already learned that I may better to not get too friendly with any of the guys working with me because a) people talk a lot, as always in a very close environment where you are the last one arrived to a very well established and close group of friends, and b) I may start to have problems with some of the other girls just because I am friendly and I don’t have a boyfriend.

Gosh, this is very stressful, because I quickly learned to move in a very careful way. But it is stressful.

Anyway, what I am trying to say, even if I listed a lot of difficult/negative things, is that I am trying to settle down here and find a way to have a nice life here too, trying to learn at the speed of light what to do, how to move, what to say, etc. And hopefully, everything will work out for the best, as it always does at the end, even if at the beginning I have to struggle a lot.

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